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.

Cocktails with.. Ransom Old Tom Gin

I first came across Ransom Old Tom Gin at our Old Tom Gin Tasting last year where it really stood apart from the other gins.

It’s made in Sheridan, Oregon, where it was created to be a historically accurate revival of the predominant style of gin drunk during the Golden Age of American mixed drinks. The spirit was developed in collaboration with the drinks sage David Wondrich.

There is a genever character to this gin, which probably comes from the use of malted barley and high-strength corn spirit in the base wort (the liquid in which the botanicals are infused). Only the heart of the final distillation from an alambic pot still is retained for bottling. Finally, the gin is aged in neutral Pinot Noir barrels.

1) Own
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. As gin goes, it is really rather good and completely unique.

2) Gin & Tonic
Fresh and flavourful, with some extra piney bitterness and then some oak-y vanilla at the end, which rounds the drink off nicely.

3) Dry Martini
[50ml Ransom Old Tom, 10ml Dry Vermouth – STIR]
A light gold in colour and quite thick in terms of texture, this had lots of rich, piney, sappy juniper notes, alongside some coriander and an oat-y, bitter note intermingled with vanilla. This was a very different type of Dry Martini, being far more herbal and quite intense.

4) Sweet Martini
[50ml Ransom Old Tom, 10ml Red Vermouth – STIR]
The more bitter notes of this gin really come through well in this cocktail; it had a hint of gentian and wormwood. Despite being a very bitter drink, I did manage to find a subtle floral sweetness towards the end. Overall, quite complex.

5) Negroni
[30ml Ransom Old Tom, 30ml Red Vermouth, 30ml Campari – STIR]
I thought this would work well and it does. I tend to find that more intense red vermouths best in Negronis, but, when using the more complex Ransom Old Tom, Martini Rosso does a pretty good job. This Negroni has strong, intense, hard-hitting juniper and herbal notes with some woodiness, too. If you like Negronis, I think you’ll be a fan of this.

6) Old Tom Cocktail
[50ml Ransom Old Tom, 10ml Pastis, 1/4tsp Sugar, 1 Dash Orange bitters – SHAKE]
Delicious the anise in the pastis works well with the complex herbal and woody notes of the gin. It’s almost as if the gin was made for this drink. a really harmony of flavour.

7) Union League
[50ml Ransom Old Tom, 20ml Port, 1 Dash Orange bitters – STIR]
Really rather tasty; there’s lots going on, including some bitter herbal and pine notes, followed by some oakiness and the the strong, rich flavours of the port. On the finish is a sappy juniper and the citrus of the orange bitters. This is a drink of phases, but very pleasant, too.

For details of Ransom Old Tom Gin in the UK contact Michael Vachon from Ginuine Spirits.

To find stockist of ransom Old Tom Gin in the US & Canada check out: http://www.ransomspirits.com/

An Update on American Gin with Small’s and St George’s Rye

Living, as I do, outside of the USA, makes it rather tricky to acquire gin made by the plethora of craft/artisan/small distilleries in the country; most of the samples that I have tried have been very kindly brought back by friends and relatives.
.
I think the lack of accessibility of this market is a shame, because there are some really exciting things going on in the US Gin World, including both innovative styles and even more innovative ingredients, whether that be unusual botanicals, such as lavender (River Rose), fennel (Death’s Door) and distilled* cucumber (Seneca Drums, Yahara Bay), or unusual alcohol bases. Examples of the latter include Comb9, which distills a fermented honey mead when making their spirit, and Nevada’s Seven Grain Vodka, whose base spirit is made from a blend of 7 different grains.
.
With so many exciting developments going on, I was very pleased the other day to meet up with Michael Vachon from Ginuine Spirits, a company which specialises in American gin in the UK.
.
Michael was kind enough to bring me two samples to try:
#1 Smalls Gin
Made by Ransom Spiritsbased in Sheridan, Oregon. They also make Ransom Old Tom Gin. Small’s Gin includes botanicals such as  juniper, orange, lemon, coriander, cardamom, angelica, caraway, star anise, and raspberryOwn
Nose: Herbal pine and a touch of jam to start. This nose was slightly salty with some musky notes. After a few seconds, I also picked up some soapy coriander and floral notes. As you can probably tell, this wasn’t classic at all.
Taste: Initially smooth, with pine and a fair bit of cardamon. It was also very floral: iris rose and lavender came through, making it seem perfume-like, with a slight peppery-ness at the end and a hint of sweetness in the middle. Mrs. B described it as,“Floral, perfumed and exotic”.Gin & Tonic
This had very strong cardamon notes, alongside fresh juniper and citrus. I thought it was fresh, crisp and generally superb; I think any other cardamon fans will feel the same, but those who don’t like the flavour might disagree.Martini
A fruity and slightly salty nose led to a martini that had considerable warmth and a touch fruit, but was also very floral. There were some sappy, pine-y juniper notes and some herbal floral ones. Lavender, too. Herbaceous.Negroni
The herbal and floral flavours of this gin worked quite well with those of the Campari and vermouth; the result being a drink that was intense both in its general flavour and its level of herbal notes. I thought this was an extraordinary Negroni and, whilst it’s certainly not classic, it was still rather good.

#2 St. Georges Dry Rye Gin
This is made by the team at St. George’s Distillery, Alamada, California, who are the folks behind Hangar One vodka. They also make two other gins: Botanivore and Terroir. The Dry Rye Gin is based on rye spirit and contains twice as much juniper as the other two.
Own
Nose: This was a dry and slightly floral nose, like Soochu, with some sweet brandy notes, too.
Taste: Smooth, with a slightly oily texture and some building warmth. It had a big mouth feel and a complex flavour with juniper, citrus, jammy berry notes and a menthol/euclyptus finish. As is typical with menthol, the finish was very cooling when you breathe in after drinking. There was also a little raspberry mixed in with the mint on the aftertaste, which hung around for 10+ minutes.
Gin & Tonic
This had a jammy nose with hints of floral. Altogether, it made a very floral Gin & Tonic that was a bit musky at the end. There was a nice freshness from the piney berry flavours and a strong tannin dryness at the end, alongside a hint of vanilla.
Martini
Dry, floral and souchu, again, with a hint of dry, dry berry. A bit like perfume and a bit like hairspray. Yeasty, too. Frankly, this was too fragrant for me, with neither enough juniper nor enough crispness.

*Hendrick’s Gin (and Martin Miller’s) also use cucumber, but, in their gins, it is not distilled.