Cocktails with… Bénédictine Single Cask

On his recent trip to France to explore the history, Palace and products of Bénédictine, DTS remembered to bring back a little something for me to try back at home. Well, quite a big something, as a matter of fact. This impressive bottling is of Bénédictine Single Cask, a fine dry version of the herbal liqueur. It still contains the secret recipe of twenty-seven herbs and spices that go into the original Bénédictine, but is aged in single, small, Limousin oak casks underneath the Palais de la Bénédictine in Fécamp, Normandy. It is bottled at a higher ABV (43%) and is aged for longer than the the classic liqueur.

It’s also only available from their shop in Normandy, so it’s more than a little bit special and I was eager to see what it would bring to some of my favourite drinks.

On its own
Nose: Light, sweet and herbal, with a medicinal, but revitalising, hint of menthol about it.
Taste: Predominantly warming and herbal, this starts out with lots of medicinal, spicy notes, followed by a quite intense, but not artificial, sweetness. The herbal notes than really kick in, along with hints of honey and aniseed, before a long herbal finish that, compared to the start, at least, is slightly bitter. Wonderfully warming, making this a lovely tipple for a rainy day like today where winter seems ever closer.

The Robert Burns (the more serious version of the Bobby Burns)
[30ml Scotch, 30ml Red Vermouth, 15ml Bénédictine Single Cask – Shake]
Sweet and very herbal, this has just enough of that honey sweetness at the start to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. The finish, meanwhile, was full of lovely drier grape and Sherry notes that stopped it from becoming sickly.

Old Fashioned
[Make an Old Fashioned in your usual way replacing the sugar syrup and bitters with Bénédictine Single Cask]
Delicious, fresh orange to start, backed by a herbal, but not overly honeyed, sweetness that accompanies a wonderful hint of spiced dark chocolate. Sweet vanilla and oak from the bourbon make themselves known towards the end. The finish is drier and lighter than expected, making this pretty perfect, in my opinion.

Bene ‘n’ Hot
[One Part Bénédictine Single Cask, 3 Parts Hot Water, Lemon Slices]
An intriguing alternative to a whisky toddy – it starts out with notes of clove and aniseed, that are quickly replaced by slightly more bitter notes of tea and lemon. The aftertaste, which is more herbal than I had expected, reminds me very much of that of aniseed flavoured boiled sweets.

In Conclusion
This was delicious and I’m already a big fan of the variety of cocktails that it produced, especially given today’s flurry of rain and lower temperatures. Particular favourites were the Bene ‘n’ Hot, which was a wonderful, slightly sweeter and more herbal alternative to a whisky toddy, and the Old Fashioned, where the oak and herbal notes combine seamlessly to produce a complex and yet elegant cocktail. I will be rationing this bottle, I think!

– Mrs. B

Mrs. B tastes… Bowmore Small Batch Reserve

I’ve had whisky paired with chocolate, I’ve had whisky with popcorn, and I’ve had whisky with a pecan yum yum; I’ve even had it with fish & chips, as you may have read in my first post on Talisker, but, as of yesterday, I had yet to have had any Scotch with ice-cream.

Given the sudden heatwave that we find ourselves in, the suggestion from DBS that I sip some of the new Bowmore Small Batch Reserve along with some vanilla ice-cream and macaroons sent especially for the purpose (the whisky and the macaroons, that is, not the ice-cream, for obvious reasons) was met most positively by myself.

There is, however, a reason for my trying this beyond the start of the British summer. This month, Bowmore Distillery have released their new Bowmore Small Batch Reserve. This is a lighter expresion of their already characteristically smooth, but flavourful spirit, and one that was inspired by the recent increase in the number of special, small batch whiskies available.

As such, it is made in small quantities and matured in a selection of first- and second-batch Bourbon casks that have been chosen by hand. Already fond of Bowmore’s other bottlings, I was excited to try this new creation.

Nose: An interesting mix of light, vanilla sugar and peat to start. Hints of dry porridge oats followed and, after a while, it softened and sweetened considerably, like caramelised pecans with a smoky edge. DBS also caught light hints of malt, like that of beer. Ten minutes or so later, the nose had sweetened even more, becoming almost syrupy and reminding me a little of flapjack.

Taste: My first sip of this was soft and yet deliciously smoky at the same time; I was intrigued by this soft, and yet by no means weak, smokiness. After a couple more sips, more fresh, fruity notes started to come through, all slightly tart. These moved onto more savoury notes: lovely, vibrant, fresh wood and almond, fading into a smoky peat. The finish is – again – lovely and refreshing, with notes of sweet citrus.

With vanilla ice-cream and macaroons:
The smooth, rich vanilla of the ice-cream brings out the vanilla in the whisky and the intense creaminess brings out the fresh, citrus notes. The macaroons had a melt-in-the-mouth quality, which went well with the smoothness of the whisky, and the almond and rice paper notes complement the savoury aspects of the spirit.
I find myself rather fond of this whisky already. It has an elegance and a mystery to it, with its unusual and yet perfectly balanced combination of flavours, and that wonderfully soft, but strong peatiness in partcular.

What’s more, it was delicious with vanilla ice-cream, making it a first class way to both cool down and enjoy a glass in the summer sunshine (best, I’d imagine, when it’s, like its home distillery, by the sea!).

– Mrs. B.

Bowmore Small Batch Reserve – RRP £32.99 for 70cl

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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This was enjoyed by all of the panel with the overall feeling that the balance between gin & wood flavours was just about right.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.