The Cognac Advent Calendar

I have seen more varieties of Advent calendars this year than ever before, containing all manner of treats beyond the normal chocolate of my childhood calendars: tea, cosmetics, sock yarn, and – of course – the wonderful Ginvent and other Master of Malt Advent Calendars.

This year, however, I’m eagerly looking forward to exploring a different spirit category in my calendar: Cognac! In addition to gin and whisky, Master of Malt also produce a wide range of calendars looking at different spirits, whether that be rum, vodka, a range of whiskies, or even – as DTS will be reviewing this year – something as innovative as distillates of different junipers. So there’s a calendar for everyone’s favourite tipple!

masterofmaltcognacadventcalendar

I have to admit, though, that I’m really very excited at the prospect of their Cognac Advent Calendar – what a wonderful way to try a range of Cognacs, identify some favourites, and expand my palate for the spirit, all whilst counting down to Christmas Day?

You can follow my daily posts on Instragram and Twitter, which you can follow at @saraandthebear or using #CognacAdvent. I’ll also do an interim report roughly halfway through.

Bring on 1st December!

– Mrs. B.

Aged Gin Update from Master of Malt

Those chaps over at Master of Malt have been at it again with their experimentation, this time in the world of aged gins. If you are looking for a spirit that will please someone who is both a gin and a whisky lover, then definitely check out their range of aged gins. Here are some highlights from 2015.

lightly-peated-cask-aged-bathtub-gin-batshit-mental-ideasLightly Peated Cask Aged (43.1% ABV)

Subtly aged in an ex-Ardbeg Islay whisky cask.

Colour: Champagne gold
Nose: Light, with some deeper herbal notes and a little sticky fruitiness, followed by wisps of wood smoke.
Taste: A full texture that fills the mouth, whilst not being too thick. Strong, herbaceous botanical notes come through, before a light, woody sweetness. The dry wood smoke notes build on the finish and linger for minutes after.

rum-aged-bathtub-gin-10-months-batshit-mental-ideas-ginRum Aged Bathtub Gin (10 Months) (43.1% ABV)

Bathtub gin aged for 10 months in an ex-rum cask.

Colour: Pale golden yellow
Nose: Sweet molasses and allspice, somewhat reminiscent of Pimento Dram. There are also the sweet, herbaceous notes that evoke memories of old-time curiosity cola and some hints of Jamaican Ginger Cake, too.
Taste: Sweet and spice, with a little stickiness upfront, followed by woody spice – cassia, cinnamon, and nutmeg – before some bitter, herbal treacle notes and a woody and dry botanical finish.

manhattan-aged-bathtub-gin-aged-9-months-batshit-mental-ideasManhattan Aged Bathtub Gin (9 Months) (42.5% ABV)

Bathtub gin aged for 9 month in a cask that was previously use to barrel-aged a Manhattan cocktail.

Colour: Burnt ochre
Nose: Deep orange marmalade and woody, herbal notes of aromatic bitters, then some light, woody resin and bread notes with just a touch of wormwood.
Taste: Citrus notes of burnt orange upfront, before the dry, mellow, woody breadiness of rye, before a burst of spice and a botanical sweetness. This is followed by juniper and angelica notes, and an exceptionally long and lightly sweet finish of floral rose and turkish delight.

whisky-bitters-cask-aged-bathtub-gin-batch-2Whisky Bitters Cask Aged Bathtub Gin Batch #2 (43.3% ABV)

Bathtub gin aged in an ex-whisky bitters cask.

Colour: Light Chardonnay
Nose: Quite light, with some vanilla spice, moving towards hints of gentian root and the aromatics of cocktail bitters.
Taste: This has mellow aged gin notes to start, followed by a bitter, earthy woodiness, along with a touch of a maple-like sweetness. There is dry juniper on the finish.

very-old-tom-gin-batshit-mental-ideasVery Old Tom  (47.5% ABV)

Based on a blend of both aged and unaged spirits, cold distilled botanicals are then added before a maceration of juniper berries and a light sweetening. The spirit is finished in a 50 litre casks for 5 months.

Botanicals include:

Juniper
Coriander
Angelica
Orris
Liquorice
Cardamom
Fresh Lemon Peel
Fresh Grapefruit Peel
Fresh Lime Peel
Fresh Orange Peel
Fresh clementine Peel
Earl Grey Tea

Colour: Burnt flame orange
Nose: This has a deep complexity, with the notes revealing themselves over time. There are some orange a woody notes to start, followed by a honeyed sweetness and notes of orange blossom, cherry, and other stone fruit. Finally, there’s a dryer, woody nuttiness.
Taste: A lovely texture: thick, like maple syrup. Like on the nose, rich, sweet orange and marmalade notes come forward, before some intense botanical notes: fresh juniper, woody angelica, and then citrus spice. The finish is similar to that of a Highland malt, with burnt citrus and nutty pecan notes. This is very complex and should appeal to whisky drinkers.

 

Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Anglo-Scottish-American Gin (67.5%ABV)

Part of an experimental range released by the professor, this gin takes Scottish malt spirit and re-distills it with botanicals under a vacuum. The spirit is then aged in England in a cask previously used for a batch of FEW Barrel-Aged American Gin.

Color:    Yellow-white.

Nose:    Quite creamy, with vanilla notes followed by a hint of dry spice, reminiscent of homemade custard or crème anglais.

Taste:    Powerful spirit, but also rather smooth and an almost liqueur-like texture to begin with, along     with a creaminess, courtesy of the barley spirit base. There is a fair amount of sweetness, and     the spice of a dry gingerbread cookie. The finish is more gin-like, with citrus and juniper. A very     long, winding finish.

 

Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Old Fashioned Aged Bathtub Gin (43.3% ABV)

The latest addition to the Professor’s range of creatively-aged gins, this has been matured in a 50 liter cask that had previously contained a batch of Old Fashioned cocktail.

Color:    Medium-honey.

Nose:    Honey and orange, with hints of spice and whiskey, much like a good whiskey liqueur.

Taste:    Very soft, velvety, and full-bodied. There are wood notes upfront, with sweetness and spice, as well as a touch of whisky smoke and burnt orange. The flavor then shifts to more traditional gin     notes: juniper, angelica, citrus, and a slightly floral flair, somewhat reminiscent of violets and root beer.

Darkness! Aged Bathtub Gin – – Macallan, Clynelish and Abelour

When I spoke to Ben Ellefsen (a close associate of Professor Cornelius Ampleforth) at a tasting last summer and he hinted that there were more innovative aged gins in the pipeline, I was excited. Master of Malt have already created some superb gins under their “Batshit Mental Range”, including Old Fashioned Cask aged and Anglo-Scottish-American gin.

After a six month wait, the new year kicked off in splendid form with the announcement that a series of four aged gins were to be released, all based on their Bathtub Gin and bottled at 43.3% ABV; the only variation between them is the cask that they are stored in.

The gins are aged in casks which were previously used to finish their Darkness! Single Malt Whisky range (these are Scotch whiskies that are finished in ex-sherry casks).

Darkness-Aged-Bathtub-Gin-AberlourAbelour (43.3% ABV) Darkness Aged Bathtub Gin
(Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Pedro Ximenez barrel previously used to finish an Abelour whisky)
Colour: Warm amber
Nose: Dry elements towards the end, with a touch of nutmeg and vanilla.
Taste: A good, dry flavour and a woody bitterness towards the finish. There is also a slightly sour, briney quality and a slight astringent note. Quite intense, but different from the wood and winter spice of many other aged gins. The dryness of the base spirit really comes through. There’s a good, long finish that is quite excellent, unlike much as the marked, minimal sweetness.

 

Darkness-Aged-Bathtub-Gin-ClynelishClynelish (43.4% ABV) Darkness Aged Bathtub Gin
(Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Oloroso barrel previously used to finish a Clynelish whisky)
Colour: Dark amber/gold
Nose: Sweet orange, marmalade, and warm spice, with hints of dark fruit and jam; almost a touch of vermouth.
Taste: A full texture, rich and fruity, with plenty of citrus that reminds me of Dundee marmalade. There’s a warmth on the finish and a little heat; this is brighter, bolder, and spicier than the Abelour version, as well as being more like a mainstream aged gin. More wood notes come through, too.

 

Darkness-Aged-Bathtub-Gin-MacallanMacallan (43.3% ABV) Darkness Aged Bathtub Gin
(Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Pedro Ximenez barrel previously used to finish a Macallan whisky)
Colour: Straw yellow
Nose: Woody with some crisp juniper; dry and piney, with some light, floral notes from coriander and then some warm spice and woody notes: vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Taste: Some sweet bourbon-esque character, before a more balanced flavour with dry gin and juniper notes that move towards a nutty finish with a hint of marzipan. Well-integrated and a lovely introduction to the category of aged gin.

In Conclusion
The use of unusual casks to age gin are an identified trend for the spirit in 2015 and these examples certainly qualify. I was genuinely surprised at how different the spirits were and all were rather tasty, the folks at Master of Malt and Maverick Drinks have done it again!

Darkness! Bathtub Aged Gin Abelour, Ardbeg, Clynelish, Macallan are available for around £30 for 500ml.

Exciting Developments in the World of Aged Gin

Negroni and Bitters Cask aged Gins

There have been a lot of recent releases and developments in the world of aged/yellow/amber gin and today we feature two more exciting barrel-aged gins. Gone are the days when gin was simply aged in ex-bourbon or wine casks; Herno have launched their Juniper Cask gin last year and today’s featured spirits are just as innovative.

Based on the Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin, or rather the company’s in-house eccentric Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s bathtub creation, the first gin is aged for 3 months in a 50 litre barrel that had previously held a Negroni cocktail.

Negroni Aged Bathtub Gin

On its own
Colour: Rose gold
Nose: Juniper and strong, herbal, woody notes.
Taste: This is a spicy gin with a little sweetness and the bold bitterness that you’d expect from a Negroni. It’s a mellow flavour overall, but the character of the Negroni really comes through from the barrel. Sipping-wise, it is very balanced and intriguing.

Gin & Tonic
There’s a lot going on in this drink and it is almost reminiscent of a pink Gin & Tonic, however some how it seems a bit too sweet without a garnish. However, with a slice of ruby or pink grapefruit, the drinks transforms, achieves balance, and is a lot more palatable. I’d stick to drinking this gin in other ways, though.

Martini
A very intense and flavourful Martini, with elements that you would expect from a Negoni (namely, herbal bitterness and spice) mingling with the more traditional Martini flavours. This reminds me somewhat of a sweet Martini and would be excellent as an aperitif.

Negroni
A very smooth and slightly sweet Negroni, with layers and layers of intense flavour. There is citrus sweetness, followed by a more spicy sweetness, as well as hints of oak and vanilla. There is then a dry, herbal bitterness. Despite the intensity of flavour, the bitterness is a matured, mellow flavour. Unlike anything else you’ll try.

So a gin aged in a Negroni Barrel is pretty unique right? Well, what about one aged in a barrel that used to hold aromatic bitters? Well, the folks at Master of Malt, again led by the good Professor, have gone there and the result is their Bathtub Bitters-Aged Gin.

Batshit Mental Bitters-aged Bathtub Gin (43.3% ABV)

This time, Master of Malt took a batch of their Bathtub Gin and aged it for three months in a 20 liter cask that had previously held cask-aged bitters.

Bitters Aged Bathtub Gin

Own
Color: Warm gold
Nose: Lots of spice, nutmeg, cinnamon and cassia.
Taste: Sweetness upfront, then plenty of confectionery cinnamon and cassia, reminiscent of Christmas spiced cookies and pumpkin pie. Finally, there is a more intense bitterness and the juniper comes through. Extremely intense in flavour, this has plenty of mixing potential.

Gin & Tonic
A rather spicy Gin & Tonic, packed with flavour. But unlike some spicy gins, the sweetness is balanced by dry and bitter flavours, which stops it from tasting like a Christmas pudding. I particularly like how the gentian-like bitterness from the spirit pairs well with the quinine of the tonic water on the finish.

Martini
This is a more spicy Martini than most, with unusual confectionery notes, lots of vanilla, raisin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, like a simnel cake or Christmas fruit slice. This certainly reveals the softer side of the spirit, but, nonetheless, it’s rather good and quite smooth. More of an after-dinner than than a pre-dinner drink.

Negroni
Exceptionally intense and flavoursome; beyond the aromatic spices that you may expect (nutmeg, cinnamon, cassia, clove), there are some deep, bitter, earthy herbal notes that strike a chord between the gin and the Campari. This bold drink is excellent; definitely one for the Negroni fan who thinks that they’ve seen it all. Just don’t have it before a tasting – the flavour lingers on and on and on!

In Conclusion
I really like both gins, but, for me, the Negroni-cask just eeks out the lead; it is superb on its own, from the freezer, or even mixed with extra Campari and vermouth for a sort of turbo Negroni. For me, the Bitters-aged Gin has great digestif properties and I particularly liked the Martini and Negroni.

Cocktails with… Bathtub Cask Aged Gin (Navy Strength)

This week will feature a variety of article focused on yellow gin/aged gin, in 2011, I made a prediction that 2012 would be the year of aged/yellow/matured gin but although there were a few new products 2013 has really been the year of yellow gin and my predictions seem to have been 12 months early.

This article will feature Bathtub Navy Gin, which by my reckoning is the first aged gin commercial available.* This is an aged version of the navy strength Bathtub gin we tasted at out navy strength tasting.

BathtubCask-agedGinNavystrengthbottle

On its own
Colour: Dark, rich gold.
Nose: Dry Christmas spice: cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg and cloves, but a little woody vanilla, too. Softer than the nose for the regular Bathtub Navy.
Taste: Superb – has a texture that just expands in your mouth; something that’s really rather different. It’s also rather smooth for 57% ABV. There’s lots of spice upfront, with a slight confectionery quality, too, reminding me of Easter cake or a Tiffin Slice (essentially, light Christmas pudding). Finally, there’s an unusual finish of sarsaparilla, cherry and almond, with just a hint of pine sap.

Gin Tonic
Looks like fizzy pastis, but has a rather nice flavour. I’m reminded again of pastis, as the spice flavour comes through: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and a little anise. There are notes of vanilla, too, as well as a dry finish. In terms of flavour and appearance, this is a very unusual and herbal Gin & Tonic, but it definitely has something going for it and I’ll certainly have another. Mrs. B found it delightful, too.

Martini
A beautiful Martini, golden in colour and very intense and fragrant. There’s dry juniper, then some sweet vanilla and cardamom, followed by oak vanilla notes and some winter spice, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is green, herbal and slightly leafy. Very, very flavourful and really rather lovely – invigorating, even.

Negroni
To start, there’s an intriguing rosemary nose, but then when to taste it, boy! does this make a super Negroni. You get the woody vanilla notes upfront, followed by the nutmeg and cassia spice. Then there are some more herbal notes, the dry juniper and – finally – the deep, dark, more intensely bitter herbal notes that are normally associated with the Negroni. This drink certainly has impact and is one for the Negroni fan.

Cask-Aged Gin Navy-Strength is available from Master of Malt for around £35 for 50cl.

*NY DIstilling Barrel-aged their Perry’s Tot but do not sell it by the bottle.

Whispers of Whisk(e)y #35 – Maple Whisky Liqueur

Today’s whiskey liqueur is made by the Tunbridge Wells Liqueur Co., a sub-brand of Master of Malt, who, in addition to having an award-winning online retail site (where you can buy wonderful 30ml samples of whiskies), have an impressive array of their own products, ranging from handmade cocktails to Bathtub Gin.

 

The liqueur (bottled at 29.9% ABV) combines Kentucky Bourbon and fine Canadian maple syrup, with the aim of producing a tasty liqueur encompassing the benefits of each. Here are my thoughts.

WOW35 - MapleWhisky Liqueur

On its own

Nose: Initially, familiar notes of bourbon are aplenty, only sweeter and richer. Then, all of a sudden, unexpected notes of spice kick in, accompanied by cloves and black liquorice. After a little warming, rich, thick maple syrup notes are evident, with hints of cherry, but at no point do they take over – the bourbon and spice are always there, making for an interesting and three-dimensional nose.

Taste: A smooth sweetness to start, along with more complex notes of liquorice, treacle, and lightly spiced oak. The viscosity and distinct flavour of syrup then come into play, but those woody notes of liquorice continue to neatly balance this out, stopping it from becoming overly-sugary.

Finish: Vanilla and maple syrup with the dryness of liquorice root. At the very end, a faint hint of tart fruit, like cherries or blackcurrants.

 

Over ice

Nose: Much sweeter and lighter, with more maple and a faint, herbal edge.

Taste: Again, this is more smooth and less viscous, making it much more refreshing and a perfect serve for summer. Lighter on the palate, it seems more dessert-like, reminding me of pancakes with maple syrup and slightly melted vanilla ice-cream. After a few sips, the richer, spiced notes build up so that you get some of the more dry, complex flavours of liquorice and dark chocolate.

From the freezer

Served at an impressive -1 degrees Celsius, this is more viscous, complex and bold, with a good deal more of the maple coming through. There are also strong notes of treacle, liquorice and just a hint of cloves. More than in any of the other serves, there’s also a notable warmth to the finish, which is of cinnamon, oak and treacle. Delicious!

In a toddy

(50ml Maple Whiskey Liqueur, 25ml lemon juice, 75ml hot water)

A lemon freshness to start, which gradually develops into a creamy vanilla note that continues throughout. There’s a short burst of maple sweetness, before dryer, lightly spiced oak. Finally, the fresh notes of lemon returns. The finish is of lemon sherbets, cinnamon, the flavour – but not the sweetness – of maple syrup, and creamy vanilla. This blurs into a final, lingering note of  lemon, making it somewhat reminiscent of a smooth lemon cheesecake.

In Conclusion

This is delicious: a superb pairing of smooth, but intense notes of maple syrup and classic bourbon flavours. It’s not too sweet and is just complex enough to be interesting, without being fussy. Not only that, but I could drink it at any time of year in any one of the serves that I tried today; my favourite was straight from the freezer. Very good, indeed.

 

– Mrs. B.

 

You can buy Maple Whiskey Liqueur from Master of Malt at £27.95 for 50cl.

 

Cocktails with… Master of Malt’s Cream Gin

CREAMGIN TITLE

This will be the penultimate article this year on the marvellous creations of Master of Malt; 2011 saw the launch of their excellent Handmade Cocktails and this year has seen them release:

Origin Single Estate Juniper Gins, Navy Strength Gin, Summer Fruit Cup, Leap Year Cocktail, Maple Whisky and many many others.

Today, I shall be looking at Cream Gin. Such gins were popular in the Gin Palaces of the Victorian Era and can be seen in pictures of bars of the time (see below); although the exact contents and process of making the gin is not 100% clear, it was probably gin mixed with cream and sugar and left in barrel to soften the spirit’s harshness (as discussed between creators Ryan and Ben here).

CreamGin GinPalace

From the Master of Malt site:

“The Cream Gin has been cold-distilled using fresh cream as a botanical (the equivalent of 100ml Cream per bottle), to capture the fresh flavour of the cream in a perfectly clear spirit. Because the cream is never heated during the distillation process, no ‘burnt’ or ‘off’ flavours end up in the finished product. Cream Gin has the same shelf-life as any other distilled spirit.”

CreamGin Bottle

THE TASTE

#1) On its own
Nose: Juniper upfront, along with a little coriander.
Taste: Juniper, black pepper and some coriander. A little cream towards the end, but it’s quite subtle; it is with time, as you continue to drink it, that the creaminess builds up and you can really appreciate the distinguishing features of this gin. It also really opens up with water.

#2) Gin & Tonic
Very fine, with some vanilla and a touch of cream; very refreshing, with citrus and coriander. Very good, indeed.

#3) Martini
A strong, crisp and cooling Martini with a creamy finish, in part due to the vermouth, in part due to the gin. Quite simple, but smooth and pleasant.

#4) Negroni
Very good – extremely smooth and silky, helped by a good amount of creaminess from the gin. There’s still a good bitter-sweet balance, as well as a slight hint of nuts. Different, but good.

#5) Sweet Martini
Another sweet, herbal, creamy drink that’s very good. Comforting and invigorating and very, very smooth.

#6) Ramos Gin Fizz
Due to some miscalculations regarding the quantities in my drink, I ended up with a pint of Ramos Gin Fizz, but that was fine with me, because it was rather delicious: a great mix of citrus and cream, much like a syllabub or tart au citron. The gin adds a little dry juniper, but also contributes to a more silky and buttery finish. Very good.

#7) Alexander
Really lovely: the combination of flavours go together exceptionally well, producing a rich and creamy, but not too sickly, cocktail. This drink is really a natural match for the gin.

#8) French ‘75
This starts off as a pretty standard French ‘75, but concludes with a creamy, almost buttery finish. Softer and less dry than many.

#9) Bottom Button*
[25ml Cream Gin, 25ml Creme de Cacao Brown, 25ml The King’s Ginger – SHAKE]
Quite sweet, but simply blissful, with the cream from the gin, the chocolate of the Cacao, and the herbal warmth of the ginger, all whilst the dryness of the juniper adds a bit of balance. Sumptuously superb!

#10) Cream Gin & Cola (from the Worship Street Whistling Shop)
[50ml Cream Gin, 150ml Coca Cola – Optional Vanilla-Salt Rim)
I didn’t have vanilla salt, so I dabbed some vanilla essence around the rim of the glass and used ordinary salt instead.

It is quite common for gin in Africa to be drunk with Coca Cola (something of a status symbol in itself) and this is a common way for Uganda Waragi to be drunk. Even without the vanilla salt, I think that the drink works well, but the garnish adds that extra flair. The vanilla works well with the gin and cola, reminding me of Coca Cola Vanilla, which was once available in the UK. Whilst this drink is, on the face of it, simply gin and coke, it actually has many layers and is worth trying.

In Conclusion

I always applaud any innovations in gin, especially those inspired by history, and Cream Gin is an excellent example of just such an innovation. Although it worked well in some of the classic cocktails, I think that the variations and creations tailored to this rather unusual spirit work best (see #9 and #10).

*Named in recognition of Edward VII (the King of King’s Ginger), who started the fashion of a gentleman keeping the bottom button of his waistcoat unfastened. Also, in reference to chocolate buttons.

Cocktails with… The Spectator gin (Lemon Balm and Early Grey) – from MasterofMalt

I have spoken many times on the innovations of Master of Malt, not just in the Gin field, but in many others, too. One idea that I found out about earlier this year and particularly liked is the concept of an individual or organization commissioning a Gin.

In some ways, this is not new (Diner’s Club had this going on in the 1980s), but these days the personalization goes beyond the label or bottle, and now extends to the actual recipe. This is a service that Master of Malt offers and was recently taken up by The Spectator Magazine (a political newspaper) on behalf of their readers.

Spectator Gin starts off as a gin made with juniper and pepper spice, which is then infused with Earl Grey tea and lemon balm. It is bottled at 42.4%ABV.

The Taste

1) On its own
Nose: Lemon citrus and herbal notes. This is very full to start, being zesty with some pine in the background.
Taste: A slightly nutty flavour is accompanied by orange and tannin (the Earl Grey making itself known) upfront, followed by dry juniper. There’s then some sweetness and salty black pepper notes towards the end, before more dry juniper appears on the finish.

2) Gin & Tonic
This drink is jammy and citrusy, a little like lemon curd with some dry juniper. It’s rather lively and refreshing, too. I found that it was best to use a clean tonic (e.g. Fevertree or Q) rather than a citrus-heavy one (e.g. Britvic or Fentimans) and plenty of ice, but no garnish.

3) Martini
Crisp and citrusy at the start, as many good Martinis are, with a follow-up of slightly nutty tea and a hint of spicy nutmeg. This Gin works rather well in this drink.

4) Negroni
This makes quite a sweet Negroni, in which the tannins from Earl Grey come through a lot more. The bitter flavour takes a long time to build, but certainly becomes quite powerful if you give it some time. Interestingly, the citrus is very subdued in this drink. Spectator Gin makes an intriguing Negroni that takes a bit of time to appreciate, but, on balance, I quite like it.

In Conclusion
I like the Spectator Gin and it is very different to the very similar concept of the Heston Blumenthal gin (Master of Malt, to their credit, thought of it first!) with the lemon being more dominant but at the same time you don’t get the soggy teabag smell (of Heston’s) either.

It won’t be for everyone but I liked the Negroni best.

The Spectator Gin is available from Master of Malt for around £25 for 70cl.

Navy Gin Tasting for Trafalgar Day

As part of my recent trip to New York, I arranged a Navy Strength Gin tasting, which was kindly hosted by New York Distilling. Upon our return to the UK, we decided to hold a second tasting in London, which also coincided with the UK launch of FEW Spirits by Ginuine Spirits.

The Navy Gin Tasting in New York (note Master of Malt had not yet released theirs at this time)

Navy Strength Gin dates back to the days of Empire and British naval superiority. At this time, gin for ships (the drink of naval officers) was bottled at 100 Proof (on a scale developed using the Bartholomew Sikes hydrometer), which is the modern equivalent of 57%ABV.* At this strength, if the gin was spilt on gunpowder (they were often stored together), the powder would still ignite.

In the 19th Century, Plymouth was home to Britain’s naval fleet and the distillery on the quayside (Blackfriars Distillery, the modern home of Plymouth Gin) was the supplier for much of the fleet. Subsequently, for many years, Plymouth Gin 100 Proof was made on and off, as required.

When Plymouth 100 Proof became a permanent feature of the distillery’s portfolio in 1993, the term “Navy Strength” was used over “100 Proof” as it was easier to understand and more clearly illustrated that the gin was stronger. It also seems a particularly fitting title, given the distillery’s historic naval connections.

The (Blind) Tasting at Graphic Bar in London

Fast forward to 2010 and the start of the current gin boom. The global availability of Plymouth Navy Strength was limited and US demand for stronger gin led to some distillers coming up with their own varieties of Navy Strength Gin.

So what’s the current definition of Navy Strength Gin?

Navy Strength Gin = Gin at 100 Proof (57-58%ABV)

Anything below this strength is “under-proof”, whilst anything above is “over-proof”. Thus, gins such as Old Raj Blue (55%ABV) and Finsbury 60 and Blackwoods 60 (both of which are bottled at 60%ABV) are not Navy Strength Gins.**

All of the gins that we tasted were 57%ABV and were tasted blind (even I didn’t know which was which). Here are our notes in the order in which the gins were tasted.

#1 – FEW Standard Issue (57%ABV)

Made by FEW Spirits at their distillery in Illinois, USA and recently arriving on British shores this gin has a different base and a different botanical mix to their American Gin.

Nose: Quite fragrant, with some vegetal notes, perhaps luscious tomato. There’s also some piney juniper, a fair bit of coriander, and some flowery notes, too.

Taste: With some maltiness and creaminess, everyone in the panel agreed that this had plenty of flavour. The grain elements came across as notes of toasted cornflakes. There was also plenty of coriander and other floral notes, such as honeysuckle, followed by a leafy herbalness and sweet pepper toward the end. The finish was pleasant and dry.

FEW Standard Issue is available for around £38 for 75cl from Master of Malt.

.
#2 – Plymouth Navy Strength (57%ABV)

This is the original Navy Strength Gin and a long-time favourite of mine. It dates from the days of the Distillery’s origins in the naval town, although, for many years, it was not made on a regular basis. In 1993 (Plymouth Gin’s bicentenary), the Navy Strength became a regular in their product assortment. For Plymouth Gin, the term “Navy Strength” is simply an alternative to using 100 degrees proof; no more, no less. Plymouth Navy Strength is a higher strength version of their standard gin or, simply put, “The 42.4, but with less water”.

Nose: Juniper up-front, followed by citrus, coriander, earthy notes and a touch of cardamom.

Taste: This had a strong and intense flavour; almost a little peppery. It was very classic in style, with piney juniper, fresh and zingy citrus, and a slight sweetness towards the end, which was slightly reminiscent of caramelized orange peel.

Gin & Tonic: A very classic style of Gin & Tonic, this was very crisp, with juniper, some sweetness and a bitter finish. Quite a lot of citrus, too.

Martini: Flavourful and powerful, with juniper, some sweet citrus and spicy coriander. This cocktail had a long finish with plenty of cardamom, which I love. It had a real “wow” factor; simply superb. A textbook drink, worthy of the name “Silver Bullet”.

Negroni: Superb; perfect bitter/sweet balance, sweet jammy citrus, and hints of dark chocolate. Bold, intense, and delicious. My favourite.

Plymouth Navy Strength Gin is available for around £28 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

#3 – Perry’s Tot by New York Distilling (57%ABV)
Made by NY Distilling based in Brooklyn, New York, this is a mix of 10 botanicals, including cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. It named after Matthew Calbraith Perry who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1841-43.

Nose: Complex, with overriding characteristics of pine and coriander and some other, deeper herbal notes.

Taste: This was a departure from the classic style of gin, with an immediate POW! of flavour that’s invigorating and exciting. Notes of citrus and coriander were quite powerful, with some sweet liquorice root, too.

Gin & Tonic: Refreshing, complex and herbal, with a big dose of coriander. Whilst this drink sets itself apart, it’s not one for traditionalists.

Martini: Sappy and piney juniper, this cocktail was quite spicy with coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Negroni: Slightly sweeter and spicier than a typical Negroni, with notes of juniper and milk and dark chocolate. Very tasty.

Perry’s Tot is available for around $33 for 75cl from Park Avenue Liquor of New York City (US only)

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#4 – Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin Navy strength (57%ABV)

A stronger version of their revolutionary Bathtub Gin, which show that, mere “GIN” (by the EU definition) could be mighty tasty. The use of crushed botanicals (a difference to the Original Bathtub) means that the gin is not only BIG in terms of alcoholic strength but flavour intensity too.

Nose: Juniper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Taste: Soft to start, followed by a huge burst of flavour: cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and cloves. All in all, this was very christmassy and had quite a lot of warmth from the alcohol (but not burn). I think it will work wonders in autumnal and wintery cocktails; it’ll really warm the cockles.

Gin & Tonic: A cloudy mix, with nutmeg and cinnamon and some ginger, too. Quite refreshing, with quite a distinct, savoury side to it, too. Another lovely drink that would be good for Autumn and Winter.

Martini: Flavourful and intense, with lots of coriander, as well as sweet Winter spice. Very powerful, in terms of both alcohol and flavour.

Negroni: This could very well be called a Christmas Negroni; there’s a sweetness upfront, with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, as well some juniper and more sweetness towards the end.

Master of Malt Bathtub Navy Strength Gin is available for around £42 for 70cl from Master of Malt

#5 – Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin (57%ABV)

Rebranded and repackaged in 2012, initially for the American market, Royal Dock is now available to us in the UK and beyond. The recipe for the gin itself has been made since 1863 and has been supplied to the Admiralty as well as the wider trade. Made by the Hayman family, it is named after the Royal Dock at Deptford, a one time contemporary of the likes of Plymouth and Gosport. It uses Neutral Grain Spirit and a blend of 9 classic botanicals.

Nose: Classic and fresh, with juniper, citrus and liquorice.

Taste: Again, very classic in flavour, being smooth, clean and crisp. It was well-liked by most of the panel. There was a good amount of juniper, but it wasn’t overly sappy, being freshened up with citrus peel, coriander and spicy herbal notes. Quite excellent. Strong, yet smooth; just what you want from a Navy Gin.

Gin & Tonic: This ticks all the boxes: zesty, refreshing and clean; very classic and solid, with no outlandish characteristics. A real pleasure to drink. My favourite.

Martini: More flavourful than Plymouth, with greater flavours of spice, black pepper and coriander. Delicious and rather dry, in the classic Martini style. A really good, crisp and intense Martini.

Negroni: A clean, crisp and classic cocktail; no Negroni fan would be disappointed with this.

Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin is available for around £26 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#6 – Leopold’s Navy Strength (57%ABV)
Launched in the Autumn/Fall of 2011, this is made using a different botanical mix to their excellent Original Gin and was designed to be more botanically intense, using Bergamot rather than hand-zested pomelos. Like the Original, each botanical is distilled separately and then they are all blended together.

Nose: Plenty of juniper, which dominates the nose.

Taste: Sweet and very, very piney, this had plenty of herbal notes. It was very warming, with a  warmth that gradually builds over time.

Gin & Tonic: A very herbal drink, with plenty of pine and some juicy citrus, which also made this particularly refreshing. It had intense flavours, with the greater concentrations of botanicals being evident.

Martini: Thick and viscous, with intense green and piney juniper, spicy coriander and crisp citrus notes. This was easily the most intense Martini, flavour-wise, of all that we tried and was certainly memorable. Very tasty and great for a change.

Negroni: Wow! A very flavourful, lively, herbal and piney Negroni. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, many will love it.

* It is worth noting that the strength of the rum of Naval Tots was calculated differently.
**Sun Liquor of Seattle make a Gun Club “Navy Strength” Gin, but, as this is bottled at a mere 50%ABV, for the purposes of this tasting it is not classed as a Navy Strength Gin.

Special thanks to all our panel of tasters: Michael of Ginuine Spirits, Paul of FEW, Zack and the folks at Graphic Bar, Mr Justin of North Virginia, Aaron of TheGinIsIn (America’s Gin Reviewer), Sean of Plymouth, Emma Stokes of London Cocktail Society, Chris of GinJourney, Dave Hollander of The New Sheridan Club, Clayton Hartley of The Candlelight Club, Dickie the GinSage, Mrs. B., Clint of Imbibe, Kirsty Chant of Chant Communications, Paul of G-Vine, Wilkes of @wilkes888 (The London based food and drink-o-phile), Olivier of TheGinBlog, NY Distilling, MasterofMalt (including photography), Hayman’s, Leopold’s, FEW and TheWhiskyExchange.

Master of Malt Single Estate Origin Gins – Part II

Holmes was stumped so Watson looked it up on MasterofMalt.com and found the bottle contained a delicious array of botanicals!

In Part One, I tasted the Origin Range of Single Estate Gins from Master of Malt on their own, in their pure juniper form, but what about the little vial that accompanied each bottle?

This contains a mixture made using a number of other popular gin botanicals, such as coriander and cardamom, which can be added to the juniper spirit to make a multi-botanical gin. I mixed each of the four varieties of gin with their vials (all of which are the same strength and made using the same botanicals; I also mixed them to the same quantities).

So what did they taste like?


1) BULGARIA – VELIKI PRESLAV


i) On its own
Nose: Juniper, coriander, and a touch of cardamom.
Taste: This seemed quite viscous and strong (alcohol-wise); there is also a touch of saltiness, which is followed by some sweetness. The predominant flavour of fresh juniper is followed by big and spicy notes of green cardamom. All wrapped up nicely with a long, delicious finish.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Quite sweet for a Gin & Tonic – almost sherbety – this also had notes of lemon, cardamom and vanilla. Some will probably prefer a drier drink, although I found that the sweetness levels improved with a little ice-melt, making it more refreshing and bring out more of the nutty cardamom.

iii) Martini
Clean and crisp, although it seems quite strong in terms of ABV. Lots of green cardamom notes. This chills well and is nice and spicy.

iv) Negroni
An impressive Negroni: oodles of flavour with a strong juniper and citrus presence. Textbook.


2) NETHERLANDS – MEPPEL


i) On its own
Nose: Spicy juniper and coriander, salt and pepper.
Taste: The juniper is strong and prominent amongst the other botanicals, although there is  a notable liquorice sweetness, citrus, vanilla and a touch of cardamom. A complex, balanced gin with a long finish.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Fresh and crisp with juniper, citrus and cardamom, along with a touch of coriander. Refreshing, this provides everything you could want from a Gin & Tonic.

iii) Martini
Very clean and raising to the appetite, with equal measures of juniper, citrus and spice. This was certainly complex, but not overwhelmingly so; it will compete with the best of its contemporaries.

iv) Negroni
A clean and soft Negroni; bittersweet and easy to drink with all of the characteristics that aficionados look for, plus a good deal more. A pleasure to drink.


3) ALBANIA – VALBONE


i) On its own
Nose: Clean and not aggressive, with citrus (lemon & lemon verbena) and some juniper.
Taste: Quite savoury, with some saltiness and a hint of tomato, I think this would work well in a Red Snapper. A good finish of dry juniper.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Creamy, with a little sweetness that’s followed by a bitter, earthy juniper flavour that works well with the quinine. Cooling and quite light, making it the height of refreshment.

iii) Martini
Smooth, easy to drink and spicy with coriander, cardamom and liquorice. Again, a dry finish.

iv) Negroni
A very straightforward Negroni that will please, but not wow. It has a good balance, but the gin presence could be stronger.


4) ITALY – AREZZO


i) On its own
Nose: Quite gentle, with a mix of citrus, biscuits, nuts and juniper, finishing with spicy cardamom.
Taste: A good, solid gin with a generally good balance, although it leans a little towards cardamom (not that I’ll complain about that!). This gin is one for fans of Plymouth/Sacred/Boodles, plus many other folks, too. Very good, indeed.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Easy to drink, although the gin is a little lost behind the tonic. That said, the drink is delightful and refreshing; it would just be nice if you could taste more of the gin (maybe just add an extra splash?).

iii) Martini
Exceptionally smooth, with hints of anise and coriander. There’s some citrus, but it’s by no means overpowering. I think it would work well with an olive garnish.

iv) Negroni
Full of flavour, this is a rather spicy Negroni that will please fanciers of cardamom as this flavour takes centre stage. Despites having such prominent flavour in its midst, the balance of the cocktail is good and it is refreshing. It has so much flavour that I think I’d drink it ungarnished.

In Conclusion
It is amazing what a difference the source of juniper makes to the overall flavour of gin and I hope that Master of Malt do many more events like this so that others can get a chance to taste them first hand (although, of course, you can buy them from the site too!).

My favourite of the four was easily the one made using juniper from the Netherlands, which, for me, outperformed the others in almost every cocktail. It was so complex that I preferred it without the extra botanicals and so will be drinking the rest of bottle as is.

Many thanks to everyone that has made this article possible and I look forward to Macedonia (I have heard intriguing things!) and Kosovo.

Also, watch out for our review of the Master of Malt Summer Fruit Cup (good name, eh?).

But wait! There’s more….

Ben and his Cask

As a final touch to our tasting at the Juniper Society, Ben presented us with a 50 litre barrel and asked us what our favourite of the four gins was. The majority chose the Netherlands Gin (a choice with which I agreed). We were then told that it was to be mixed in an Negroni (for aging in that very barrel) and proceeded to be asked whether we wanted to use just the juniper spirit on its own or the multi-botanical mix. A huge majority voted for the unadulterated Netherland Juniper on its own.

Mrs B and I add to the cask

Mrs B and I add to the cask

We all got a chance to pour in some of the ingredients and sign the cask and were then given a little stub (we have 00006 and 00007), which entitles us to a glass of the 1 Year Old Negroni at the Juniper Society’s third birthday in 2013. The barrel is now proudly displayed on the bar at Graphic.

Master of Malt Origin Gins are available at £34.95 a bottle (71cl) from  their website.

Special thanks to Ben, Cat and Rhyan of Master of Malt, Adam & Sarah of The Juniper society and zack and his team at Graphic Bar.