I still remember my first taste of Absolut Citron—what a revelation! This of course was back in the day, before the barrage of über-premium vodkas hit the market and just as large distillers began to mass market unique infused vodkas using peppers and “kurrants” for flavoring. Finally, someone noticed that the vodka market was not performing to potential and that consumers were crying out for more variety and higher quality. By 1996, Belvedere, the “first” ultra-premium vodka came on the scene, swiftly followed by Grey Goose and many other super premium labels like Ciroc, Effen, van Gogh, Ketel One, Chopin, Stoli and Zyr, mostly made from base materials, like wheat, rye and potatoes.
After years of dominating the spirit scene, Vodka now accounts for roughly 32% of all spirit consumption in the US, according to Beverage Dynamics, with almost no apparent sign of slowing down. One has to ask: how many more vodkas brands can the market absorb? Haven’t we hit the saturation point, yet? Apparently not, as statistics continue to show that vodka is still holding steady with imported vodkas actually still gaining market share. Nonetheless, I have noticed that some focus seems to be diverting from vodka to gin, albeit, a spirit some consider to be nothing more than flavored vodka.
So, in anticipation of gins renewed popularity, I decided to explore some of the gins on the market with a group of friends one night. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing “scientific” about this tasting. We simply brown bagged two big brand name gins and one micro-distilled one (I forgot one of my other bottles at home) and decided to see what people preferred and why.
Blind tasting is always fun; it proves every single time how heavily influenced we are by marketing. Blind tasting is also freeing. It has the same effect as stripping to your birthday suit and wiping all your make-up off; there are no more barriers or artifice. Blind tasting allows a drinker to finally focus on what really matters—taste, the nose, the feel on the palate.
Now about the line-up, gin A was Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin, a micro distiller located in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Gin B was Bombay Sapphire and Gin C was from Hendricks. Bombay was the most traditional of the three gins tasted and for some, came across restrained, a touch understated and refined, which was the preferred gin by two of the tasters and the second choice by all other tasters. The consensus overall was that Sapphire was a solid gin, the botanicals not over the top, very smooth, subtle citrus notes, a touch of anise and a light waft of juniper; it was clear why some mixologists view this as one of the most mixable gins available.
The Hendricks was a surprise, as it was preferred the least by the tasters. For me, this was a particular revelation, as this is my go-to gin. Somehow the unique combination of cucumber, rose petals, elderflower, chamomile, orange and lemon peel did not translate compared to the Barr Hill or Sapphire. The Hendricks actually seemed a bit one dimensional, the botanicals not as pronounced and it almost seemed rough on the palate as compared to the other gins.
Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin was the night’s winner, with 3 out of 5 proclaiming it their favorite of the evening. This gin is heavily perfumed with juniper and almost lusciously sweet on the palate due to the addition of raw honey just before bottling. This gin was easy to drink straight up, very round and viscous on the palate, with anise, juniper and honey lingering on the finish.
All in all, it was fun to give another spirit a try. We later took our experiment in another direction by adding tonic water and muddled cucumber, mint and limes to the assorted gins to see which gin preformed the best…This time there were no winners, though.
More On Gin…
There are many gins on the market, some in the “London Dry” style and others in the “American Dry” style. To get a little more “Gin” perspective, I asked Bill Beard of Bowery and Vine, NYC, a trendy wine and spirits shop that caters to some of the country’s most discriminating spirit palates and cutting edge mixologists to give us his thoughts.
“For me, I can’t help of thinking/expecting an obvious juniper note on the palate when tasting gin. And the preferred style for me is the London Dry style, such as Plymouth Gin, mostly for my martinis and some of the classic gin cocktails…I do like gins with a restrained impact of juniper and a softer, more floral taste, also, those in what is now known as the American Dry style. Some are done well; some not.I’ve been enjoying an American Dry gin lately that is very cleverly done. The Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin from Brooklyn, NY has a solid juniper flavor, but some of the other botanicals – elderflower, cinnamon, citrus – are apparent and with terrific clarity.”
Other recommended gins include Berry Brothers and Rudd’s London Dry and Junipero Gin for an American Dry Gin.
Of course, the journey to discover the gin that works for your favorite cocktail could require exploration and trial and error—Lots of fun work! At the end of the day, it is up to you.