Cocktails with… FEW American gin from Illinois, USA

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There are a lot of Gins made in the US and there are lot of Gins made in the UK, but, sadly, there are relatively few US gins available in the UK; most come through the lovely folks at Eaux de Vie, but there is a new US spirits importer intown: Ginuine Spirits, headed up by Michael Vachon.

Ginuine Spirits have just brought five excellent products over to the UK: a Bourbon, a Rye Whiskey, a White Whiskey, a Gin and a  Navy-Strength Gin. Given its imminent landing on British soil, FEW American Gin seemed to be the perfect choice for the Illinois Gin in our United States of Gin Tasting.

FEW Distillery is based in Evanston, Illinois and the Master Distiller is Paul Hletko. As mentioned above, they make a variety of products and, additionally, produce limited editions of a rather tasty yellow/cask/aged Gin, which we tasted [here].

FEWGinBottle

FEW American Gin is rather unusual in that the spirit base is the same as their high corn white whiskey. 70% corn, 20% wheat, 10% 2 row malt. It is bottled at 40%ABV.

The Taste

1) On its own
Nose: Wheat, grain and bread (the base of the gin really comes through), followed by some pine, citrus and a touch of coriander.
Taste: Very soft and smooth initially and also quite sweet, with some liquorice. This is followed by pine and some floral notes, chocolate and coriander towards the end. This Gin has a very long finish, full of anise and liquorice. It’s something very different, but very tasty, too.

2) Gin & Tonic
A juicy and citrusy Gin & Tonic, with a fair hint of White Whiskey and corn coming through, but less juniper than many. It has a touch of sweetness, too, alongside some more liquorice. It’s definitely different, but well-liked by Mrs. B.

3) Martini
Crisp and powerful (given only 40%ABV), this is grainy, with just a hint of vanilla and a dry juniper finish. This is very different; unlike any Martini that I’ve had before, but excellent.

4) Negroni
The FEW American Gin made quite a sweet Negroni, with a long, lingering herbal bitterness, liquorice, anise and a touch of the bitterness of treacle. It’s something different, with the whole flavour of the drink lasting for a long time. The base spirit of the Gin also comes through, adding grainy notes. A different breed of Negroni, but very good, nonetheless.

5) Old Fashioned
The sweet creamy vanilla notes of the gin really comes through and the base really lends itself to the drink (the FEW white whiskey makes an exception Old Fashioned). Flavourful with those familiar gin characteristics of juniper and coriander alongside some floral elements. Pleasantly the drink is well balanced and a chord is struck between the various tastes. Very good indeed.

In Conclusion
FEW American Gin is rather different to most other gins; a lot of this is down to the unique use of White Whisky as its base. This adds a light, grainy maltiness that adds a different dimension to the gin. In fairness, it may not be for everyone, but I think many will love it and it is certainly worth trying. My favourite drink (which was very difficult to choose) was the Old Fashioned and Mrs. B liked the Gin & Tonic.

FEW American Gin is available for around £32 for 750ml from The Whisky Exchange.

Cocktails with… Waterloo Gin (from Texas)

I know what you are thinking, “They make gin in TEXAS?”. Well, yes, they do, and pretty fine stuff it is, too. Waterloo Gin is made by the Treaty Oak Distilling Company of Austin, Texas. They started off their range by making a Plantation Rum and, in November 2011, they released a Gin, Waterloo Gin, which is described as:

“stay(ing) true to the traditional London Dry Gin style, while still making the gin’s Texas roots evident”.

Waterloo Gin is bottled at 47%ABV and contains 11 botanicals:

1) On its own
Nose: A sweet spiciness and juniper upfront, followed by a slight medicinal note and a fresh citrus towards the end.
Taste: Crammed full of flavours, with a little bit of sweetness. Fresh, fruity citrus and sarsaparilla (maybe sassafras) root are quite noticeable, but there is also some cardamom toward the end and a slightly bitter finish. Overall, this is sweet, spicy and generally delicious.

2) Gin & Tonic
This drink is pleasant, indeed; some juniper is followed by cinnamon and cardamom. There is also a little sweetness, which is accompanied by a hint of root beer. Pretty well-balanced and refreshing.

Waterloo Gin (Austin, Texas) at Waterloo Train Station (London, UK)

Waterloo Gin (Austin, Texas) at Waterloo Train Station (London, UK)

3) Martini
Bitter dark chocolate notes are accompanied by a strong burst of cardamom and then a clean citrus, with juniper being present throughout. This is superb and exactly my sort of Martini (I am a self-confessed sucker for cardamom*). The finish also has a zesty edge, which signs the drink off nicely.

4) Negroni
This cocktail was okay, but, sadly, the Gin seems a bit lost. The bitter-sweet balance is good, producing a good, standard drink, but it’s not outstanding. There’s a little sweetness towards the end. I would say that there are much better ways to appreciate this spirit.

In Conclusion
Waterloo Gin really does show that the Texans make excellent Gin and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. This Gin combines excellent flavours with traditional characteristics and a contemporary twist. I really like the addition of pecans in the botanical mix – it adds a unique character.

Cocktails with… Knickerbocker Gin (from Michigan)

Representing the 26th state, New Holland Distilling were kind enough to oblige us with a bottle of their gin from Michigan, Knickerbocker Gin. In addition to this, the Distillery also make two vodkas, three rums, six whiskies (including one co-distilled with Bill Owens, President of The American Distilling Institute) and, finally, a Hopquila – a kind of tequila that’s made from hops.

Knickerbocker Gin is bottled at 42.5% ABV, and contains a mix of 12 botanicals:

On its own
Nose: Vibrant: full of sweet cinnamon and savoury spice, herbs and a lift of cardamom, which balances out what would otherwise have been quite a heavy nose.
Taste: There’s lots of flavour here, too, making this more intense than a typical gin. Flavours of nutmeg and cinnamon are both strong, the latter being especially apparent on the finish. Juniper appears in the middle, but is surrounded by flavours that seem quite different and separate to it, despite the fact that they all work well together. Generally, this is quite spicy with a pleasant warm, dry finish.

Gin & Tonic
Another sweet and spicy delight, this reminds me a little of the Portobello Road Gin or the new Chase British Gin. Flavours of nutmeg, cinnamon and gingerbread are all strong, making this a good example of an autumnal Gin & Tonic; different, but very tasty with a dry finish. There’s more nutmeg at the end. To balance out the sweet spice, my recommended garnish would be both lemon and lime (or Evans style)

Martini
Very spicy, with lots of dry cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. Not bad, but it is a bit odd; some folks will love it, others will hate it. I’m not quite sure which camp I’m in.

Negroni
Sweet and spicy (I guess you are starting to see a trend here); the Christmas spice combo reminds me of cinnamon whirls or the Cinnabon buns that you often get at breakfast for my American cousins. This is surprisingly soft for a Negroni and wonderfully smooth, but isn’t as bitter as many Negronis (it’s almost as if it were a dessert Negroni). Nonetheless, it’s a real pleasure to drink, with a bit of bitterness reminiscent of dark chocolate on the finish.

In Conclusion
Knickerbocker is one of a growing number of gins that chose to emphasise a sweet and spicy flavour profile, full of Christmas spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. This can make it a challenge to mix with, but, with a bit of imagination, this needn’t be a problem. The gin  lends itself particularly well to Autumn (Fall) or Winter cocktails, which is somewhere that gin is currently lacking.

My favourite drink was the Negroni.

Cocktails with… FEW American Gin from Illinois

Cocktails with… Back River Gin (from Maine)

Made by Sweetgrass Distillery and Winery in Union, Maine., Back River Gin describes itself as a:

“Gin made in the London tradition with a Maine twist, blueberries.  The combination of organic botanicals, Maine blueberries, and sea air give our gin its refreshing taste.”

I’m not sure if the sea air can really affect a gin (unless it’s aged), but I do know that Plymouth and Adnams Gins are both made by the sea and both produce excellent products.

Picture of Back River Gin from LeafMag

Back River Gin uses Neutral Grain Spirit as its base, contains a mix of seven botanicals and is bottled at 43%ABV.

1) On its own
Nose: Orange, lime and coriander. There’s also hints of lemon shortbread, grain and, finally, a hint of vanilla. There’s also a touch of powdered liquorice root that gives the nose an almost talc-like quality.
Taste: Heavy on the citrus, this has both orange and coriander notes that are accompanied by sweet anise. The flavour becomes smoother as you continue to drink, with juniper and a swirl of floral notes at the end.

2) Gin & Tonic
Very floral, with zesty citrus, hibiscus and a fair dose of lavender and pine. This isn’t Classic in terms of style and produces a Gin & Tonic that is far more perfumed than many others. The flavour of coriander leaf is prominent throughout.

3) Martini
This cocktail is full of strong and spicy cardamom, along with cilantro and cinnamon. These notes are dominant and the juniper definitely takes a backseat in this Martini. There’s some lavender towards the end, but the finish is mostly just more cilantro and dry cinnamon.

4) Negroni
This is a sound Negroni that has good balance and contains all of the aspects that a traditionalist would expect in the cocktail, but – sadly – has no “WOW” factor. Still, for fans of traditional Negronis, this won’t disappoint.

In Conclusion
This gin has plenty of citrus, floral and coriander notes and whilst the juniper is there it certainly takes a back seat. That said I think the gin could be good to converting reluctant gin drinkers to some of the classics.

My favourite drink was the Martini.

United States of Gin will return in…

Cocktails with… Knickerbocker Gin from Michigan

Cocktails with… Brandon’s Gin (from Arkansas)

Hailing from Arkansas, Brandon’s Gin is unique in that it is the only gin to be made in the state. As Arkansas was the 25th state to join the Union, it was the 16th that we tasted*.

Brandon’s Gin is made by the Rock Town Distillery in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to their gin, they also make Brandon’s Vodka, a River Boat Rum, a Young Bourbon, a Hickory Smoked Whisky and Arkansas Lightning, a sort of white whiskey that is also available in apple pie flavour.

Rock Town Distillery also sell an aging kit, which consists of a small barrel and a bottle of Arkansas Lightning and gives you the opportunity to have a go at aging spirit at home.

Brandon’s Gin is made in a copper pot still and uses the one-shot method. The botanicals are infused with the spirit in a botanical basket or still-hat, so this is a variation on a carter-head still. It is bottled at 46%ABV and contains a mix of 7 botanicals.

On its own
Nose: Juniper and citrus (predominantly lemon), along with some coriander.
Taste: Complex, with multiple layers and a good dose of spice. Notes of freshly cracked black peppercorns are followed by the herbal, slightly fruity spiciness of a a sweet or bell pepper. There are not a lot of gins that go down this route and it’s pleasing to see something a little different. The finish consists of leafy herbal notes and a touch of soapy coriander.

Gin & Tonic
Fresh and pretty juicy, but if the tonic is not crisp and clean enough (such as the US version of Schweppes), the gin is overpowered. My recommended tonic for this drink would be either Q or Fevertree.

Martini
This makes a relatively classic Gin Martini with a notable anise or fennel flavour.  Beyond this unusual note, this cocktail is typical of the drink, being well-balanced, crisp and clean.

Negroni
Sweet and spicy, with hints of cinnamon, cardamom and a pinch of nutmeg. Very nice, indeed. I found that a twist of orange makes a particularly good garnish for this cocktail. It’s a bit sweeter and slightly more contemporary in style than many other Negronis; the sweetness and spiciness are prominent, but the finish is long and bitter. Overall, pretty good.

In Conclusion
Brandon’s flies a spicy standard and has a fair bit of coriander, too. The spicy nature of the gin lends itself well to making drinks that just wouldn’t be the same with any other gin and, with a bit of time and experimentation, I think some truly amazing drinks could be made. Of those that I tried, the Negroni was a particular highlight, but I’d like to improve on my serve for the Gin & Tonic.

* Sadly, not all states have a gin made within their borders, hence why this wasn’t our 25th gin.

Cocktails with… Southern Gin (from Georgia)

Delaware was the first state whose gin we tried and Philadelphia the second; the third gin in our tasting was made in Georgia, courtesy of 13th Colony of Americus, Georgia, USA.

Southern Gin was launched in February 2012 and is made from a base of 190 proof neutral grain spirit (predominantly corn). It is bottled at 40%ABV.

Southern Gin contains an expansive 17 botanicals, including:

Juniper
Angelica
Lemon
Orange
Liquorice
Anise
Cloves
Lime
Lavender
Cucumber
& 7 others that remain a mystery


In addition to this, 13th Colony also make a Plantation Vodka, a Southern Vodka and a Southern Corn Whiskey.

The Taste

Own
Nose: Complex, herbal and floral, this was packed full of punchy pine and had a menthol, Vicks-like end.
Taste: Sweet rosemary, followed by a super amount of juniper pine (if you like prominent juniper, then this is definitely for you). This is more leafy and herbal than spicy, with a deep flavour that’s ripe for exploration; lime citrus comes through well and adds yet another point of difference.

Gin & Tonic
Lovely notes of pine and sap, with wood and pungent, green juniper followed by a touch of maple, honey and hints of eucalyptus; oh, so flavourful. At this point, it is worth remembering that I am describing a Gin & Tonic; Southern Gin knocks it out of the park and is very refreshing.

Martini
BOOM Baby! Absolutely full of sappy pine and plenty of juniper, followed by a touch of sweetness, a slight beeswax note and lots of green herbs. Unusual, this drink will exceed any expectation, and I really, really like it. Additionally, there’s a sweet citrus twist towards the end and a hint of eucalyptus. Unique, but superb; I’d highly recommend that you try it if you get the chance!

Negroni
With the heavy piney juniper notes, this gin is a natural match for a Negroni; it produces a cocktail that is intense and has a strong, bitter finish – amazing.

In Conclusion

Southern Gin makes some of the most intense, but also intensely delicious gin drinks I have tried. It lends itself well to every drink that I tried and would stand up well in more complex cocktails with a greater variety of flavours. The Martini was my favourite.

Cocktails with… Greenhook Gin (from New York State)

So last week we did a bit of a Moonraker and actually featured Cardinal Gin rather than the advertised Greenhook.

The seventh gin that we tried during our United States of Gin tasting was Greenhook Gin, which is made by Greenhook Ginsmiths in Greenpoint (Brooklyn), New York State.

1) On its own
Nose: Smoky (light ash), spice and orris.
Taste: Strong and dry, with bitter pine at the centre of the flavour and a spicy, savoury kick at the  end. There are also spicy notes of coriander, cinnamon and orange and a very dry, almost tannin-like finish.

2) Gin & Tonic
This tastes of dry tea, some dried berries, cilantro and a fresh, vegetal flavour of red chilli peppers. It’s very savoury for a Gin & Tonic, which makes it distinctive and intriguing. With its slight touch of saltiness on the finish, this would be good with food and perhaps with a vegetable (olive?), rather than fruit, garnish.

3) Martini
With its mass of floral flavours, this is perfumed, with notes of orange and coriander. It’s not a classic-style of Martini, but is still rather tasty. Leafy notes appear partway through, partly reminiscent of marigold, and it’s topped off with a smoky finish.

4) Negroni
This has a fruity nose and a taste with lots of both fruit and vegetal elements (such as tomato); there’s also a smokiness in the middle. This gin really makes an impact in this cocktail and brings something new. It reminds me of a greengrocers full of fresh produce and the drink grows on you as you sip, with lovely herbal anise on the finish.

In Conclusion
Greenhook Gin has a pleasant smokiness that distinguishes it from almost every other gin (the closest is the exceptionally limited edition Sipsmith Smoked); it also has some savoury characteristics that are not too common. This makes for a gin that produces unique cocktails and can really add some new character and life to traditional gin tipples. The Gin & Tonic has a lot of potential, especially with the right garnish.

United States of Gin will return in…

Cocktails with… Corsair Gin from Kentucky

Cocktails with… Cardinal Gin (from North Carolina)

Cardinal Gin is the only gin made in North Carolina (the 12th state to join the union), by Southern Artisan Spirits of Kings Mountain. It is based on Neutral Grain Spirit and has 9 botanicals.

On its own
Nose: Juniper mainly, with some floral, heathy notes.
Taste: Cinnamon upfront, then mint on the finish. There are also faint hints of coconut and wintergreen/sarsaparilla. This has an interesting and sweet – almost dessert-like – flavour profile.

Gin & Tonic
Sweet and herbal, this tastes quite a lot of menthol, which makes it rather cooling in your mouth. This is certainly not a run-of the mill Gin & Tonic, but it is exceptionally refreshing, thanks in part to that cooling menthol. I would recommend a wedge of lemon to complement the minty freshness.

Martini
Sweet and spicy, with menthol on the finish. Once again, I like the mint notes, as it gives the cocktail a crisp edge, whilst not overpowering the drink. This won’t be for everyone, but I rather like it.

Negroni
Sweet and herbal, with fennel, anise and liquorice all being rather dominant. There is a thickness to the texture and the gin’s sweetness comes through quite strongly, making this almost like a Negroni liqueur. The sweetness reminds me of the wintergreen in Dandelion & Burdock, but, that said, there is a separate bitter note that should keep ardent Negroni fans happy.

In Conclusion
Mint is a prominent feature of this gin and some of the panel criticised it for this. That aspect may overpower some drinks, but, with some thought, the spirit can be used to make some really superb ones; even in the standard cocktail fayre that I tried it in, I found some of the cocktails to be rather moreish.

United States of Gin will return in…

Cocktails with… Greenhook Gin from New York State

Cocktails with… Watershed Gin (from Virginia)

The 10th state to join the United States of America was Virginia and, as such, the next gin in our United States of Gin Tasting was Watershed Gin from Catoctin Creek, Virginia.

Watershed Gin is bottled at 50%ABV and is made from a spirit-base of organic rye.

On its own
Nose: Vanilla, grain, cereal, wheat and oily citrus.
Taste: Smooth, thick and syrupy, with strong flavours of caraway, juniper and anise, as well as orris root. It has respectable depth of flavour, but is unusual and rather savoury, even a touch salty (in a similar way to Aviation gin, but less floral). I really like the contemporary style of this gin and it has great mixing potential, being able to go into the savoury areas that other gins dare not tread.

Gin & Tonic
Initially, fruit salad sweets, with a musky chalkiness and citrus and floral notes to follow. Then it’s very dry, with hints of orris and celery. This is most definitely unusual, but from tasting the drink neat, not unexpected.

Martini
Flavours of caraway and dark chocolate immediately leap out, followed by pine and a pinch of mint. Crisp citrus appears on the finish. Almost invigorating – excellent.

Negroni
A slight, dusky chocolate note to start (like cocoa powder), followed by yet another unusual take on a classic gin drink. There’s plenty of juniper, though, with coriander and anise bringing up the rear. Unusually for a Negroni, there is something about it that reminds me of fresh porridge; there’s also a touch of herbs and dusty oats. Despite it being something of a departure from a traditional Negroni’s flavour profile, I did rather like it.

In Conclusion
All in all, this is a gin that stands up and goes its own way, but with a lot of potential. With some experimentation, you could come up with some drinks that just wouldn’t be the same with any other gin. My favourite of my line-up was easily the Martini.

United States of Gin will return in…

Cocktails with… Greenhook Gin from New York State

Cocktails with… Karner Blue Gin (from New Hampshire)

Karner Blue is made in New Hampshire, the 9th state to join the Union, which it did on 21st June 1788. The gin is made by Flaghill in Lee, New Hampshire. The distillery (and associated winery) make an array of spirits, including a vodka, apple brandy, and grappa, as well as a selection of liqueurs.

Karner Blue is based on apple spirit and contains 9 botanicals which include:

Juniper, Lemon, Orange Orris Root and Cinnamon

1) On its own
Nose: Sweet and fruity: mostly apricot jam and blackberries, with a touch of cardamom.
Taste: Smooth and creamy. Light and fruity to start, then a richer creaminess appears, making the gin seem warm and heavier. Orange, lemon and hints of peach, as well as the more spicy and bitter aspects of orange follow.

2) Gin & Tonic
This is definitely a fruity variety of this classic gin drink, with a peach and strawberry jammy finish. It is quite sweet, but not overly so, and a slight zestiness gives it balance. This full-flavoured Gin & Tonic was a real treat and well-liked by the panel.

3) Martini
Very clean and crisp notes of orange and coriander. There’s also some cilantro (coriander leaf), too, and the cocktail is lightly perfumed with floral, herbal notes. A lemon twist would be the best garnish.

4) Negroni
This cocktail is quite sweet to start, although some dry, herbal notes appear after a moment, followed by some strong, juicy (rather than dry) juniper at the end. It seems quite traditional, overall, but is perhaps cosier than your average Negroni. Easy to drink, clean and – somehow – comforting.

In Conclusion
There are some sweet and juicy notes to this gin, as well as a good dose of coriander leaf. The comforting Negroni was very appealing, but the Gin & Tonic, with its luscious plum notes, just had the edge for me.

United States of Gin will return in…

Cocktails with Catoctin Creek’s Watershed Gin from Virginia