Do I know anything about gin? Not really. I know that last summer I read an old article by David Wondrich on the origin of the Gin Rickey. I know that gin is neutral spirit (essentially vodka, don’t @ me) flavored with juniper and other botanicals. I know that gin cannot legally be “aged” or have an age statement, though it can be “rested” or “finished” in a barrel for an undisclosed amount of time. I know that a lot of my non-whiskey drinking friends tend to favor gin. And I know that last statement is why I had a few different bottles in my house last year when I read that previously mentioned David Wondrich article and decided that a Gin Rickey sounded like a fantastically refreshing summer drink.
So I made one using the gins I keep on hand for friends. I loved it. Of course, I’d already made the occasional gin and tonic so I wasn’t a stranger to the combination of citrus and gin. But something about the dry quality of of the Rickey struck me as exactly what I would want on a warm summer afternoon. It is actually now my go to drink when I’m sitting on the deck in the warm summer weather.
Ok so here I am with a gin drink that I really like. As you do, I decided to expand my uses for gin. First I moved over to a Tom Collins. Super tasty, but I liked the Rickey better. Then I tried a Negroni, I’d made one before and found it kinda meh, but fell in love with a riff where I swap the vermouth with Averna. (I’m thinking that maybe I just don’t like vermouth.)
Of course, being the obsessive geek that I am, I needed to find out which gins I liked best. I mean how could I live with myself if I was enjoying a decent gin in my rickey when an amazing one was out there for the drinking? And just for the hell of it, I decided to bring you along for the ride.
A BourbonGuy Look at Random Gins
The ones I ended up with were a mixture of gins I had on hand because of friends, those I ran across at craft distillers and a couple that had been sent to me by craft distillers who had provided them to me along with whiskies that they wanted me to review. The lineup is as follows.
Details: Owned by Pernod Ricard. Flavored with: juniper, lemon peel, coriander seed, almond, seville orange peel, orris root, licorice root, angelica root, and angelica seed according to the Beefeater website. 47% ABV. Can be purchased locally for $15.49 for a liter bottle.
Nose: Juniper, Lemon zest, mint, faint baking spice.
Mouth: Lemon Zest, mint and spice, juniper.
Finish: almost sweet, after a bit a hint of lemon.
Thoughts: Not nearly as juniper forward as I would expect from the nose.
Details: Owned by Pernod Ricard. Flavored with: Japanese sencha, Chinese green tea, grapefruit peels, juniper, lemon peel, almond, seville orange peel, coriander seed, orris root, licorice root, angelica root, and angelica seed according to the Beefeater website. 45% ABV. Can be purchased locally for $24.99 for a liter bottle.
Nose: Juniper, mint, lemon zest. (softer than Beefeater)
Mouth: Mixed citrus, mint, there is an herbal note.
Finish: Minty with a little juniper.
Thoughts: Considering how similar the nose on the 2 Beefeaters are, I'm actually surprised how different they are. I like how spicy this one is.
Details: Owned by William Grand & Sons. Flavored with: orris root, yarrow, angelica root, orange peel, juniper, caraway seeds, cubeb berries, lemon peel, chamomile, elderflower, coriander seeds, rose petal, cucumber according to the Hendrick’s website. 44% ABV. Can be purchased locally for $21.99 for a 750 mL bottle.
Nose: Juniper, mint
Mouth: Spicy with a lot of juniper
Finish: long juniper finish
Thoughts: This is my least favorite so far. It is very juniper forward and I don't care for the spices I'm getting. I don’t get any cucumber.
Details: Owned by Bacardi. Flavored with: juniper, lemon peel, coriander, angelica root, orris, grains of paradise, cubeb berries, cassia bark, almond and licorice according to the Bombay Sapphire website. 47% ABV. Can be purchased locally for $23.99 for a liter bottle.
Nose: Savory, Coriander, old dry wood, hints of juniper.
Mouth: lemon, cinnamon, Coriander
Finish: mint, hints of juniper. after a while-distinct lemon
Thoughts: This is a tasty gin. Not the "pine trees" stereotype of non-gin drinkers at all. I could almost drink this one straight... almost.
Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin
Details: Craft distillery in Duluth Minnesota. Flavored with a combination of foraged wild botanicals and traditional gin botanicals according to their website. 45% ABV. Can be purchased locally for $32.99 for a 750 mL bottle.
Nose: Black pepper.
Mouth: Flat and muted in the mouth.
Finish: Mint, juniper, lemon.
Thoughts: This is pretty flavorless until the finish. It isn't unpleasant, there is just little to draw me in when tasted neat.
Filibuster Dual Cask
Details: Craft distillery in Maurertown, Virginia. Finished in both American and French oak casks. 45% ABV. Cannot be purchased locally. This was a review sample.
Nose: Savory, Rosemary and a touch of juniper
Mouth: Thin mouthfeel. Savory Basil.
Finish: Long-lasting lemon, oak, hints of juniper.
Thoughts: This isn't bad at all. The basil notes are interesting (in a good way).
New Riff Kentucky Wild Bourbon Barreled Gin
Details: Craft distillery in Newport, Kentucky. Flavored with: angelica, orris and licorice root, and three kinds of citrus, wild juniper berry, American Spicebush, goldenrod, Rye Whiskey New Make. Finished in used bourbon barrels for 5-7 months. 47% ABV. Cannot be purchased locally. Can be purchased in Kentucky for $31.99 for a 750 mL bottle.
Nose: Juniper, orange peel , just a hint of smoke
Mouth: Sweet, juniper, orange
Finish: lemon pledge
Thoughts: I want to like this a lot more than I do. That lemon pledge finish kills it.
Tommyrotter Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin
Details: Craft distillery in Buffalo, New York. Finished in new, charred American White Oak barrels. 61% ABV. Cannot be purchased locally, this is was a review sample.
Nose: Mint, caramel, ginger.
Mouth: Cinnamon, lemon, ginger,
Finish: ginger, molasses, touch of juniper
Thoughts: This is really good. As a bourbonguy, this is the only one I would drink neat.
So, now that we have the tasting notes out of the way, let’s get down to the reason why I actually had them in the house to begin with: cocktails. My wife and I tried each of these in three cocktails. A standard Negroni, a Tom Collins, and of course my beloved Gin Rickey. It really shouldn’t be, but I found it a bit interesting to see the differences in each of these. Especially when comparing tasting notes (neat) to the flavors I got in each cocktail. But instead of going over all the tasting notes again, I’m just going to give you our “rankings” for how much we liked each spirit in each cocktail.
Negroni (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari)
Eric’s: Tommyrotter, New Riff, Beefeater, Vikre, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater 24, Fillibuster, Hendrick’s
My wife’s: Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater 24/Beefeater (tied), Vikre, Tommyrotter, New Riff, Filibuster, Hendrick’s
Thoughts: Not at all surprising that I preferred the aged spirits in this cocktail, the barrel aging makes it taste like a cross between a typical Negroni and a Boulevardier. A bit surprising that my wife preferred the London Dry style since she was very resistant to participating in this tasting at all based entirely on previous experience with that style when she was younger.
Tom Collins (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and soda water)
Eric’s: Beefeater, Beefeater 24, Bombay Sapphire, Vikre, Hendrick’s, New Riff, Filibuster
My wife’s: Beefeater, Beefeater 24, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s, Vikre, New Riff, Filibuster.
Thoughts: we basically agreed here. The London Dry style was our favorite.
Gin Rickey (gin, lime juice and soda water)
Eric’s: Beefeater 24, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s, Vikre, New Riff, Filibuster
My wife’s: Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater 24, Beefeater, Vikre, Hendrick’s, New Riff, Filibuster.
Thoughts: The two Beefeaters were my winners. Which is awesome since Beefeater is the cheapest one in the lineup. My wife has more expensive tastes and preferred the Bombay Sapphire. Neither of us were high on the barrel aged versions.
So based on these “oh so scientific” tests, it seems that in the summer I need to keep only a Beefeater or two and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire on hand. I’m going to pass on the Hendrick’s from now on. I was not a fan. It also seems that for these summer drinks there is little to be gained from venturing into Craft territory as any differences they are playing with are lost in my favorite cocktail. On the other hand, when the weather starts to cool and I am looking for a more spirit-forward cocktail, I should certainly venture over to the Craft gins and look for a barrel aged version to use in the occasional Negroni.
There you have it: A BourbonGuy Look at Random Gins. Will gin fans agree on my conclusions? Maybe, maybe not. I admit, I am a total gin novice. But honestly, I found it too interesting not to share. Especially with other bourbon lovers who may be looking to expand their range into a refreshing long drink for summer.