While our coverage of spirits is less prominent, we do enjoy bringing you occasional articles and reviews from this broad sector, as well.
We don’t have the staff to do comprehensive tasting in any spirits category, much less in all. However, we do enjoy spirits as consumers, if not as full-time reviewers, and from time-to-time we report on them.
Here are some products we found interesting in the last couple of months:
Not just a gin from France, but one made by a Cognac distiller. Now this was an irresistible combination. Alexandre Gabriel makes Pierre Ferrand Cognac, but the stills from that operation are not in use all through the year. Periodically available equipment made for opportunity and Citadelle Gin was born. According to Maison Ferrand, the recipe for Citadelle is an updated version of a formula found in an old archive in Dunkirk.
Ask even a veteran gin consumer what defines a drink as gin, and you’re likely to get a response like “juniper berries” followed by acknowledgement that some other stuff is included to give it more aroma and taste than vodka--a personality, if you will.
Juniper is mentioned as but one of 19 ingredients that contribute to what we tasted in Citadelle Gin. We have the complete list of these “botanicals,” but will spare you a tedious recitation of all of them. We did not attempt what might have been an arduous analysis, trying to pick out aspects of cubeb pepper or cinnamon, for instance. Each time we returned to sample our Citadelle we found it much more pleasant to just sip and savor, rather than attempt a deconstruction of its components. Overall, we found it both citrussy and spicy . . . and perhaps a bit floral. It had plenty of what makes gin “gin,” but we found the ingredients harmonious and well-integrated—an example of the whole being much more than the sum of its parts. 88 proof. Suggested retail is $25 for the standard-sized 750ml bottle.
Speyburn Scotch Whisky
Different whisky regions produce tastes that can be categorized in general terms, but the variations within these areas can be nearly infinite. Our Speyburn 10 Year Old single malt is a Highland whisky. There’s enough smoky character that a novice whisky drinker wouldn’t confuse it with a Bourbon, but it’s not as far down that peaty path as some other whiskies--like a typical Islay Scotch, for instance. We found this Speyburn to be light-to-medium bodied and nicely aromatic. Fruity and a bit floral with some traditional toffee-like elements. Complex, yet with a delicate countenance. It puts us in mind of salmon or trout fishing, grouse shooting or playing a wind-swept golf course in Scotland. None of these diversions was on offer during the days we sampled our Speyburn. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it. There are no rough edges on this reasonably-priced Highland Scotch ($29).
Bache Gabrielsen Cognac
A Cognac company owned by a Norwegian family. Now that’s just the sort of seeming incongruity that appeals to us. It’s no gimmick, as the company dates its involvement in Cognac to 1903 when Thomas Bache Gabrielsen, said to have been “a young second lieutenant” at the time, visited France “to improve his French and knowledge of Cognac.” A couple of years later he and a friend purchased the Edmund Dupuy Cognac House, thus laying the foundation for what is today’s Bache Gabrielsen.
Exporting to Norway is a big part of their business, where it is that country’s largest selling Cognac. There is limited worldwide distribution and the company has recently been opening the U.S. market. As with many Cognac houses, the product line includes a basic bottling and other bottles—rarer and more expensive. We enjoyed the VS “Tre Kors” (Three Crosses in Norwegian), which is identified by those crosses on the label. Apparently, this was a graphic adjustment made during the years of alcohol prohibition in that Scandinavian country (1916-28). While there was a general prohibition of alcohol, it was permitted for medicinal purposes and the crosses replaced three stars that had been displayed on the label in a prior era. We don’t know whether Norwegian enforcement authorities were especially tolerant or just a little dumb, but the crosses helped sell the medicinal image and they are part of the Bach Gabrielsen tradition to this day. The Tre Kors bottling is distilled of Ugni Blanc grapes from three growing areas in Cognac; Grande Champagne (the very center of the region and considered the source of the best fruit), Petit Champagne and Fins Bois. It receives Limousin oak ageing from 2-1/2 to 10 years. We liked the citrus and spice characteristics we found, which played against a balance of vanilla from the time spent in oak. If not spectacular, we found the Tre Kors a polished effort and eminently drinkable. Better than many other companies’ bottles sporting the VS definition. This 80 proof Cognac retails for about $33-35.