Spring gin tasting, just in time for warmer weather
Assuming you’re not having a drink right now, you could probably use a drink (or two). Though this year may indeed go down as the Spring of our Discontent (or at least of Our Disconnect), spring has always kicked off the start of “gin season.” And the premium gin category has been surging. Grab a shaker, a martini glass and/or your best tonic, and try a few of these top-notch examples.
Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin
Fresh, sustainably foraged local Irish botanicals, hand-harvested by a single person daily, are slowly distilled in small batches of less than 250 litres. The result is a gin that’s clean, fresh, fragrant and mildly spicy with a whiff of citrus and herbs. The juniper is definitely there, but rather than dominating, it lends a complex, well-integrated “forest after a rain shower” note, with spring flower and mineral suggestions. Very elegant and balanced with traces of citrus, a suggestion of fennel, a bare hint of red apple and a silky, creamy mouthfeel capped off by a long, warm finish.
Glendalough Rose Gin
To craft this fragrant gin, the liquid is vapour distilled through baskets of fresh petals from three varieties of roses (including Wild, Heritage and Damask). The colour of the flowers varies from white to deep red, resulting in a vibrant, naturally pink colour. Mild juniper aromas are enhanced with hints of rosewater and just a bare suggestion of citrus. Dry and balanced, with a silky texture, there are intriguing flavour elements of Szechwan peppercorn and baking spice. Balanced and persistently peppery on the finish.
Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin
Caorunn is fashioned in the classic London Dry style, so there are some definite pine/juniper notes for sure, but there are also notes of cardamon, anise, herbs and dashes of lemon and vanilla. Very smooth with a creamy mid-palate, this is an elegantly-crafted and quite complex gin, yet with a certain gentleness that adds to its appeal.
No.3 London Dry Gin
Named after the address of the legendary British Berry Bros. & Rudd wine and spirits merchant that was founded in 1698, No.3 is a classic London Dry Gin. Loaded with floral, pine needle/juniper overtones, with a hint of earthiness, a touch of anise, a suggestion of lemongrass, and some subtle leafy/herbal suggestions. Slightly oily on the palate, with flavours that combine peppery spice with citrus notes and obvious juniper. Quite complex, with a long finish and just a kiss of heat.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin
Sipsmith is a small-batch copper still, award-winning, artisanal London Dry Gin that uses 10 botanicals and leans towards a slightly drier style than the usual London Dry Gin. Fresh, fragrant, floral aromas are enhanced with notes of citrus, herbs, sandalwood and noticeable-but-not-overpowering juniper. Dry and crisp, yet well-balanced in the mouth, with complex herbal/lemon zest notes, along with fresh juniper and mild fennel. Try it in the Bee’s Knees cocktail.
2 oz Sipsmith London Dry Gin
1 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part honey syrup*
Combine the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
*Honey syrup is a 50:50 mix of honey and water; it helps the honey dissolve easily into your drink; use it in your tea as well.
Whitley-Neill Original Handcrafted Dry Gin
Distiller Johnny Neill combined his family’s eight generations of distilling knowledge with exotic flavours of his wife’s native South Africa – including Baobab and Gape Gooseberries – in this smooth, gently dry and complex gin. Hints of grapefruit, orange peel, pine/juniper, cardamon, sandalwood and lavender stand out in the aromatic profile of this spirit. The citrus and gentle juniper reappear in the mouth and combine with some woodsy/herbal flavours. Long and balanced with traces of cocoa and pepper on the finish.
Whitley-Neill Rhubarb & Ginger Gin / Whitley-Neill Blood Orange Gin
Admittedly, this pair of flavoured gins will likely not be gin purists’ cup ‘o tea. Though bottled at full spirit strength, there’s an obvious sweetness to both, and the juniper “ginny” notes are pushed pretty far into the background. That being said, those who are looking for wildly expressive spirits will definitely not be disappointed by either of these. Aromatically explosive, intensely flavoured and actually quite well-balanced, with finishes that don’t want to end, these would both make excellent bases for some pretty exotic cocktails. Surprisingly, since I’m not a huge fan of rhubarb, I actually preferred the Rhubarb & Ginger version … though I love ginger, so maybe that had something to do with it.
Northern Landings GinBerry Cranberry Gin
The ingredient list reads: Gin, Cranberries. That’s it. No additives. No sugar. No BS. Sure, it’s “flavoured,” but don’t think for a moment it’s some sweet, concocted “gateway” gin. This is a gin first and foremost, distilled by a Canadian with extensive training in London, England (and who now teaches artisan distilling in Ontario). There’s a very subtle hint of red berry fruit swirling around the classic notes of juniper, herbs, and citrus. Very clean and very dry, with a rather prominent black pepper kick. Don’t let her pretty colour fool you, this girl definitely plays with the big boys.
Barrel-aged gins are certainly not something you come across on a regular basis. After tasting these, you’ll probably wonder why. The Willibald Gin, aged for six to eight months in American oak, presents very intense aromatics with anise, coriander, clove, citrus (candied orange peel), and a pronounced herbal component. Quite oily and viscous on the palate, with spice/peppery/herbal flavours taking prominence over juniper with some distinctive cedar/woodsy/bergamot elements. A bit of a far cry from the “London Dry” style of gin, but extremely interesting and complex.
Willibald Pink Gin
The Pink Gin rolls back the spice element slightly and swaps pepper for some fruity notes. The Pink Gin gets its “pink” from aging one year in ex-Niagara red wine barrels, and is sweetened slightly with a dollop of Willibald’s own farmed honey. Aromatically complex, with herbal, anise, buckwheat honey and mildly fruity undertones that reappear on the palate. Full-flavoured, with just a bare hint of sweetness, it’s very enjoyable on its own or on the rocks, though it would add an interesting note to a variety of cocktails.
Having become legendary for its whisky, Japan’s Suntory is carving out a similar niche in the white spirit category with Roku Gin (and its sister, Haku Vodka). Using a selection of botanicals – including six specifically from Japan (sancho pepper, yazu peel, etc.) – as well as some of the more traditional (juniper, coriander and the like), the result is a uniquely aromatic gin (fragrant citrus/yazu, rosewater, cherry blossom) with a distinctive fruity, earthy, peppery palate.