Deriving its name from juniper berries and its ancestry from the Dutch and Belgian Jenever, this is a spirit that´s been with us since the 16th century. The raw alcohol produced by pot stills needed to be flavoured by something to make it more palatable, and juniper berries both gave a nice taste and was considered medicinal. A variety of production techniques and choice of flavouring botanicals has been utilized and is responsible for the large selection of gins available today. This is a drink that has gone from being the poor man´s burden to becoming one of the most popular cocktail ingredients ever, further developing into the high-end products that´s driving todays return to popularity.
In the lower end of the spectrum we have neutral spirits with added flavourings dominated by juniper. Considered better is distilled gin, where alcohol of agricultural origin is redistilled with a selection of botanicals, with London dry gin being a special category carefully controlling the amount of added sweetening (less than 0,1 g/litre) and not allowing any other additional ingredients except water. The use of pot or column stills can further influence the character of the distillate. An interesting development is the manufacture of gin in countries not traditionally connected with this spirit.
Spirit of Hven Organic Gin, 40%.
Made by the Spirit of Hven distillery that I´ve written about before, this double distilled drink is called an organic gin and is made from organic wheat in a copper pot still. After a time of oak barrel maturation the spirit is infused with Bourbon vanilla from Mauritius, cassia bark, fresh Swedish juniper berries, cardamom, calamus root, Sichuan pepper, aniseed and grains of paradise (Guinea pepper) before a second distillation.
Despite no filtering whatsoever, this distillate is crystal clear and without any clouding. The nose has an initial alcohol tanginess followed by some short vanilla notes and a dominating citrus. On the palate it´s slightly oily, beginning with citrus and fleeting juniper blending into mild vanilla and a fairly short ending of peppery notes and a hint of licorice.
The bottle is the usual conical one with running wax drippings that we´ve gotten used to from Spirit of Hven. Original but not exactly beautiful if you want my opinion. Still an interesting drink that´s more defined by its barrel maturation than the botanicals. Probably better enjoyed on its own than as a cocktail ingredient.
Nils Oscar Tärnö Gin, 41,5%.
From the makers of the fabulous Nils Oscar line of craft beers comes this gin made entirely from ecologically produced grains, herbs and berries. Distilled in a pot still with juniper berries, elder, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and lemon.
Crystal clear colour without any visible impurities. The nose is fresh and crisp, dominated by pleasantly fruity elder aromas, making it unique amongst the gins sampled today. In a tasting glass this drink is not distinguished by complexity but instead shows an individual character dominated by elegant juniper and elder notes, making it very special while still quite easy to drink. A deceptively simple but well-crafted gin unlike any other.
The bottle is a no-frills variety in line with what their other spirits and beers come in , making the point that the content is what matters. A really unique gin showing that simplicity can outperform complexity if it´s done right.
Wannborga Ö Gin, Artisan London Dry, 40 %.
Manufactured by the Wannborga distillery on the Öland island off the Swedish east coast (I´ve tried their whiskey and vodka in earlier posts) this is a gin made entirely from ecologically produced wheat and herbs in a pot still. Nine different botanicals are used, including juniper, coriander and white pepper.
Clear and crisp water colour. A nose characterized by distinct and easily recognized citrus, cinnamon and white pepper. The palate is well-balanced but not that exciting, with citrus, juniper and cinnamon dominating and lacking much complexity. There´s a sweetness to the finish that I personally don´t like that much.
The bottle is the usual high and slim design that Wannborga uses, this time with blue glass and still as impractical since it needs a lot of height on the shelf. A gin that´s well-made but still somehow lacking in personality.
Bombay Sapphire Gin, 40 %.
The Bombay Sapphire Company makes one of the high-end products that´s always on top-ten lists of the best gins. A London dry gin distilled using a Carter-Head still (earlier mentioned in the post about Reyka Vodka). Triple distilled with a manufacturing process where alcohol vapour pass through perforated baskets containing the botanicals, giving a lighter and more floral drink. 10 hand selected botanicals are used in the making of Bombay Sapphire – Italian juniper berries, Spanish lemon peel, coriander seeds from Morocco, German angelica root, Italian iris root, grains of paradise from West Africa, cubeb berries from Java, Indonesian cassia bark, Spanish almonds and licorice from China.
The colour is clear and sparkling. A complex nose with citrus perfectly balanced with spices. The taste continues in the same vein offering a very well-balanced blend of juniper, citrus and spiciness, not letting any one botanical take over. What strikes you the most when tasting this gin is the seamless marriage of all its ingredients.
The bottle is classy, with sapphire blue glass alluding to the Star of Bombay and small drawings of the botanicals down the sides. To sum it up – an extremely smooth gin but with lots of character. A real winner.
Hendrick´s Gin, 44%.
Here we have a truly unique gin, both when it comes to taste and production techniques. Called “a most unusual gin” by its manufacturer, also boldly stating that “it is not for everyone”. They actually have a point there.
The final product of Hendrick´s gin is a blend of two very different distillates. The first one coming from a copper Bennet pot still from 1860, containing only 450 litres. Botanicals are left to steep in neutral grain spirits for 24 hours and then boiled and distilled. The second one is made with a Carter-Head still, where the botanicals are bathed in alcohol vapour, ensuring a very gentle extraction of the tastes. While some of the flavourings used are well-known in gin production, some are not. Yarrow, juniper, elderflower, angelica root, orange peel, caraway, coriander, chamomile, cubeb berry, orris root and lemon. After blending these two very different spirits, the distillate gets its final touch by an infusion of Bulgarian Rosa Damascena and specially selected cucumbers.
Clear as spring water. The nose is both complex and unusual, heavy on floral notes with a base of juniper and citrus fruits. The complexity carries on in the taste, with initial bursts of juniper and citrus followed by aromatic elderflower and rose petals, finishing with a very delicate note of cucumber. Making Dry Martinis with this gin and two slices of fresh cucumber instead of the usual olive is something everybody should try.
The apothecary style bottle is totally unique, and together with the graphic style of their website aimed at instilling a sense of decades of tradition for this gin created in 1999. Well, whatever, I kind of like it. Heavy, sturdy brown glass looking like it´s containing an age-old folk medicine. This gin has an abundance of personality and style, and is one of my absolute favourites.