EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Barrel-Aged Gin

Review: Ableforth's Batch 2 Pedro Ximénez Aged Bathtub Gin

Ableforth's Batch 2 Pedro Ximénez Aged Bathtub Gin was macerated, and aged by Ableforth's  for That Boutique-y Gin Company and bottled at 43.3% ABV

Price: $3.92 for 30ml

Ableforth's is a self described "Madcap creator of unique, small-batch spirits." In the US, Ableforth's would be described as a rectifier, in that they purchase spirits, and then modify them by macerating botanicals, fruit or maturing the spirit in special casks. In the late 1800s the term rectifier took on an negative connotation in the US from the bad practices of some companies that would buy well made bourbon or rye and dilute it with neutral spirit, prune juice and even acids. However, there is a responsible way to be a rectifier and Ableforth's demonstrates that. They are well know for their Bathtub Gin which takes neutral spirit and macerates juniper, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, orange peel and clove. The result is a gin with an yellow or amber tint from the botanicals. For this bottling, That Boutique-y Gin Company took some of the regular Ableforth's Bathtub Gin and aged it in a Pedro Ximénez Sherry cask.

TASTING NOTES

Nose: The nose has a very pleasant aroma of of cherries with baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The nose is rich with notes from the sherry supported by juniper and the citrus. 

Palate: On the palate the gin is smooth and full bodied. There are notes of coco, orange zest, cinnamon, and a slight undertone of brightness from the juniper.

Finish: The finish is medium long with concurrent flavors of juniper and citrus followed by deeper flavors from the wood.

Conclusion: It is hard to do this gin justice in writing but Ableforth's Batch 2 Pedro Ximénez Aged Bathtub Gin is one of the most amazing and wonderful spirits I've had the pleasure of drinking. The gin is a complete treat. The gin picks up a wonderful sweetness and complexity from the sherry while still allowing the juniper and other botanicals to sing. This gin should be enjoyed neat or use in an amazing Martinez.

Thank you to Master of Malt and That Boutique-y Gin Company for providing the free sample.

Review: Cotswolds Batch 1 Cask-Aged London Dry Gin

Cotswolds Batch 1 Cask-Aged London Dry Gin was distilled and aged by Cotswolds Distillery for That Boutique-y Gin Company and bottled 46% ABV

Price: $46.40 for 500ml or $5.07 for 30ml

The Cotswold Distillery was founded by  Dan Szor, a native New Yorker how fell in love with an Englishwoman and the pastoral hills of Cotswolds northwest of London. In addition to malt whisky, Szor also produces a London Dry Gin on a 500 litre hybrid still made by Arnold Holstine. Starting with a neutral spirit made from wheat, the Cotswolds London Dry Gin is made by macerating juniper, coriander, and angelica for 12 hours then distilling that with an addition lavender, bay leaf, grapefruit, lime black pepper and cardamom.

For this bottling of That Boutique-y Gin Company, they took the Cotswold London Dry Gin and then aged them in ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks. These are the same types of barrel are the same ones used for maturing their new make malt spirit into English Malt Whisky.

TASTING NOTES

Nose: The noes has bright notes of juniper and lemon with an underlying floral character almost like rose petals. As the gin sits, the nose opens up and shows more of the wood character from the barrel.

Palate: On the palate the gin has a medium body that is warm on the tongue. The gin flavor tastes of oak with notes of pine and white pepper.

Finish: The finish is long and warm. As the flavors fade, notes of pine and lemon balm linger until the next drink. 

Conclusion: Cotswolds Batch 1 Cask-Aged London Dry Gin is a very good example of an aged gin. By this it clearly shows the influence of the barrel without being overpowering.  The botanical flavors are enhanced and augmented by the maturation in wood not obscured by them. This gin would work well on the rocks, in a slightly oaky Gin & Tonic or even a Martinez.

Thank you to Master of Malt and That Boutique-y Gin Company for providing the free sample.

Negroni Variations with Aged Gin

In preparation for the upcoming Negroni Week (June  5-11, 2017) I decided to create a few Negroni variations  with some of the gin in my liquor cabinet and see how the drink changed. The classic negroni is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. For these variations I used Alessio Vermouth di Torino Rosso, Campari and three different aged gins. 

Negroni #1: This was made using  FEW Spirits Barrel Gin (46.5% ABV) which is an aged gin distilled with an undisclosed number of botanicals which includes juniper, bitter orange and lemon peel, cassia and angelica. As a negroni the noise was woody, with fruity bubble gum notes. The Negroni tasted of sweet berries and orange with a strong whiskey character. The finish started sweet, dried out from the wood tannins and closed with notes of black pepper grapefruit zest, charcoal and menthol.

Negroni #2: This was made using High Wire Distilling Hat Trick Barrel Rested Gin (44% ABV) which is an aged gin distilled with crushed juniper berries, fresh lemon and orange peel. As a negroni, the sweet vermouth came through on nose with bright citrus from the Campari. The flavor was a dance of sweet spicy and bitter. The finish started strong with juniper and faded into bitter grapefruit and sweetness. Really nice.

Negroni #3: This was made using Old World Spirits Rusty Blade Single Barrel-Aged Gin (60% ABV) which is an aged gin distilled with 11 botanicals including cilantro, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, orange, lemon, tangerine and steamed juniper. As a negroni the nose had notes of sweet cherry and fresh orange. The cocktail tasted of maraschino cherry, sweet grapefruit, and mid palate spice notes of clove and cinnamon explode with slight bitterness. The finish was spicy dry and mildly bitter with notes of juniper and grapefruit zest.

Review: Stonecutter Single Barrel Gin

Distilled and aged by Stonecutter Spirits and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $53-$65

Located in Middlebury, Vermont, Stonecutter Spirits was co-founded by Sivan Cotel and Sas Stewart. Before Cotel and Stewart began making gin, Cotel got a masters degree in psychology and then went to work in finance, while Stewart worked in fine dining and branding. Through a series connections, Cotel started working at WhistlePig early on in the company's life and helped them build their brand and became fascinated with the process of maturing spirits. After leaving WhistlePig, Cotel worked as a consultant in the spirits industry but he and Stewart decided that rather than give away their best ideas they would use to build their own distillery. 

Both Cotel and Stewart love gin and whiskey so as they developed the idea for their company they focused in on making the types of spirits that they would want to drink. Combining their passions for whiskey, gin and the barrel aging, Cotel and Stewart decided to make an aged gin.

Some aged gins on the market are essentially made as an afterthought, a distiller makes gin so they put some in a barrel an bottle what comes out. In contrast, Cotel and Stewart started thinking about the common barrel notes that come from ex-bourbon barrels and what botanicals would pair well with those. After a number of trials Cotel and Stewart settled on a botanical mix that includes juniper, cardamom, orange peel, green tea and a few others. The botanicals are distilled in a pot still with a neutral spirit made from corn. Fresh off the still, Cotel says the botanical are not quite all in sync but after spending four to five months in once used Kentucky bourbon barrels they harmonize and compliment each other in a new way.

The intentionality that Cotel and Stewart demonstrate in their aged gin makes it one of the best I've ever had and makes me excited for their whiskeys.

Tasting Notes

Nose: There is no hiding that this is a gin. The nose has clear aromas of juniper, and citrus such as orange rind, lemon zest and lemongrass. These are supported by more subtle herbal notes like coriander and tarragon floating on a bed of sweet vanilla.

Palate: Even at 45% the gin is soft, with a medium body and while it warms the tongue it is not hot. Juniper and rosemary like flavors are complemented by barrel notes of oak and sweet caramel.

Finish: The finish is bright (read acidic) with a dry minerality, and a lingering herbal character that makes you want a second drink. After swallowing there is a slight bitterness and zing from the alcohol that holds onto the back of the tongue.

Conclusion: In my mind there are two ways to approach aged gin: one, to use a short maturation which adds a little color and some barrel character to complement the botanical mix; and two, to do a long maturation so that the gin picks up a lot of color and has time to breath and transform the botanical character. In my opinion Stonecutter Spirits Single Barrel Gin is one of the best examples of how a short period in oak can complement and enhance the gin rather than being dominated by it. The gin is well balanced and overall a very nice gin. Because the gin isn't dominated by oak I could see it working very well in a Martini, G&T, and even a negroni. Stonecutter's Single Barrel Gin can be purchased in Vermont or online through DrinkUpNY.

State 38 Distilling: The House Built on Agave

Designed by Gail Sands

From the early 2000s, “Tequila” and “mezcal”—Mexico’s most famous agave spirits—have experienced significant growth in popularity and consumption in the United States. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS), imports of Tequila into the US have grown by 92% since 2002. In 2014, Tequila sold 13.8 million cases in the US, 6 million cases less than all Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. Given this growth, it is no surprise that US craft distillers have tried their hand at agave spirits. However, there are a couple of significant differences from Mexican and US agave spirits. First, while a few US distillers have tried to mirror the Mexican process of making agave spirits from whole piñas, the vast majority simply uses agave syrup. Second, US distillers cannot call their spirits Tequila or mezcal because
those are protected terms that refer to specific appellations of origin.

Despite difference in production and naming from their Mexican counterparts, a number of US craft distillers have brought agave spirits to market. For most US distillers of agave, their agave spirits often sit on the fringe of their portfolio, often playing 2nd or 3rd fiddle to some other brown spirit made from grain or sugar. State 38 Distilling however, is quite different. State 38’s entire portfolio of spirits, including their vodka and gin, are fermented and distilled from agave.

Sean Smiley, owner and head distiller of State 38, is not the most obvious candidate for creating the US’s only all-agave distillery. Smiley is a petroleum and process engineer who started by home brewing before he decided to open a distillery. But, unlike many former home brewers turned distillers, he did not make the obvious transition into whiskey. His choice to focus on agave seems even more strange in Colorado, the 38th state to join the union, and bursting with craft whiskey; and in Golden, of all places, with its long  association with the Coors Brewing Company.

Smiley explained that even though he tried making whiskey and rum, he did not think either were as intellectually challenging or interesting in their flavor profile as agave. Part of the challenge he faced during product development was to find a yeast strain that could fully attenuate agave syrup and give him a flavor profile he liked. He pitched his yeasts at a specific gravity of 1.070 and noticed that most quickly drop to 1.040 SG, but stalled out and would not attenuate much beyond that. Incidentally, Vapor Distillery (formerly Roundhouse Spirits), ran into a similar problem, which is partly why they suspended production of their Tatanka American Agave Spirit. However, Smiley persisted. After experimenting with 45 different strains, Smiley found his ideal yeast.

The Young Ace, reposado agave spirit, The Clever Jack blanco agave spirit and The Pious Queen vodka are part of the agave-centric spirits line distilled at State 38. The distillery also makes an agave-based gin. Photo courtesy of State 38 Distilling

All of State 38’s spirits start off as Fair Trade 100% Organic Raw Blue Agave syrup, which Smiley buys from Mexico. The syrup is separated into a half dozen or so 55-gallon stainless steel drums and diluted to 1.070 SG before he pitches his yeast. Smiley explained that because the agave was naturally
rich in minerals, he did not need to add nutrients to the fermentation. Once the yeast is pitched, the drums are wrapped with an insulating blanket to help maintain their temperature.

When fermentation has finished, the contents of a drum are transferred to the first of Smiley’s 250-gallon still that Smiley built from a used milk pasteurizer.

Both State 38’s Vodka and Gin are triple distilled. State 38’s vodka is stripped and then gets two passes through Smiley’s finishing still with its 6-plate column. After the third distillation, the vodka is proofed down, filtered and bottled. The gin, however, takes a slightly different path. For the third distillation, Smiley fills a vapor basket with Colorado juniper and a number of other gin botanicals. Once the gin has been vapor infused, it rests in a new charred oak barrel for one month before it is proofed down and bottled. Until recently, Smiley’s vodka was the only agave-based vodka sold in the US but, so far, no one else is distilling an agave-based barrel rested gin.

All of State 38’s agave spirits are twice distilled and matured in full-sized, new American white oak barrels with a #3 char from Independent Stave. After the finishing run, Smiley fills one of his barrels and lets it sit. His blanco agave spirit typically rests for five days before the barrel is emptied, proofed, filtered
and bottled. Meanwhile, Smiley’s reposado and anejo agave spirits mature for two months and 12 months, respectively, before they are bottled. Given all the media attention about the existence or non-existence of a barrel shortage, Smiley’s maturation schedule for his four aged spirits seemed like it
would burn through new barrels pretty quickly. However, he explained that, given the current after market for barrels, it is actually more cost effective for him to buy new barrels, use them once and then sell them to local breweries who use them two or three more times.

Sean Smiley and his wife Jessie show off a 250-gallon still that he constructed from a milk pasteurizer. Jessie went into labor a few hours after this picture was taken and their son Jordan was born in the wee hours of the next day. Photo © Bill Owens

Like many small distilleries around the county, State 38 is growing their business because people in their local market like what they taste. Their tasting room, modeled after an 1870s mining town saloon, does a good job of introducing drinkers to the idea of US agave spirits. Their Agave Reposado
has the distinct vegetal notes that one associates with a young, or lightly aged, Tequila. Its flavor profile, balanced finish and bottling strength of 90 proof, make the reposado an excellent candidate for margaritas. The Agave Anejo is likely to appeal to whiskey fans, or those drawn to extra-anejo Tequilas. Sitting in a new charred barrel for 12 months, the agave picks up a
ton of barrel notes. The palate is full of vanilla, caramel and sweetness, with an underlying note of green agave. Bottled at 80 proof, State 38’s Agave Anejo is a very smooth and tasty spirit worth sipping slowly throughout an evening.

Unbound by Tequila or mezcal’s legal definitions, Smiley plans to add complexity to his agave spirits by blending different varieties of agave syrups. While Smiley currently uses syrup from blue agaves, this past summer he purchased the remaining maugey organic agave syrup from Vapor Distillery. Maugey is a variety of agave, which traditionally has been used to make a low alcohol “beer-like” beverage in Mexico. Smiley stated that, when distilled, maugey has a fuller and earthier character compared to blue agave. He believes that a blend of maguey and blue agave will layer new flavors and add nuance, similar to the way that whiskey or brandy distillers use multiple varieties of grains or grapes to create flavor profiles.

State 38 has helped break new ground in the US with their range of agave spirits. Smiley and a handful of other craft distillers around the country have successfully demonstrated that agave spirits can be much more than just Tequila. US Agave spirits produced from syrup, like Smiley’s, are helping
to define the character of a new category of spirits. It will be interesting to see how the category grows as a whole, but if the history of the craft distilling industry is any indication, innovation will be the norm.

Origionally published as part of the "Defining Craft" series in Distiller Magazine (Winter 2015): 106-111.