Derby Day! – Mint Juleps Made with Aged Gin

Following this rather excellent article on gin drinks for the Kentucky Derby by the Gin MC at TheGinIsIn.com, I was inspired to investigate how well aged gins work in the classic Derby drink, the Mint Julep. Since I had some aged gin left over from our Yellow Gin Tasting and, given that I still needed to write something about aged gin cocktails, I immediately set to work.

For my Gin Juleps, I decided to go down the Julep Glass route (rather than metal cup), as a point of differentiation from the whiskey version. This “presentation” of Julep can be seen in the film Goldfinger.

I also thought that a little extra flavour was warranted and so I added a few drops of Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters from The Bitter Truth. These bitters also help to add some of the warmth that you would expect from the whiskey equivalent.

Gin Julep with Myrtle 10 Yr Old Gin

1) Hayman’s 1850
The fresh mint went well with the crisp, dry juniper of this gin and its light, oaky, creamy flavour worked in harmony with the spicy bitters. As a result, this was a very good drink and a worthy alternative to a whiskey Julep.

2) Myrtle Gin
This gin has been aged for 10 years and so is the most whiskey-like of all that I tried. As such, it made a great, woody Julep. It was actually a little dryer than the bourbon version and, as a result, will really appeal to certain folks; of course, if you prefer your drink sweeter, you can always just add more sugar, so it’s win-win.

3) Seagram’s Distillers Reserve
Really good and greatly improved by the dash of bitters, which seemed to accentuate the oaky notes of the gin. I decided to use the Distiller’s Reserve over the Original “Ancient” Gin, as the effects of the barrel-aging are much more pronounced. Despite the fact that Distillers Reserve is bottled at 51%ABV (almost cask-strength), this was a smooth and easy-to-drink Julep.

4) Sipsmith Smoked
This is a completely different kettle-of-fish to the other Juleps and there’s no worries about the flavour being too subtle! This smoky smash had flavours of smoked salmon and smoked cheese, but kept a strong, dry note of juniper, which worked well alongside the mint. It was more smoky than warm and is more like a Julep made with Islay Scotch whisky than bourbon. That said, I thought it was sublime.

5) Citadelle Reserve 2008
This Julep tasted quite strong, with a good punch of juniper, whilst the crisp, herbal notes of the gin went well with the mint. It was relatively easy to drink, but did have the warming effect of a Mint Julep, along with its ability to really creep up on you if you drink it too fast.

In Conclusion
The Myrtle Gin and the Sipsmith Smoked made my favourite Gin Juleps: the Myrtle one being most similar to a whiskey equivalent, and the Smoked being something new, but delicious. Of the lighter, oaked gins that I experimented with, I thought the Hayman’s 1850 also made a delicious drink.

As an alternative to using aged gin, you could conceivably make a Gin Julep with a regular gin and add a dash of oak distillate (if you could happen to get hold of some).

If you want to know more about non-aged gin drinks such as the Cherry Julep and the Derby Cocktail, I would suggest checking out this page here.

Special thanks to Aaron for the inspiration.

Cocktails with… Black Rory Blended Scotch

Black Rory is inspired by the whisky produced in the Coquet Valley in Northumberland in the 18th Century. Both the bottle and the website provide atmospheric pictures reflecting the area where spirit of its type was said to arrive, ready to be smuggled, tax free, onto inns and taverns. This inspiration reminded me strongly of ‘Captain Clegg’, a 1962 film that DBS & I have watched recently, starring Peter Cushing and containing many an 18th Century smuggler and pirate.

Prior to its production, the master blender of Black Rory visited the Coquet Valley to discover the nature of the water and peat of the area. He then returned to Scotland to search for a blend a range of whiskies in line with this inspiration. This blend is the result.

On its own
Nose: Rich, sweet and heavy, this was rather liqueur-like, with a distinctive fruitiness, reminiscent of dry raisins or cherries.
Taste: Wow – this tasted strong! Although there wasn’t any burn, it was both very warming and full of flavour. The main body of flavour was complex wood, highlighted with vanilla, oak, light peat and orange. The end of the finish was slightly bitter, neatly counteracting the initial sweetness.

The Rob Roy
This was a magnificent copper/auburn colour. The nose was also quite remarkable, being mainly savoury, but with hints of sweet paprika and a distinctive chilli/pepper edge. To taste, it was initially smooth, before revealing a burst of flavour obviously from the bitters. A whole range of notes then played out, including: herbal notes, like basil; and sweet, spicy notes, like paprika and cherry. This then faded to a lighter, and relatively clean, citrus finish. An impressive, flavourful cocktail.

Rob Roy with Black Rory and Spanish Bitters

Rob Roy with Black Rory and Spanish Bitters

Old Fashioned
The nose to this one was similar to the first, but with a higher proportion of sweet spiciness, which faded into a woodiness. It tasted sweeter to start, but the flavour then kept “seesawing” between the sweet, spicy, wood notes and a dryer, more herbal flavour.

Negroni
A rich, vibrant red, this had both the same spicy, chilli notes on the nose, along with some strong herbal notes from the bitters. Unlike DBS, I very rarely drink a Negroni, so my initial response to this was some shock regarding its bitterness; it was exceptionally bitter to start, gradually fading to a longer, less severe flavour. I caught smoke on the finish, along with a woody dryness.

Whisky & Soda
This was lighter on both the nose and the palette. There were fresh, lively herbal notes, liquorice, light peat and straw, and a dryness. To start, it tasted of straw and malt, which faded quickly into the familiar bitterness of soda water. The finish was very clean and, after a few minutes, with a bit of ice melt, this transformed into a light, refreshing long drink.

Glasgow
A different nose this time, focusing more on the herbal, basil-like edge of the whisky, anise and honey. A slight hint of plastic appeared towards the end. It tasted very bitter at the front of the mouth, before gradually building into a strong maltiness, like beer. Not my favourite & not recommended for anyone who doesn’t like beer!

The Churchill
Another refreshing, different nose; lots of the whisky came through in this drink, with wood, malt and a touch of sweet orange – like orange fondant. Herbal notes kicked in at the end. The taste developed slowly from sweet orange, to a powerful, lemony sourness that faded into a more general bitterness. Richer, heavier notes akin to red vermouth gave a warm, rounded finish. I really enjoyed this cocktail, which allowed the whisky to come through without being completely dominant.

Hot Toddy
This had a neat nose of wood, malt and lemon. It was a perfectly smooth and balanced combination of wood, malt, light peat and the fresh zing of lemon on the aftertaste. Neither too strong, nor too sweet, this was “just right” on practically every level; delicious.

In Conclusion…
Black Rory is a tasty, savoury whisky that packs a punch, warms you up, and has an unexpected, lightly bitter finish. As a result, it works well in a whole range of cocktails, especially those that might otherwise be too sweet or dull. My favourite, without a doubt, was the Toddy, closely followed by the Churchill and then the Rob Roy. And how could I say no to a no-nonsense tumbler of the Rory straight, when the bottle reminds me so strongly of Peter Cushing and all of his 18th Century smuggling?

– Mrs. B

Black Rory is avaialble from the Spirit of Coquet Website at £36 for 70cl.

Why not follow them on twitter @Haven_Rothbury

Whilst you’re there our twitter is https://twitter.com/#!/summerfruitcup

Yellow/Aged Gin Tasting – 8 Varieties Compared

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.

The 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

This was introduced in 2006 and is bottled at 51%ABV. It’s a blend of the best gins from Seagram’s Extra Dry, post-mellowing and bottled at cask-strength.

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

This was created by the Hayman’s Family, who also make a variety of other gins, including Old Tom and London Dry.

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

Bottled at 65.4%ABV, this has been aged for 4 months in New American Oak.

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

A very unique product, this is produced for the Spirit of the Coquet and is the result of a Scottish Gin, aged for 10 years, and infused with Northumberland Myrtle. It is bottled at 47%ABV

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.

.

.

8) Ransom

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.

.

Some Reflections

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.

The Results

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.