The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (46%, OB, Scotland)

It has been a long time since reviewing a Gin. How is that possible? In fact, all the Gins I have on my lectern now haven’t been reviewed yet, so I’d better get a move on, before they are gone! Like Hendrick’s, the The Botanist hails from Scotland, better still, both are made by distillers of the finest tipple of Scotland, Whisky! Where Hendrick’s is made by the people behind Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, The Botanist is made by the people of Bruichladdich. The Botanist is made with 9 rather common botanicals found across most Gin’s: juniper berries, cassia bark, coriander seeds, angelica root, dried lemon peels, dried orange peels, licorice, cinnamon and orris root. However, that was not enough. What makes this Gin about terroir, a big thing for Bruichladdich, is the addition of 22 botanicals found on the Island of Islay: apple mint, chamomile, creeping thistle, downy birch, elder, gorse, hawthorn, heather, juniper (again), lady’s bedstraw, lemon balm, meadowsweet, mugwort, red clover, spear mint, sweet cicely, bog myrtle, tansy, water mint, white clover, wild thyme and wood sage. So the focus of this Gin is actually on the details, the Islay botanicals, hence the red number 22 on the label.

The Botanist has one of the most comprehensive websites I have ever seen considering Gin, or any other drink for that matter. Beautifully made and very informative. However, reading that much and absorbing that much information makes thirsty, and you only can taste the Gin by trying it, not by reading about it. Same goes for this review obviously! So without further ado, here are my thoughts about The Botanist.

Color: Clear water.

Nose: Classic piny, juniper dry Gin aroma’s are up front. Lots of citrus with orange overpowering the lemon. Fresh smelling, with some menthol, almost clinically clean at first. Nevertheless, the nose has also a deeper sweetish note to it (licorice and cinnamon). I even get whiffs of an unexpected briny note. Unexpected in a Gin maybe, but considering this is an Islay Gin, maybe I should have known better. Underneath a warm, well-balanced, big floral scent emerges, aided by a more woody note (pencil shavings). When nosing the Gin by itself, a lot comes to the fore, I never picked up in a chilled Gin & Tonic. Excellent nose, no doubt about it, perfect!

It actually is rather strange that a distillate containing so much fine details, from many different botanicals, is used for a G&T with lots of ice, masking all those fine details. If you want to pick up on those finer details, I invite you to try your Gins neat as well (at room temperature). I do it for these reviews and it is certainly an eye-opening experience. I actually have a friend who had never heard of G&T, but likes Gin. He always drinks it neat at room temperature as a fresher alternative to Whisky. When I told him about G&T, he actually was quite surprised people do that to with their Gins.

Taste: Much drier than expected, yet not lacking sweetness. Again well-balanced stuff. Appetizing. Lots of juniper (but less piny than on the nose) and citrus notes. Here lemon almost overpowers orange. Camomile, paper and apple juice. Hints of vanilla and cream. Creamy orange. Next, some more green or vegetal notes. For the plethora of botanicals in this Gin, this is not a Gin for those who want to recognize all 31 botanicals individually. The components used are designed to work together, and they do that very well. This may very well be the best sipping Gin I know. Oily, chewy. Extremely well made. 46% ABV seems to be just right as well.

Comparing the Zuidam to the Botanist neat, the latter has definitely the more classic (juniper) Gin nose. The difference is so great, it almost seems like the Zuidam isn’t a Gin at all! Sure, if you work a bit harder the juniper and the citrus notes are definitely there, so don’t panic. The nose of the Zuidam is more mellow, less defined and fresh, but also less complex, compared to the Botanist. Tasting both, the roles seem reversed. The taste of the Botanist is remarkably mellow compared to its nose, whereas the Zuidam, seems a bit bigger, less complex again, yet fruitier (and somewhat sweeter), with a fantastic orange aftertaste. Hard to pick a favourite sipping Gin between these two!

Strange enough though, of all the Gin’s I know and/or have, (not all have been reviewed yet), the Botanist is not my favourite in a G&T. Lesson learned, not all excellent Gins work perfectly in a G&T. Personally I’m more about making G&T’s with Gin, rather than sipping them neat. Maybe I should follow the example of my friend mentioned earlier. On the other hand, The Botanist also deserves a more extensive search for the best matching Tonic.

Every time I make a Gin & Tonic at home, I always make two different ones for a proper H2H. It’s a sad thing to drink Gin & Tonics alone, so I always do that with my wife. We’ll do some proper comparisons, at least I do, and then I let her pick her favorite for her to finish. She often picks a different one than I, so it is not as bad as it sounds. Especially one time I remember we both preferred the same one, and up ’till now the combination of the aged Zuidam Gin paired with Indi Tonic is our favorite. It also shows you that taste is personal, so don’t take my word for it, make your own mind up, which is definitely more fun!

One recent nice spring day, hot, so could have been the middle of summer, I made two different G&T’s with “The Botanist”. One with Syndrome Velvet Tonic (left, with bitter oranges and thyme) and the second one (on the right) with Schweppes Premium Mixer Ginger & Cardamom. The difference was larger than expected. With Syndrome, the G&T was good, yet very soft and quite sweet as well. Rounded out, soft and sweet, toned down, covered up and a bit too sweet for my tastes. The thyme was definitely noticeable in the Tonic. The combination with the ginger and cardamom Tonic, both noticeable in the Tonic itself, was more true to the juniper driven, Dry Gin style of The Botanist and maybe Gin in general. It was more refreshing, sharper and definitely more focussed, well-defined, making it the one I preferred. Needless to say my wife preferred the other one!

Points: 82

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Hendrick’s Gin (41,4%, OB, Scotland)

Earlier I reviewed two very good Gins: Hven and Dutch Courage (the aged version). Both are very nice spirits, good enough for sipping. For me however, I already have lots of other spirits lying around the house which are even better for sipping than your average Gin, so for me, Gin is a spirit to do something with. Call me boring, but the best way to do something with Gin is to partner it up with a good Tonic. Many people can tell you how to make a nice Gin & Tonic, so I won’t do that here. Since I’m a taster of spirits, that is what I do. I taste the Gins on these pages neat, but I hope to put something down as well how a particular Gin behaves with a good Tonic. When I do that I’ll use a big balloon copita and very big spheres of ice or chunks of frozen spring water. For review purposes I do not add any garnish, but when you make your own G&T, please do to enhance the experience.

Hendrick’s is a Scottish Gin produced since 1999 in small 450 litre batches by William Grant & Sons. Whisky-people know them better as the people behind Glenfiddich and the Balvenie Single Malts. In the 60’s, Charles Gordon, at that time the president of William Grant & Sons, bought a Carter-head still and a Bennett still (a small pot still) at an auction. Both were restored and put back into service for the production of Hendrick’s Gin. Both stills are producing a different Gin which are later blended together. Part of the botanicals used are macerated and subsequently distilled in the Bennett still with neutral spirit and water. The rest of the botanicals are put into a copper basket that hangs well above the spirit in the Carter-Head still, extracting the more sweet floral and elegant aroma’s by the rising vapour. Finally essences of Cucumber (from the Netherlands and Belgium) and Red Roses (from Bulgaria) are added to the blend of Gins, post distillation. The botanicals used in distillation are: Juniper, cubeb aka tailed pepper, caraway seeds, camomile, elderflower, meadowsweet, yarrow, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seeds, orris root, and angelica.

Hendrick's GinColor: Colorless.

Nose: Juniper obviously, but also quite some toned-down citrus in the mix. All of this is aided by a rather sweet and very appealing floral aroma. Elderflower and meadowsweet for sure. It is said Bulgarian Rose and Cucumbers are the main markers for this Gin (I am assuming this, since they get mentioned a lot). I eat many cucumbers and I recognize the smell of cucumbers a mile away. Here I don’t get it (yet). I’m sure it’s there, but it is drowned out by the other, much stronger aroma’s. Same goes for the Bulgarian Rose. Although faintly present, it smells a bit more like marketing to me. Do Bulgarian roses smell better than other roses anyway? If mentioned so often, why does the Gin smell of juniper, elderflower and meadowsweet instead of the aforementioned rose and cucumber? Hmmm, maybe that’s why they ask you to garnish it with cucumber, to make it noticeable. Let’s not get carried away now, since the beauty lies in the details, even I should know that! Some whiffs of spicier ingredients pass by. Pepper and a more earthier and rootier smell. Sweet camomile is there too. It is no surprise. Hendrick’s is a wonderful smelling Gin. Well balanced and very appealing.

Taste: Quite spicy, cumin for sure. Oily and nice. Sweet and earthy. Coriander is definitely here, but used with taste. It’s the “hint of” I expected from the cucumber, but it is from the coriander instead. I usually don’t care too much for coriander, but here it does seem to work rather well. Luckily some other, very pleasant, floral, botanicals overpower it. This is quite a surprise. It packs quite an aromatic punch, but also the sweet florality is easily detected. Yes we have some rose-water in the taste. The cucumber however, absent for me. As I said cucumber is very common to me, but I can’t detect it. Maybe something wrong with me these days? It has some sweet barley and aroma’s of dry biscuits. The different tastes work together well, nothing really stands out making for a well-balanced big uniform taste. Subtle (the Zuidam and the Hven are bigger Gins).

Combine with a neutral Tonic like Fever Tree and maybe even more exiting, the aromatic Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic works quite well since the floral part played by the geranium is a nice match with the Bulgarian Rose from the Gin.

Points: 79 (yup high score again)

Dutch Courage Aged Gin 88 (44%, Zuidam, Batch 001, 2013, The Netherlands)

Over here, summer has now seriously started. For the time being anyway, so it would be no use, and somewhat odd to try to review a nice heavy hitting, iodine clad, peated Whisky, now would it. Sure, I could go for a nice Rum, since that is a distillate that loves these kinds of temperatures. However, yesterday, after spending most of the day outside, I suddenly had a craving for a nice Gin & Tonic. Looking back I only reviewed only one Gin on these pages, since I guess, Gin more or less belongs in a good Tonic, and not a lot of people drink Gin neat. By the way, I can’t stress that enough: Tonic must be good if you want a nice experience, without downplaying the role of Gin of course. That would be almost blasphemous now wouldn’t it. The first Gin I reviewed here was the organic Gin of Hven, which is excellent, and worthy of my reviewing method of tasting it neat. If it’s good neat, it must be good with Tonic right? Not the case, but a good start. It all depends how the combination will work. Today we’ll have a look at a Dutch Gin, made by mad professor Patrick van Zuidam. No ordinary Gin, but an aged one. This one has aged in new American oak barrels. Let’s try this one neat as well, so I can familiarize myself with it, and work out which Tonic to pair it up with.

Dutch Courage Aged Gin 88Color: Citrus gold.

Nose: A very appetizing smell. Lot’s of citrus. Sweet orange skins and other citrus fruit skins, with hints of fresh (not sweet) orange juice. Nice soft Juniper comes next. Not overpowering at all, it is used with taste. Spicy, sweet cinnamon and (toasted) oak. It actually smells like spices used for baking cookies. The slightly sweet profile (It’s not an old Tom, mind you), is enhanced by the vanilla-like notes coming from the American oak. Although it is aged, it hasn’t been ageing for a long time I guess, it doesn’t smell like a very old distillate to me. It has kept it youthfulness, but the ageing did give it an extra layer, making it softer and “rounder”.

Taste: Slightly bitter and definitively sweeter than I expected. Still not an Old Tom though. Heaps of nice (sweetish) citrussy notes. Nice Orange notes, but also some more fresher citrus components. As with the nose, the juniper is present, without overpowering, allowing for great balance. Spicy, the cookie spices are here too, but this time with a shift towards licorice. In the background a vanilla pudding note, which adds to the perception of sweetness (or “roundness”). All that is present in the finish which seems to be built around sugared anise seeds. Nice. Again, Gin, for me, is often not meant for sipping, but just like Hven, it is unbelievably drinkable. Maybe it is a sort of hybrid between Gin and Genever (the granddaddy of Gin, which most of the time is consumed neat).

One day I made two G&T’s, for me and my wife to try. I paired up this Dutch Courage 88 with Indi Tonic and for comparison the well-known Hendrick’s with the also well-known Fever Tree. Although the latter makes for a very good G&T, one easy to enjoy, however, the combination of Indi with Dutch Courage was something else. Softer, excellent bitters, with a lot of aroma’s presented in excellent balance. Definitely a must-have Gin. I’ll have a go at this Gin soon, paired up with some more Tonic’s. Recommended!

For the completists, I also did a head to head with Hven Gin. The Zuidam is more accessible, sweeter and benefitted of oak ageing. The Hven is obviously unaged, but also even softer on the nose, more restrained. The taste initially also shows some sweetness, and for a moment nothing happens, but it doesn’t take long for taste-evolution to take place. These two are actually very nice to try one after the other, like they were meant to be together. Both are excellent sippers. Luckily I don’t have to choose between them, because both are worthy in any liquor cabinet. My advise, buy the biggest bottle available, both of them.

Points: 81 (and believe me, that is quite a lot of points for a Gin by itself).

UPDATE (29-6-2016): I did a H2H2H with Hven, Hendrick’s and this Zuidam. First of all the Hendrick’s is the one best behaved. It’s nice and friendly and definitely the subtlest. You can’t go wrong with it and it a worthy sipper. The Hven is sweeter and a bit bolder. Bigger if you want, but also somewhat simpler. Another good sipper. This Zuidam however is something exceptional. It is big and dirty. Tasting the three side-by-side, this one seems to have some goût de pétrole you get in good Rieslings. Less typical Gin I guess, but very special nevertheless. For me a must-have.

Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn “Organic Gin” (40%, OB, Sweden)

Avid followers know that in october, Master Quill likes to go to the Whisky Show in London, England. Up ’till now there has always been something that really surprises. A few years back Tomatin surprised with a lot of non-1976 bottlings. Another year, a lot of offerings from Benromach were a discovery, and this year (2015) was the year of Indian Distiller Paul John. Especially their single cask bottlings were stellar. Even a Boutique-y Paul John was fantastic! However, hidden in a corner of the room, next to the coffee stand near the entrance, were three Swedes. They didn’t even had a real stand, but they used a cask as a table and put some Erlenmeyer flasks with colored stuff on top. I have to say, I met some driven and passionate people doing the Spirit of Hven. Spirit of Hven is not only a distillery, but it is also a hotel, a restaurant, Whisky bar and chemistry lab! Mad scientist with a passion for booze? I like that! So apart from Paul John, the discovery of the year was this Spirit of Hven Gin. Go figure!

Gin is an interesting product, since Gin can be made rather quickly, you don’t have to wait ages to see how it turns out. Nice stuff to experiment with and make it personal, by thinking up and combining different botanicals. This Gin has its obvious basis of Swedish Juniper and citrus. Other botanicals include Grains of Paradise, Aniseed, Calamus Root, Mauritian Bourbon Vanilla, Cassia bark, Cardamom, Sichuan Pepper and Guinea Pepper (dried fruit), not to be confused with Grains of Paradise which is also known as Guinea Pepper (ground seed). The Gin is oak aged prior to the final distillation, so the influence of wood is another ingredient.

HVEN Organic GinColor: Clear water.

Nose: Laid back and sweet-smelling juniper. Toned down by some sweet carrots and hidden vanilla. You know it’s there but somehow in disguise. Soft vanillin from wood maybe? Sure it is a Gin, with juniper and citrus, like all, but in here the combination smells excellent yet different. The sharpness is shaven off by the hidden vanilla and the promise of sweetness. A bit like a Gin Liqueur, although this might not be sweet tasting at all. Next some grain, black tea and dried grass. It’s still a Gin, so not extremely complex, but this one is so well-balanced. It’s hard to put down and stop smelling. Very soft and mellow with a nice floral touch and some sweet spices and soft wood to finish it off. Pine forest (floor) after autumn rain.

Taste: The first sip is of sweet grain and paper. The basis is there. It has notes of Vodka, a very smooth and soft Vodka. Next come the juniper, sweet oaky vanilla and well-integrated soft citrus note as well as a hint of caramel. Towards the finish we’re most definitely in the territory of sweet licorice. Laurel licorice. It’s a honeyed kind of sweetness, so more depth than sugary sweet. I use “sweet” a lot, but let me assure you that this comes nowhere near Gin Liqueur and not even an Old Tom. The finish has quite a bit of length and finally it leaves you with a nice anise and licorice aftertaste. Wonderful sipping Gin.

This is the first Gin on these pages and for a long time there was a good reason for that. Gin usually winds up in a cocktail or in a Gin-and-Tonic and I am a drinker and taster of Spirits. When Gin gained popularity the last few years I obviously got the chance to try some very nice Gin-and-Tonics, the way I like my Gin the best. It all went wrong when I started trying Gins by themselves. Nipping them, say, like a Whisky. Well, I can assure you, Gin is no Whisky! So Gin seemed to be not for nipping, so I left it alone for a while. I did find some nice Gins though, that worked well in Gin-and-Tonics. Hendricks with Fever Tree is nice, but Zuidam aged Gin with Indi Tonic, was a lot better. The Zuidam aged Gin was the first Gin I liked by itself, so I decided not to give up on Gin (as a sipper) yet. And then I encountered this Organic Gin. Wonderful stuff. With this one I never got passed the sipping stage, it’s that good. I do hope I have enough left to try it with Tonic though. Recommended!

Points: 78 (and believe me, that is a lot of points for a Gin by itself)