The most expensive and difficult-to-acquire gin in the tasting was a small-batch American gin by Leopold Bros in Denver, CO. It made the tasting by virtue of a vocal proponent on the tasting panel. If I remember correctly, he called Tanqueray “swill” when compared to Leopold Bros. So of course I had to try it.
Only 2 of the tasters liked this gin at all — and neither one of them was the taster that recommended it in the first place. It ranked #11 out of 16 overall, and the taster that prompted its inclusion described it variably as “cat urine” and “chewing on a homeless man’s beard”.
One of the 2 tasters that liked it was me, and I liked it quite a bit. I rated it #3 overall behind Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire. It is very recognizable, as many of the specialty gins in this tasting were. I liked it (and continue to like it) in a martini — it is mellow and smooth with a very traditional flavor profile, but so muted it tastes almost oily. My favorite drink with LB is a Gibson, which is gin:vermouth in the same ratio as you like your martinis, but with a cocktail onion. The onion brings just the right amount of brine to the drink.
Some notes on the other boutique gins in the tasting:
Bombay Sapphire tastes better straight and warm, but Hendrick’s ($36) makes a slightly better martini (6:1 with lemon twist). And who’s going to drink a straight, warm gin martini anyway?
Hayman’s Old Tom ($29) is similar to Hendrick’s and the botanicals-focused gins, but sweeter. But not nearly as sweet as a genever like Damrak ($27). Damrak straight and warm literally tastes like it already has tonic and lime mixed with it. BTW…Tanqueray Rangpur was not in the tasting (I try to avoid any flavored or infused liquors) but Damrak was not far from that concept.
Schlichte ($31) has a slightly medicinal taste, sweet-ish like a Damrak, but a hint of a Benedictine or Fernet-Branca. Fernet Branca, by the way, is an excellent bitter Italian aperitif that rarely sells outside of Italy, except in the San Francisco bay area, where it is quite popular. Mix it with ginger ale as a highball and it is bracing and refreshing.
2 oz London dry gin
Combine in shaker and shake well (>30 sec). Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange slice. Or Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass and garnish.
Or if you’re using Cardinal gin, skip the sage leaves.
NOTE: Always, always, always buy fruit and make your juice fresh! It’s the single most important thing you can do to improve your bar skills.
Cardinal ($29) is local (NC) American small-batch gin. This was the most dramatically different gin of the tasting, and it also came in dead last. It tastes like sage, which some interpreted as licorice. I struggle with this one since I like the innovation, but I haven’t figured out what to use it for. I’ve tried in Southsides and Bronx Cocktails and Gin/Tonics but the only thing I can say it works well in is a Sage Rush (no real sage needed when using this gin).
Lastly, Bluecoat ($32) advertises that they use organic juniper berries, which gives their gin an earthy quality. Most of the tasters described this Philadelphia gin as ‘hot’ or too whiskey-like. One did say it reminded him of tequila, so at least with one of our tasters caught on to the earthiness.
To sum up, the panel liked this group a lot less than the standard, “Blue Collar” gins in the tasting. And they liked these less precisely because they were less traditional. Despite 80% of the drinking population saying “I don’t like pine needles so I don’t drink gin”, when asked to say which gin they liked, they preferred more pine needles to less.
So remember that the next time a friend or bartender asks if you want a gin cocktail and give it a try. You might find you actually like it a lot.
And if you’re stocking a bar, Hendrick’s is the one gin of this bunch that I can tell nearly everyone they should have. Outside of that, it depends on how adventurous you and your guests want to get.