At the end of last year, I posted a short introduction to Yellow Gin; this was a prelude to an event that took place this week: a Yellow Gin tasting.
Yellow Gin is the collective term for aged, matured or rested gin, i.e. any gin that has had contact with wood in order to modify its character. These terms will be used interchangeably in this article.
Aged gin is not something new; it’s almost as old as gin itself. In the early days of London Dry Gin, the spirit was not shipped in bottles or stainless steel tanks, but in wooden casks. Now most gin would have been drunk so quickly that the wood would have had little impact, but, of an occasion, some batches would be left for longer than others, giving the wood time to affect the gin. In particular, any gin being shipped a great distance in barrels would be affected in this way.
At some point, someone realised that this serendipitous approach to ageing imparted some pleasant and desirable characteristics on gin and so brands such as Booth’s began to deliberately “mature” their gin by storing it in casks for 6-12 weeks. In doing so, they created a more sophisticated product that they could charge more for.
Since the demise of Booth’s Gin, few others have bothered to set up this interaction between the spirit and wood, with the exception of Seagram’s, who have always rested or matured their gin for 3-4 weeks.
Things began to change in 2008 with the release of Citadelle Reserve, an gin that had been aged for 6 months. Since then, over 20 varieties of Yellow Gin have appeared on the market. These range from Hayman’s 1850, which is “cask rested” for 3-4 weeks, to Alembics 13yr Old Gin, which is “aged” for 11 years in whisky barrels and finished off in a Caribbean Rum Cask for two years.
A lot of innovation comes from the USA, where a lot of the stand-alone small distilleries make whisky as well as gin and so are used to the aging process. That said, the majority of Yellow Gins are only aged for less than 18 months. The general consensus from producers is that, after this time, the character of the gin – its juniper – is overwhelmed by that of the wood.
In part, we intended to see if this was genuinely the case during our tasting.
1) Seagram’s Extra Dry
This is the first of two gins in this tasting from the Canadian Brand, Seagram’s. Both are made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA. Seagram’s Original was introduced in 1939 and is mellowed for 3 months in charred white oak whiskey (ex-bourbon) barrels. It is bottled at 40%ABV.
Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: Quite light, juniper with coriander and citrus.
Taste: Quite smooth, with juniper, coriander and a touch of orange. Quite similar to a normal London Dry Gin with a slight mellow note of cream/vanilla/oak but it seems like the wood has more of an effect on the texture than the flavour.
Some of the panel didn’t think they Would have recognised the wood interaction if they hadn’t been told.
2) Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve
Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: the nose seems less intense than the original with some juniper and citrus
Taste: Firstly the texture is quite different, viscous, silky and smooth. Most of the panel agreed that this was unusually smooth for a gin at 51%ABV. As well as juniper there was sweet liquorice and floral and citrus flavours.
Although other Seagram’s are aged for the same period of time the oak notes were far more pronounced in this version.
The oaky flavour became even more pronounced when a drop of water was added to both of the Seagrams Gins.
3) Citadelle Reserve 2008 & 2010
Launched in 2008, this was the first in a new wave of Yellow Gins to come to market. The vintage released in the first year (2008) was a straightforward aging of the original 19-botanical gin. The gin is aged in French white oak, ex-Grand Champagne cognac casks; the exact length of the aging varies, as it is not bottled until it is deemed to be ready. Typically, the length of time lies between 5 and 9 months.
The botanical mix of the original gin for the 2009 vintage was tweaked to increase the floral notes of the spirit and likewise with the 2010 but this was in favour of more floral notes.
ii) 2008 Vintage
Colour: straw yellow – like Lillet Blanc
Nose: thick, floral anise and juniper, with some sweetness
Taste: oak and vanilla came through; this almost seemed halfway between whisky and gin. Very nice indeed
ii) 2010 Vintage
Colour: As above
Nose: perfumed, juniper and lemongrass
Taste: juniper and then some more floral notes, lavender violet and some rose, much more perfumed with high notes than in the 2008. Very discernible difference.
4) Hayman’s 1850
Bottled at 40%ABV, Hayman’s 1850 harks back to the style of gin produced before William Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) the Single Bottle Act of 1861 legislation was passed when gin was stored and transported in barrels.
As such Hayman’s 1850 is “rested” in barrels for 3-4 weeks.
Colour: clear with a very pale straw yellow
Nose: Juniper, with some spice and a hint of floral notes.
Taste: Juniper, floral, a little bite of citrus and a smooth, mellow finish with a hint of creamy vanilla. Quite smooth and subtle.
5) Few Barrel-Aged Gin
Colour: light amber orange.
Nose: sweet wood and mint – bourbon
Taste: dark sugar and treacle, minty wood, liquorice too. Good doses of sweet spice and gingerbread and ginger cake were mentioned by some panellists. Others picked up on aspects of candied peel. All round a charming product still reminiscent of some gin character but with the impact of the wood being definitely felt.
This was enjoyed by all of the panel with the overall feeling that the balance between gin & wood flavours was just about right.
6) Myrtle Gin
Colour: deep amber-brown, rather like apple juice.
Nose: Initially wood and whisky, then some smokiness (akin to the smoke of smoked salmon) then some vanilla notes and a floral herbal mix.
Taste: Full flavour at the start, woody followed with leafy herbal notes and a growing peaty character towards the end with a dry juniper finish that last for quite a long time.
Overall the panel agreed this was rather whisky like, with the big whisky fan of the group being particularly praiseworthy. One member really likes gin, is not much of a fan of Scotch, but very much liked the Myrtle Gin. Most agreed that it was complex and intriguing although one member dislike the smoky peatiness.
7) Alambics 13yr Old Caribbean Gin
Bottled at 65.6%ABV, this is created in Scotland for a German company using a “well-established” gin. It is distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland, but each run is of just 272 bottles. Uniquely, prior to bottling, it is aged for 11 years in old whisky barrels and then finished for two years in ex-Caribbean Rum casks.
Colour: medium amber
Nose: oak, vanilla, treacle with juniper at the very end
Taste: smooth to start with a slightly almost sticky texture, coriander, citrus with a slight burnt orange biscuityness. Growing strength with a pine/juniper dryness coming at the end and once you’ve swallowed. Long finish.
With a drop of water more of the woody rum elements come out. All the panel agreed that this was surprisingly little burn for a cask strength product.
Bottled at 44%ABV, this is made by Ransom Spirits of Oregon, USA. It is described as a historic recreation of the type of gin that was in fashion in mid-1800s America and the recipe was developed in collaboration with David Wondrich.
Colour: medium orange-brown
Nose: Pine, sap, a hint of cedarwood and cardamon.
Taste: There was a little smooth silkiness at the start, followed by sappy, piney juniper, some vanilla and oak. There were herbal hints, too, and a little tingle towards the end. The wood comes through again, very much like freshly cut wood, rather natural and forest-like.
Broadly, the Yellow Gins we tried could be placed into three groups:
#1) Light Wood – In these, the effect of the wood is much lighter and, in some cases, tricky to pick out.
Examples include: Seagram’s Original, Citadelle Reserve and Hayman’s 1850.
#2) Medium Wood – There’s more of a balance between the flavours of the gin and the wood, with each playing almost equal parts in the character of the finished product.
Examples include: Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve, Few Aged Gin and (possibly) Ransom.
#3) Heavy Wood – This category is heavily impacted by the wood, to the point where some of the gin character is lost. In some cases, it may not be instantly recognisable as gin.
Examples include: Myrtle Gin 10yr Old and Alambic’s 13yr Old Caribbean Cask.
After our tasting, discussion turned to how we would make our “perfect” Yellow Gin. The general consensus was to go with a gin with a pretty classic botanical mix: anything with up to about 8 traditional botanicals, such as: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, orange, lemon, liquorice, or almond. We thought that a heavy botanical mix, with a good juniper hit, would be needed to ensure the gin was not lost by the woody notes.
Unusually, the panel members struggled to pick an overall favourite of the bunch, so everyone picked, in no particular order, their top three. Each choice received a point and the final scores were:
#1 – Few Barrel-Aged Gin
#2 – Myrtle Gin
#3 – Alambics 13yr Old
But that’s not it; there will be a follow up article feature a rather unusual smoked gin coming soon.
For a list of aged gin that we have not yet tried click here.
A special thanks goes out to: Adam S, Adam P, Paul, Roz, Chris, Few Spirits, Aaron, Matthew, James, Jared, Olivier, Sam, Clayton, Billy, Emma, Sara and of course Zack & his team at Graphic.