Palate: Full bodied, Orange peel, alcohol, juniper.
Finish: Licorice, alcohol, pepper jam.
Mixed: Out of balance in dry martinis and with tonic. Better with juice and in richer cocktails like Negronis or Princetons.
Parting words: Sipsmith is one of the few micro-distillers that has chosen to focus on gin specifically. Many make it (and make it well) but others are focused on whiskey and see gin and vodka as a way to bring in cash while their whiskey ages. I applaud how gin-focused Sipsmith is and how seriously they seem to take their craft. That care and focus has paid off in a big way for Sipsmith’s founder when they sold out to Beam Suntory for an undisclosed sum earlier this month (December 2016).
All that said, this gin is so unbalanced that I can’t recommend it. I enjoy dry, spicy gins, but Sipsmith London dry takes it too far. It’s all sharp juniper and citrus peel balanced with nothing but alcohol. It’s like a soprano singing a capella at the top of her range for ninety minutes. High notes are good, but absent a chorus with beefy altos and basses, they become noise.
At $40, this gin is on the top shelf, even for micros. That makes its lack of balance even less tolerable. There are dozens of other “craft” gins that manage to be dry without turning into the Mojave desert. Sipsmith London Dry Gin is not recommended.
My home state of Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. Many of those states operate state-owned liquor stores but others, like Michigan, merely act as the wholesaler for the state. As a wholesaler, the state of Michigan maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself called the price book. The price book is issued by the state a few times each year. Supplemental lists (now called new items lists) are issued periodically listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. These lists contain a variety of information but the most important to consumers is the minimum price at which the spirit must be sold at retail.
This post is a look at the new items for February 28, 2016. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. For the sake of brevity, I have excluded apparent corrections from this post. Some new items are also gift pack versions of existing items. These are always the same price as the bottle alone.
HOTEL TANGO MIKE MOONSHINE 90, 750, $23.12 Listed under alcohol for some reason. See Hotel Tango Golf Gin below.
EZRA BROOKS BBN 90, 1000, $14.96
REBEL YELL BBN 80, 1000, $21.96 Two of the crummiest bourbons available in the state are now available in liter bottles. What a time to be alive. Both Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks are from Luxco.
JEFFERSON’S OCEAN AGED CASK STRENGTH 112.0, 750, $99.99 “I’M ON A BOAT”. Jeff’s famous boat bourbon is now available in cask strength, although I would have called it naval strength. Seems like a missed opportunity. From Castle brands (Gosling’s, Knappogue).
1792 SINGLE BARREL 98.6, 750, $41.99 The latest in the flurry of 1792 line extensions spit out since Sazerac bought the brand. Hopefully, I will able to find and buy one of these, since the Sweet Wheat and Port finish seem to have been vacuumed off shelves instantaneously. Distilled in Bardstown at Barton-1792, of course.
Blended American Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)
TINCUP 84, 1750, $57.99 The sourced blend of straights from the former Stranahan’s guy is now available in handles in the Mitten State.
JACK DANIELS SINGLE BARREL RYE 94, 750, $54.99 At long last, JD has released a mature (on paper anyway) rye whiskey. The unaged and “rested” versions got mixed reviews, but hopefully this is better.
Straight Rye Whiskey
WOODFORD RESERVE RYE 90, 750, $42.96 WRR is finally making it to Michigan. The consensus was that Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection ryes were bad, but I liked them, despite the dumb price. Unlike those, WR Rye is made both at the historic Woodford Reserve distillery on the big copper pot stills and at the distillery in Louisville. [corrected]
KNOB CREEK RYE 100, 1750, $74.99 One of my favorite Kentucky style ryes is now available in a family size bottle. Whoot!
CROWN ROYAL W/BEANIE 80, 750, $27.99 Let the world know your questionable taste in whisky all winter with this gift pack that features a one-size-fits-all black CR beanie. Or make your own.
HUNTER RYE PLASTIC 90, 100, $1.89 Imported by Sazerac, this line extension to the old Seagram’s Canadian Hunter brand is now available in small 100 ml bottles. 50 ml bottles are also available hanging off the necks of bottles of Canadian Hunter blended. Canadian Hunter is sometimes called “the poor man’s Crown Royal” which makes me sad.
BRUICHLADDICH OCTOMORE EDITION: 07.1 119, 750, $164.99 This is the latest release from Bruichladdich’s super duper peated Octomore series.
BRUICHLADDICH OCTOMORE EDITION: 07.3 126, 750, $174.99 7.3 is the 100% Islay barley version of Octomore 7. Owned by Rémy Cointreau.
KIRKLAND BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY 80, 1750, $25.99 Sourced through Alexander Murray & Co. It’s good the state has finally allowed Kirkland/Costco brands in.
Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)
KNAPPOGUE CASTLE-12 YR 92, 750 $47.99 One of my favorite Irish Whiskeys is back, although it never really left the shelves. From Castle brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s).
TULLAMORE DEW (IRISH)-15 YR 80, 750, $79.99 The knock on Tullamore has always been that it’s boring. I doubt this 40% ABV expression is going to help that perception. If tiny Castle Brands can release the 12 y/o Knappogue at 46% ABV for $48, then why can’t big boys like Wm. Grant release Tullamore 15 y/o at a higher ABV when asking $80? The mismanagement of this brand continues.
ST.GEORGE APPLE BRANDY 86, 750, $50.28 This is the (formerly?) limited release apple
brandy from Alameda California’s St. George microdistillery. Their fruit brandies were originally released under the Aqua Perfecta label, but have now thankfully been reissued as St. George fruit brandies. I’m always excited when a new apple brandy comes to Michigan, but a 3-4 y/o apple brandy selling for $50 does give me pause.
HOTEL TANGO ROMEO RUM 90, 750, $27.72 See Hotel Tango Victor Vodka below.
BAYOU RUM SILVER 80, 750, $19.99
BAYOU RUM SPICED 80, 750, $19.99 Bayou rum is a product of Louisiana Spirits, located about twenty miles east of Lake Charles. According to their website, they use all Louisiana sugar cane and a proprietary cane yeast strain for their line of rums. In addition to the silver, spiced (see above) and the Satsuma orange liqueur(see below), they also make Bayou Select, an aged, pot still rum. How long is it aged? They don’t say. Anyway, I’m glad to see a microdistiller focus on rum instead of hopping on the bourbon bandwagon. We need more rum.
PELICAN HARBOR RUM 80, 750, $18.99 See XIII Kings below.
ESPOLON EXTRA ANEJO 82, 750, $99.99 Elderly line extension for Campari’s Espolon comes in a little on the rich side.
HERRADURA ULTRA ANEJO 80, 750, $54.99 Brown-Forman jumps into the weird trend of crystal clear añejo tequilas with this item. At least it’s not $100.
PURA VIDA ANEJO 80, 750, $43.46
PURA VIDA REPOSADO 80, 750, $38.94
PURA VIDA SILVER 80, 750, $33.66 The line of tequilas jointed owned by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and a man named Stewart Skloss has come to Michigan with the three standard variations. Distilled by Feliciano Vivanco & Associates who also make the Siembra Azul tequila line and the ArteNOM 1414 selection, among others.
ANDREW JOHN’S 80, 750, $19.99 There’s no information about this product online at all. It’s distributed by General Wine & Liquor. I’m guessing it’s either a gin named for the rugby player Andrew Johns or it’s something the BuzzBallz people are responsible for. Either way, the total lack of information doesn’t bode well.
SIPSMITH LONDON DRY GIN 83.2, 750, $39.99
SIPSMITH V.J.O.P. 115.4, 750, $59.99 Sipsmith is a gin microdistillery in Chiswick in western Greater London. Three new products from them are on the list, two gins and a sloe gin. The London Dry is their entry level offering. This is their higher end, higher proof gin, which the website describes as a “symphony in J major” (oof). V.J.O.P.= Very Junipery Over Proof Gin. The sloe gin (see below) is made by infusing their London Dry with sloe (blackthorn) berries. Most commercial sloe gin is made with GNS, so good on them for using the traditional method. The website is cheesy but the products sound intriguing.
GRAY SKIES BARREL FINISHED GIN 80, 750, $29.99 Hopped and barrel-finished gin from the Grand Rapids microdistiller of the same chipper name. They also make Gray Skies Utility Vodka below. Coming soon: Rum. Not coming soon (they want to age it): Bourbon & Rye.
HOTEL TANGO GOLF GIN 90, 750, $27.72
HOTEL TANGO VICTOR VODKA 90, 750, $23.12 Hotel Tango is a newish microdistillery in Indianapolis in the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood. Their whiskey is aging (of what type the website doesn’t say), but they also offer gin, rum (above) and limoncello (below). Their focus seems to be cocktails. I’ve never been there or tried any of their stuff but it’s nice to have more craft spirits (especially rum) available in Michigan, assuming they’re not awful of course.
XIII KINGS VODKA 80, 750, $19.99 The BuzzBallz (actual name) unspillable/unbreakable premade cocktail people are releasing their own vodka and rum (see Pelican Bay rum above). I imagine that it’s the same liquor they use in their cocktails so it’s bound to be top quality stuff.
HOTEL TANGO LIMA CHARLIE LIMONCELLO 70, 750, $27.72 See Hotel Tango Victor Vodka above.
BAYOU SATSUMA ORANGE RUM LIQUEUR 60, 750, $19.99 Erroneously listed under rum. See Bayou Spiced rum above.
SIPSMITH SPECIAL EDITION 2013 SLOE GIN 58, 750, $49.96 See Sipsmith VJOP above.
Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Clementine, juniper, lavender, cough drops. Opens up with water.
Finish: Sweet and a little hot. Lingers for quite some time.
Mixed: Works well in a G & T, but go easy on it. Does very well in a dry martini but again, remember it’s navy strength.
Parting words: I’ve never had a bad Hayman’s gin and this is one is no exception. It’s juniper-forward like a typical London dry gin, but very well balanced on the back end with sweetness and earthiness. It does very well in cocktails even if it’s not particularly ambitious. If that sounds like a back-handed compliment, it’s not intended to be. The folks at Hayman know what they’re doing (they’ve been doing it long enough) and they have made an elegant, perfectly balanced gin that does very well in all applications, including neat (or at least with some water).
That elegance along with its high proof and low price make Royal Dock highly recommended.
Maker: Beefeater, Lambeth, Greater London, England, UK (Pernod-Ricard)
Style: London dry gin.
Michigan State Minimum: $24
Appearance: Clear with a pearl necklace.
Nose: Juniper, citrus peel, grapefruit, hint of black tea.
Palate: Thick mouthfeel, but light flavor. Some bitter orange but mostly alcohol burn and sweetness.
Finish: Sweet and spicy with angelica, horehound and sugar.
Mixed: The best way to describe the way it mixes is “crisp”. Makes a nice crisp G & T and Tom Collins which is good. The 24 dry martini and Negroni were also crisp which is fine if you like that quality in those drinks, but I prefer mine with more spice.
Parting words: Beefeater 24 is a step up from the standard Beefeater at six dollars more and, curiously, 2% lower ABV. I didn’t get a chance to taste them side by side like I wanted but based on memory, it’s an improvement.
Besides the lower proof, the difference seems to be in the botanicals. Bitter orange, grapefruit and tea are singled out on the label and their presence is certainly evident in the glass. My knock on the standard Beefeater has always been that it’s dull. 24 narrowly avoids that fault through the added earthy depth of the tea. There’s also some gibberish on the label about 24 being made from a handmade cut from the “heart of the run”. I’m not sure how one makes a “cut” by hand in this instance. Karate chops, maybe?
At any rate, 24 is a step up from the snooze-fest that is the standard Beefeater. $24 isn’t all that expensive in the grand scheme of things and the bottle is really pretty for what that’s worth. Beefeater 24 is recommended.
On the palate: Sweet and delicately spicy. Juniper, root spices, Clementine.
Finish: Spicy and fairly hot. A little bit of sweetness lingers on the lips for quite a while.
Mixed: Gets a little lost in a Tom Collins, but good in a G & T with quality tonic. Makes a wonderful dry martini well-chilled going easy on the vermouth.
Parting words: Plymouth is both a style of gin and brand of gin in addition to being a city (or two). The name is protected under EU regulations. In days gone by there were more than just one gin distiller in Plymouth, but there has only been Plymouth in Plymouth for quite a while now.
Stylistically, it’s between a London Dry and an Old Tom. It has the spice and juniper of a Dry but the delicate body of an Old Tom. It is fantastic in martinis and similar cocktails, adding elegantly balanced flavors and the right amount of body.
It’s a little too expensive to be an everyday, go-to type gin (except for those with bigger budgets) but it’s perfect for sophisticated classic cocktails. It also comes in a navy strength version at 57% ABV for just $5 more. Plymouth Gin is recommended.
Appearance: Like water, but with long, slow, sticky legs.
Nose: Juniper, alcohol, lemon peel, green cardamom, cumin, cucumber, cedar.
On the palate: Full-bodied and dry. Hot curry and a cucumber salad.
Finish: Dry and rich. Coniferous, with tangerine, lime leaves, and a background vegetal note.
Mixed: Does OK with tonic and in a Tom Collins, but some of the finer points are lost and the tonic clashes with it a bit. Shines in a very dry martini, complementing the herbal flavors in the vermouth beautifully.
Parting words: Hendrick’s is a very well regarded gin, and I can see why. It’s very ggod, but it is not something I would reach for if I wanted a quick, relaxing G & T; it’s a martini (or neat) gin and does best in that application. The bottle is also good looking, with the design of an antique medicine bottle. Hendrick’s is fairly priced for what it is at $36 (state minimum) here in Michigan. It is recommended.
Nose: Lime peel, juniper, a bit of horehound, anise, sweet cinnamon.
On the palate: Full-bodied. Sweet, slightly fruity, some heat and licorice.
Finish: Sweet, old fashioned candy. Lingers a very long time.
Mixed: Does very well in all applications. May get a little lost in a Tom Collins, but more than holds its own with tonic. The bitterness of the tonic is a very pleasant counterpoint to the fruity candy flavors of this gin. The same is true for a dry martini. The bitter herbal notes of the vermouth are a perfect foil for Hayman’s Old Tom.
Parting words: This is the second Old Tom gin I have reviewed on the blog and this is the better of the two. It’s more balanced and complex than Ransom and a little closer to a classic dry gin profile. But dry it is not. It’s got loads of sweet, fruity flavors in addition to the sharp botanical flavors. This balance makes it a perfect gin for classic cocktails and even for the occasional sip neat. An excellent gin from start to finish. Hayman’s Old Tom is highly recommended.
Maker: G&J Greenall, Warrington, England, UK (Bacardi)
Style: London Dry (with added lemongrass and black pepper)
Nose: Dry. Juniper, pepper, citrus, alcohol.
On the palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Some spice does come through but not a lot. Tangerine, maybe.
Finish: Sweet at first, then shifting into a warm, dry spice. Still some tangerine in the background though.
Mixed: Very nice in a Tom Collins. The lemon juice really complements and enhances the Black Pepper and lemongrass. Performs well with tonic, too. Adds a slightly bitter, spicy bite. Does very well in a dry martini, as long as one goes easy on the vermouth (I tend to overdo it sometimes). The black pepper really comes out and adds an interesting element. Would probably work very well in a dirty martini.
Parting words: Not much else to say about Bombay Sapphire East. It delivers on its promises. It adds Southeast Asian tang to mixed drinks. I’ve only seen it in travel retail shops around here, but it may be available elsewhere. Pick one up the next time you make a run for the border. Recommended.
On the palate: Full-bodied and well balanced. Dry on first entry, but then skewing sweet. Classic gin botanical notes, but few stand out. Also, as in the nose, a vaguely earthy, rustic taste on the back end, maybe a hint of seaweed and rainy beach.
Finish: Sweet, then dry, then herbal and fruity. Raisins, figs, thyme.
Mixed: Works well in most drinks. Gets the job done in a Tom Collins and a Gin & Tonic. Works fine in a Negroni too, but seems wasted in the above three drinks. In a dry martini it really shines, but go easy on the vermouth. My usual ration is 2:1 gin to vermouth. When using the Botanist, consider something like 4-5:1. It will taste fine the other way, but this gin has so many beautiful nuances, you’ll want to make sure the Botanist is leading all the way.
Parting words: The Botanist is made by Bruichladdich (Brew-kladdy), a (formerly) independent whisky distillery on the isle of Islay in the Hebrides islands in Scotland. It thinks of itself as “progressive”, though the way they make this gin seems more retro than prog. Bu that’s a good thing. In addition to what they call the traditional nine botanicals used in dry British gins, 22 herbs and spices are gathered from around Islay, including some native juniper.
At any rate this is an excellent gin, one of the few I’ve had that I can actually enjoy neat. It is subtle, complex and all around delicious. The Botanist is highly recommended.
Maker: Cadenhead, Campbelltown, Argyll, Scotland.
ABV: 55% (cut down to 45% for tasting purposes)
Gin & Tonic, Tom Collins: Old Raj is indistinct in both of these drinks. The Tom Collins is refreshing as always, but the G & T really falls flat, considering the proof and price of Old Raj. It might as well have been Seagram’s or some other bottom shelf brand. Highly disappointing.
Gibson: A slightly dirty Gibson this time instead of the usual martini, just to mix it up. Old Raj fares better here, but only slightly. This tastes like (shudder) a VODKA martini. The aromatics in the gin struggle to distinguish themselves from the vermouth, in this case a Noilly Prat’s Dry (the new formulation). Underwhelming.
Neat, slightly chilled: The color of this gin is a very light gold. What that comes from, I don’t know. The botanicals? A very short time in a barrel? The saffron that allegedly goes into it? Not quite sure, but it certainly makes Old Raj distinctive. The nose is a fairly standard gin nose, but more mild and dry than many in the same category. Juniper and citrus stand out with the citrus being the stronger of the two. All the rest is just alcohol. On the palate it fairly heavy bodied. Some sweetness, then that citrus is back, more specifically as lime. As it fades into the finish, the sweetness predominates with a background of citrus and a whole lotta burn. This must be what it would be like to do a shot of vodka while sucking on a lemonhead.
Parting Words: I found Old Raj to be a disappointment. It really struggles to bring anything to the table when mixed, even in drinks in which gin takes the driver’s seat like martinis (and Gibsons). Neat it holds its own. My only complaint with it neat is that it is unbalanced. Too much citrus and sweetness and not enough spice. If you are one of the few, hep cats out there who enjoy drinking your gin neat, I recommend Old Raj. If you are looking for a distinctive gin for classic gin cocktails, look elsewhere