barrel-aged gin

Barrel-aged gins: welcome to a world of wonder

We all know how far gin has come over the last decade or so.  It has moved from being an old fashioned, last generation drink to the coolest cocktail base in town.  There has been an explosion of gin making over that time period, with major distillers taking risks with unusual flavours and new techniques while small, imaginative boutique distilleries are inventing gorgeous new gins from spaces as small as most people’s kitchens.  Flavours, infusions and new techniques have become the clarion call for gin lovers everywhere and variety is only restricted by our imagination. 

The gin explosion

There have been many gin trends introduced over this period – some welcome, some not.  Flavoured gins are making a name for themselves with classics such as gooseberry, lemongrass, strawberry and rhubarb gins competing with more novelty flavours including Christmas pudding, toffee apple and candy cane gins.  We’ve seen gin made from ants, gin built around Asian flavours such as fresh chili and ginger.  There are gin liqueurs, gin shots, retro gins and even zero alcohol gins.  

All shapes, styles and flavours

Some of these you may love, others you may hate – but one thing’s for sure, gin is one of the most versatile spirits out there and it now comes in all shapes, styles and flavours. There are also different taste experiences that sometimes vary by country.  In the UK and Spain, we are blessed with a rich history of alcohol production going back hundreds of years and that has influenced many of the gins we have come to know and love.

When gin meets whiskey…

In the Philippines, they still have a penchant for sweeter gins and that dictates some of the styles that have become most popular over there. But in some countries, where there has been a rich tradition of whiskey making, gin has absorbed many of traditional skills and techniques from the whisky industry and applied them to gin making – with extraordinary results.  Scotland and Ireland led the initial wave as small, local whiskey distillers began to experiment and jump onto the gin bandwagon. 

New ideas and old techniques 

Many of them found old whiskey barrels lying around and began to decant their distilled spirits into these barrels to see how it affected the taste, colour and complexity of gin – and the results were delicious.  Subtle infusions from the wooden barrels slowly transferred their flavours into the liquid. This process imparted subtle, complex, smoky whiskey tastes, oak tones and other flavour notes from the aged cask itself.  Scotland and Ireland in particular now produce a number of beautiful, barrel-aged gins that are each unique, subtle and which add real character (and colour) to the distilled spirit that lies within.

The American Revolution

But, with all the competitive gins flooding the UK market, barrel-aged gins never took off in the UK in quite the same way as they did in North America.  The rich whiskey traditions of both the USA and Canada lent themselves to experimentation.  And the entrepreneurial spirit and “anything goes” attitude of the American micro-brewery tradition was the perfect fermenting ground for these two great drinks.  Bourbon flavours from American or French oak barrels subtly infused the gin within. Similar flavours are imparted from the small oak barrels that are used in Canada, which can be new, old, charred or uncharred.  But it’s in North America where barrel aged gins have become a “thing”. 

What makes barrel aged gins taste so different?

So, let’s take a look at the world of barrel aged gin and see if we can come up with a few stunners for you to enjoy as you start to get to know this subtle variation on a standard gin.  It’s not for everyone, but if you love it, we think you’ll be hooked for life.  What is it about barrel aged gins that makes them so delicious? First of all, it’s worth noting that barrel aged gins are not a new thing. In fact, they’ve been around for years. The original Genever gins from Holland were often cask-aged, but the crisp, more easily mixed English styles eclipsed them over the years and have been the dominant global style for several hundred years now.

Experimentation and innovation

But in recent years, more and more gin distillers, eager to explore new flavours and to set them apart from the crowd, have begun to experiment with barrel aged gins and they are starting to have quite an impact.

Gins aged in barrels absorb the subtle, complex characteristics of the wood within the barrels.  The type of wood, the size of the barrel, the previous liquids that have been stored in it and its age all contribute to making barrel aged gins truly unique – and that’s part of the charm. But with gin, the ageing process is usually done in a matter of months, not years.

Roll out the barrel…

Some distilleries use barrels made from virgin oak, which means that the cask has never been used for storage at this point. American oak delivers a cleaner, softer taste (think caramel and vanilla). European oak tends to be a bit more flavoursome and spicy and is often sourced from Spain, Portugal or France.  While most barrel aged gin distillers use these sorts of casks, experimental distillers are now trying out new woods such as mulberry, chestnut or cherry. Some people use virgin casks, others prefer whiskey and still others prefer sherry, Bourbon, wine or vermouth – all of which will leave their own unique mark on the colour, taste and smell of the final product.

Barrel-aged gin that is worth seeking out

So, just as you thought the gin revolution has gone as far as it can go, it surprises us with a new angle – and this time, North America is leading the way. Here are a selection of barrel aged gins from around the world that are making their mark on gin:

Citadelle Reserve (France): 44% ABV

Citadelle gins come with a well deserved reputation for excellence. Citadelle was one of the first modern gins to embrace the barrel aged process, back in 2008.  The brainchild of Alexandre Gabriel, Citadelle Reserve has been wood-aged in an egg-shaped 8 foot tall barrel for around 5 months.  The gin features botanicals including cherry chestnut, french oak and mulberry and the result is a pale gold gin with herbal notes of tobacco and bitter orange.  There’s loads of pepper and spice in there as well. But the ageing process mellows all the flavours into a smooth, easy to drink gin that is perfect in a classic Dry Martini.

Big Gin – peat barreled (USA): 47% ABV

Big Gin’s peat barreled gin is handmade in Seattle in small batches before being aged in Ardberg and Laphroaig scotch whiskey barrels.  This earthy gin has a twist of bitter orange and warm spicy notes derived from 9 unique botanicals including Tasmanian Pepperberry, grains of paradise and bitter orange peel. It’s a perfect drink to sip on as you nibble on a plate of cheeses for charcuterie – and great on its own or in a smokey Negroni. And at 47% ABV, this carries a big kick.

Twisted Nose (UK): 40% ABV

This delicious gin is cask aged gin is made in the heart of the beautiful Hampshire countryside (alongside its delicious watercress infused original gin).  This time, the folks at Twisted Nose have mellowed some of the more astringent notes of herbs and peppery watercress through cask-aging for a few weeks in German oaked barrels, imparting a softer, creamier, vanilla flavour. This results in a smoother, more fragrant spirit which shares some flavour characteristics with the original Genever gins. This delicious gin can be drunk neat, on the rocks – or in a classic gin cocktail. And at a manageable 40% ABV, you can afford to have a few of them.

Stillhead London Dry Gin – Barely Aged gin (Canada): 43% ABV

This award winning London Dry gin from the Stillhead Distillery in British Columbia, Canada has been barrel aged for a year in an oak bourbon barrel which imparts the flavour of holiday spices into the gin. Take a sip and you’ll immediately get a sense of complexity as the star anise, cloves, cinammon and vanilla start to come through. The colour of this gin is a delicate golden yellow and it delivers a deep complex , balanced gin with the oak barrels and spicy vanilla working beautifullyb with the botanical. The finish is citrusy and clean and we think this one works really well in a gin and tonic made with Fevertree mediterranean tonic.

Avva Cask Finish Scottish Gin (Scotland): 55% ABV

This is the first cask gin to be made in Speyside, the spiritual home of malt whiskey. Avva Cask Finish Scottish gin is made annually in a limited edition and is matured in a Bourbon barrel sourced from the famous Speyside Cooperage. Only 200 bottles of this gin have ben produced, making it harder to find than the Loch Ness monster, but if you get your hands on a bottle, you’ll find it’s delicious. Rich juniper notes blend seamlessly with a floral bouquet. Then vanilla, butter cream and spices kick in to reveal an incredibly smooth, rich tasting gin. And with a long, warming finish, it’s almost whiskey like in its characteristics. This is another one that works well with ginger ale and a slice of orange. But make no plans for the morning after – at 55% ABV, this is a gin you should handle with care.

Boatyard Double Gin (Ireland): 46% ABV

This young, but innovative distillery is only a few years old, but it’s making quite a name for itself.  Made in the Boatyard Distillery, on the shores of the beautiful Lough Erne, this place has already established a reputation for its delicious Boatyard Double gin.  But this one is a touch different, aged in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels and sweetened with local Fermanagh honey, this smooth tasting barrel aged gin dispenses with locally produced Irish whiskey casks in favour of the stronger flavors of Kentucky bourbon. The result: a sweet and smokey gin with a distinctive Old Tom flavour. This gorgeous gin with its rich bourbon notes works well with a Fever Tree ginger ale and a slice of apple. And at 46% ABV, make sure you’re sitting down while you’re drinking.


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


RECENT POSTS

  • 5 “go to” classic gins you can rely on
    In this new world of 1000 gins, sometimes too much choice can be your enemy.  We all know about the recent explosion of craft gins and often they can be quite expensive.  So, it’s good to have a handful of “old faithfuls” classic gins that you know you can rely on for a good, standard … Continued
  • Gin Gazpacho: for when the heat is on!
    When the heat is on and you just want something light, healthy and easy for lunch you could do worse than reach for a chilled bowl of home made Gazpacho soup.  But we started thinking about making this traditional Spanish summer soup with the help of a little gin, so we began looking for recipes … Continued
  • Home-made Pimms – put a little sunshine in your life
    We’re now well and truly into summer and the social season lies ahead of us.  In the UK we have three of the most social events of the year coming up including Wimbledon this week (where people watch tennis and drink Pimms); the Henley Royal Regatta (where boaters in straw hats row, while people drink … Continued
  • Small bottle, big label: the story behind Angostura bitters
    We recently published a little article about gin and bitters (including Angostura) – a pairing almost as old as gin itself. As cocktails become more daring and our tastes become more and more exotic, we are constantly searching for new twists and flavours to make sure we get the very best out of our drinks. … Continued

Juniper: the magic berry

Gin is juniper. Without juniper, gin simply is not gin. That’s why juniper is so important. But what is it, where does it come from and why is it found in gin (but not in vodka or rum)? Well, read on as we lift the curtain on this fabulous berry which plays a vital part in our lives.

A tiny pine cone that conquered the world

So, here’s interesting fact number one!

The juniper berry isn’t actually a berry at all. In fact, it’s a tiny pine cone. These little cones can be found on a small, wild shrub called juniperus communis which primarily grows wild in the northern hemisphere. Juniper bushes are, in fact, closely related to the cypress family. These amazing plants can live for as long as 100 years and they can reach a height of 10m.

But that’s not all. Juniper is a hardy plant, with one of the widest geographical reaches of any tree in the world. You can find juniper bushes thriving across different landscapes and climates and a range of countries from Canada to the USA, from Iceland to Greenland, from Europe to North Africa and from Asia to Japan.

No hurry, juniper takes its time!

But juniper is not in a big hurry to flavour your G&T. In fact it takes each juniper bush around 10 years to actually bear fruit. But enough about the mother ship, what about the berry?

Well, this is a weird one. Juniper berries start off green and then, after around 18 months, they start to ripen into a dark purple colour. And they’re quite small – most juniper berries are less than 1cm in diameter. Intriguingly, each berry contains between 3 and 6 rectangular seeds, which birds kindly eat and distribute on juniper’s behalf.

So, where’s the best juniper to be found?

Well, we already know that juniper’s influence spreads far and wide. You can still find it growing in the UK and Spain, but the best stuff comes from Macedonia. And here’s another interesting fact. Juniper is generally harvested directly from the wild, meaning that it is more like foraging than farming. There’s a particular technique for getting the best crop from your tree.
According to long tradition, juniper pickers will circle the tree, beating the branches as they walk around it. They then catch the falling berries in a round, flat basket, often collecting their own body weight of juniper in a single day.

What does it actually taste like?

This complex botanical (with as many as 70 constituent elements) is most prized for its juniper oil, which represents as little as 3% of the cone. This means you have to squeeze an awful lot of juniper berries to get a decent amount of oil. And just like everything else, juniper has its own unique flavour profile.

Think pine notes, heather and lavender, sitting alongside grassy pepperiness and citrus. These are the dominant flavours that give it such a distinctive, bitter taste. They are also the same notes that make it into your gin once the distillation process is under way. All this work comes at a cost and the average price for juniper right now is around £7 per kg.

How did juniper end up as gin’s main ingredient?

Well, after a long and distinguished career in medieval medicine, in the 16th century, juniper switched seamlessly into gin. It had already been used in health remedies since the Egyptians started using it to make drinks and to embalm their dead pharaohs, so its health benefits had been known for millennia.

By the 1660s, as Amsterdam became the centre of world trade, the Dutch army and navy took to the habit of drinking a daily ration of genever. Then, in a bid to appeal to the growing middle classes, Dutch distillers began to flavour their malt wine with juniper and other spices from the Dutch East India company.
And the news spread, so before long, genever became popular in other European countries including France.

Ready for lift off

By the end of the 19th century, it was being sold in England at half the price of brandy, so its popularity took off rapidly. The rest is history.

The English embraced the idea and adapted it to their tastes and by 1621, there were more than 200 registered gin distillers in London alone.
Since then, it has gone on a journey from the devil’s drink, blighting the social fabric of 17th century London through to the drink of choice in 18th century drinking clubs. Eventually, this spirit became engrained in the history and psychology of England and by the time the G&T took hold in the 19th century there was no stopping it.

Gin goes global!

By the 20th century, this beautiful “juniper juice” had become a cocktail staple and the drink of choice for movie stars, writers, film stars and royalty. But production was still dominated by a few powerful brands such as Gordons and Tanqueray, who did nothing imaginative to this most versatile of all drinks. And then the craft gin revolution arrived in the early 21st century giving birth to a mind-boggling array of flavours and styles that we could only have dreamed of 20 years ago.

So, there it is. This little berry (that isn’t a berry) has taken on the world and won.
Every gin you drink, no matter where you are, will always have one thing in common – the juniper berry. Where would we be without you!

5 kinds of gin

5 kinds of gin: do you know the difference?

5 kinds of gin, really?

When most people think of gin, they think of England. It’s the classic, buttoned up English drink with hints of Empire, straw hats and times past.  But you couldn’t be more wrong. 
While it is true that the English adapted and popularised this juniper juice in the 18th century, its origins are not British at all, but Dutch.  Before it hit our shores, a drop of Dutch Courage (gin) was administered to calm the jagged nerves of those about to go into battle. The Brits liked this Jenever gin and wanted some for themselves.  But they altered forever the rich, almost smoky taste of the original by adapting the recipe. The result is what we now think of as traditional English gin styles, such as London Dry, Old Tom and Plymouth gin.  

The gin revolution begins

Now, fast forward to the 2010s, when the good people of Barcelona spotted a way of pumping up the style and invented the copa of gin (otherwise known as the Gin Tonic).  For the first time, gin and tonics were lovingly complemented with garnishes, herbs and exotic fruit to bring out the drink’s deeper aromas and flavours.  Once these gin pioneers had kick-started the gin revolution, small batch distillers and mixologists started to reappraise this extraordinary drink.
A decade later, there are more than 250 craft distilleries in the UK alone cranking out exceptional gins.  Craft distillers are pushing the boundaries of mixology further than ever.  Spain is not far behind with hundreds more dotted around the country. And Germany is a big player too. Even the Japanese are on the bandwagon! 

How many have you tried?

Genever gin

Genever ginThis is where it all began. Genever gin is the forerunner of modern gin. First heard of in 16th century Holland it is much maltier and more savoury than contemporary gins. This is due to the fact that it is distilled from malt wine spirits instead of neutral grain. It also works really well in a gin old-fashioned.  Originally, Genever was made by distilling malt to 50% ABV and then adding herbs to disguise the bitter taste, but it’s got much better since then. These days, there are two main types: Jonge Genever (Young Genever) has a neutral taste with a slight aroma of juniper and malt wine.  The second style is Oude Genever (Old Genever), aged in wood and with a maltier, smokier taste that is more reminiscent of whisky.

London Dry

London Dry ginContrary to popular opinion, London Dry gin doesn’t have to come from London. Or even the UK.  It is simply the name of a style that originated there in the aftermath of the genever wave. It is a very juniper forward style (as you would expect) and generally has citrus, angelica root and coriander as its other key flavours. Often bottled at high proof levels, this gin is great for cocktails, which is why it has become one of the most widely known gin styles on the planet.  This style became dominant and originally became known as Dry Gin to contrast it with its sweeter cousin, Old Tom.  London Dry gin has some additional rules to regular distilled gin.  It must be flavoured exclusively with distilled natural botanicals. No additional flavourings can be added after the distillation process.  In fact, nothing can be added except for neutral spirit, water and a maximum of 0.1 g of sugar per litre.

Old Tom

Old Tom ginA sweet style that developed in the 19th century this gin got its name from its secret history. In order to avoid paying taxes on gin, a certain Captain Dudley Bradstreet from London started selling bootleg gin. He advised people to look for it under the sign of the cat, where he had cleverly placed a lead pipe attached to a funnel on the inside. Customers would put money in the slot and he would dispatch their gin down the pipe directly into their glass, bottle (or even mouth!). Over time, the practice caught on and others started to change their door knockers or signs to feature an Old Tom Cat. Old Tom gin is a sweeter, maltier gin and is sometimes barrel-aged for flavour. It has become a classic ingredient for bartenders and mixologists around the world because it is such a versatile cocktail ingredient and features prominently in classic cocktails such as the Tom Collins.

Plymouth gin

Plymouth ginSmoother than its London relative this is generally produced in the south of England and is a lower strength gin than its big city neighbour. Juniper is less dominant in Plymouth gins, making it a great gin for drinking neat or in a Martini.  Plymouth gin can only be made at the Plymouth Gin Distillery in the beautiful South West of England and pops up frequently on bartenders shelves all over the world. It has a long history, dating back to that late 18th century.  It is the only gin to have its own geographical indication and is still made in the oldest operating gin distillery in the world.  This classic gin is still produced in an ancient still that has been operating for 150 years and it has a subtle, full-bodied flavour which avoids any bitter botanicals.  The result is a an earthy tasting gin with hints of orange and cardamom and a soft, smooth finish with a hint of spice. There are two versions of Plymouth gin – the original (41.2 ABV) and their Navy Strength version (which comes in at a hefty 57% ABV).

Contemporary gin

Contemporary gin The gin revolution that blew in earlier this decade has resulted in a contemporary international selection that could have only been imagined a decade ago. Now, contemporary gin makers are dispensing with tradition and experimenting with new flavours and techniques that are challenging everything we thought we knew about this traditional drink. From the UK to Spain and from Japan to Latin America there’s something for everyone – you are only limited by your imagination.



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


RECENT POSTS

  • 5 “go to” classic gins you can rely on
    In this new world of 1000 gins, sometimes too much choice can be your enemy.  We all know about the recent explosion of craft gins and often they can be quite expensive.  So, it’s good to have a handful of “old faithfuls” classic gins that you know you can rely on for a good, standard … Continued
  • Gin Gazpacho: for when the heat is on!
    When the heat is on and you just want something light, healthy and easy for lunch you could do worse than reach for a chilled bowl of home made Gazpacho soup.  But we started thinking about making this traditional Spanish summer soup with the help of a little gin, so we began looking for recipes … Continued
  • Home-made Pimms – put a little sunshine in your life
    We’re now well and truly into summer and the social season lies ahead of us.  In the UK we have three of the most social events of the year coming up including Wimbledon this week (where people watch tennis and drink Pimms); the Henley Royal Regatta (where boaters in straw hats row, while people drink … Continued
  • Small bottle, big label: the story behind Angostura bitters
    We recently published a little article about gin and bitters (including Angostura) – a pairing almost as old as gin itself. As cocktails become more daring and our tastes become more and more exotic, we are constantly searching for new twists and flavours to make sure we get the very best out of our drinks. … Continued