ADK Gin

Price:  $35 /  750 mL
ABV: 47%
Distiller:
Adirondack Distilling Company
Origin:  New York, United States
Availability: New York, Connecticut [for details, check their site]
Rating: A good quality spirit and an interesting novel flavor from Bilberries are the highlights of the gin, which misses the mark with other botanicals contributing a soapy/floral color. Contemporary Gin fans may find something to like here as it works well with many of the tonic syrups we tried it with; however, others might be advised to proceed with caution.   [Rating:2/5]

ADK-GinADK Gin is entirely corn based, fermented and distilled on site. It makes it entirely grain to glass and crafted in small batches on a copper pot still aiming to create the taste of the Adirondacks [though it’s made in Utica, which is close, but more in the hills than it is the mountains], and does so by including the Alpine Bilberry, a berry growing shrub common in alpine regions around the world, but in particular found sporadically in the Appalachians and Adirondacks. It’s rather uncommon at the Southern tip of its range, which includes New York State, which makes it quite a find. The berries themselves are similar to blueberries, though Mountain Watch describes them as “not quite as sweet.”

Tasting Notes

Slightly unusual nose, with definite tinges of berry, neutral clean floral, slightly soapy. Resiny juniper berries lend it some depth and color in the lower notes.

The palate is brightly flavored, I’m not sure exactly what it is, but a note of fabric softener comes to the fore. Lavender, violet, berries come on a bit later. I’ve never had Bilberries on their own, but I get this tart stewed huckleberry pie note in the middle. Lemon and juniper later, seguing into a dry, crisp finish with chalky juniper. Pleasantly warm, the spirit itself is quite smooth.

I found it to work with tonic syrups in a Gin and Tonic where the berries and juniper can shine through; in many other cocktails, the soapy side of the spirit’s floral character seem to come through, overwhelm or throw things off. I think there’s some good things in here, but Adirondack Gin isn’t entirely working for me. I think with a little less of those floral touches, and a bit more spice perhaps? maybe some louder citrus, it could perhaps be better balanced. The base spirit is a good canvas, the bilberries seem a good idea and those berry notes are one of my favorite parts of the gin; however, the devil’s in the details, and I think the co-stars— Not the corn spirit. Not the Adirondack botanical— might be throwing things off.

Or perhaps it’s just not to my taste.

 

Mashbox: Hudson

November 15, 2015 at 0422PM

There’s so many great spirits coming onto the market these days, if you’re not a critic, how do you keep up? More importantly, if you don’t live in the place where that spirit is distilled, how do you keep up?

Mashbox has the answer. Four times a year, they’ll ship samples (50mL) of three spirits to your door and give you a chance to try something new, something cutting edge, something you can’t get elsewhere. And they’ll give you a discount on the full bottle if you fall in love.

Mashbox was so kind as to send me a sample of their first box. As a New Yorker, I’m actually quite familiar with the contents of their first box which is inspired by the Hudson Valley. If you follow us, we covered Glorious Gin (yesterday after getting a sample in the latest Mashbox. But today we’ll do something unusual. We’ll also talk about the other two spirits in the Mashbox. Spoiler alert: they’re not gin.

The first inclusion is something which includes a lot of things familiar to gin drinkers: honey. There’s gins sweetened with Honey like Barr Hill () and gins distilled from honey like Comb 9 (). Kas Krupnikas is an herbal spirit of Lithuanian origin that is strongly flavored with honey. Kas is the distillery, Krupnikas is the type of spirit. Flavored with an array of botanicals like vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, caraway, cloves and saffron, Kas Krupnikas is then sweetened with honey.

It’s a clover honey bomb on the nose. On the palate, it’s thick and quite sweet, but with a lot more going on than you might have thought at first. Warm spice notes come through, especially on the finish. It’s complex and warming, and really overall quite nice. Its not something I would have likely bought on its own, but now I would consider it. Score on for Mashbox here, and the folks at Kas Spirits. I definitely recommend this spirit.

Kate (a.k.a. The Gin Wife) chimes in, “it’s good, but I really think it would excel in a Hot Toddy or a high quality mixer or tea.”

I don’t formally give ratings to non-gins, but consider this a strong . I quite like it and easily would recommend it.

Next, Kings County Bourbon from Brooklyn distilled from local New York corn and Malted UK Barley, it’s aged in New American oak. I normally tell people, “I love gin and I love bourbon, but since I’m always on when sipping gin, I drink Bourbon exclusively off the clock.” My normal review on Bourbon when sipping among friends is “this is nice.” So here’s a rare analytical take on Bourbon, all for science, for science.

A slight hint of leather, some corn on the nose, the palate and flavor profile is smooth with hints of vanilla and a warm, pleasant grain-led profile. Less wood than you might expect, with a touch more grain. A bit of heat, fairly smooth with a short finish. My initial take is that it “tastes young,” and indeed some quick research shows that it isn’t aged as long as other bourbons. But for a young bourbon, it’s actually quite good. Kate weighed in (being quite the aged spirits fan herself), “Barbeque on the nose, a little woody and tastes kind of young overall.” I’d give it , with an excited eye towards what they do next.

And finally, the third spirit was Glorious Gin, which we covered elsewhere at length, but for those of you who aren’t going to give me one more click, here’s my summary:

Giving space for each of the five botanicals to show their stuff, you would be forgiven for being mistaking that there was more to it. Bright spice, creamy citrus, rich mouthfeel, piquant juniper. Glorious Gin’s ascendance to the new classic status is well deserved. Fans of contemporary style gin will find a lot to like here with the citrus, in particular the grapefruit, and the herbal touch of rosemary. It’s perhaps even better today than it was over five years ago, and it’s worth checking out no matter what your gin tastes.

Final Thoughts

I love the little playing card style note sheets that Mashbox includes for each of the spirits. The box itself is handsomely presented, and the containers for each of the spirits are glass and nicely presented. In short, the details are really well attended to. You’ll learn a little bit and enjoy some really good spirits.

My critique might be that this first box has a couple widely available spirits: Glorious Gin has a near global reach now. Kings County Distillery is available in the Northeast and the UK. Kas Spirits’ products are a bit more niche, harder to find outside of the Hudson Valley and NYC and might be the only one that I would say is tough to get a hold of. I am in New York City, so I’ll acknowledge there might be a bias that suggests the “Hudson Valley” isn’t exotic. Perhaps you, reader from Phoenix or Vancouver might disagree.  They do ship across the US, so good news for those of you who don’t have easy access to the Hudson Valley….

That being said, I am looking forward to what they do next. Mashbox has put together a good concept with a few good spirits– it’s overall quite well executed. I think it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Subscribe and Learn more about Mashbox

 

Gin: The Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival

aaronknoll_gin_bookcoverCan you believe it, we’re almost there! Gin: The Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival is just a little over a month away! Over a year of hard work writing (and drinking!) will soon be in your living room. Or bar. Or well wherever you like to enjoy a good cocktail and read about fabulous spirits.

Looking to Pre-order?

Gin: The Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival will be available wherever fantastic books are sold. So please feel free to wait and pick it up On September 17th at your local independent and major bookstores. But if you want to ensure you’ve got your copy, here are some handy links on where you can pre-order.

In Canada: From Indigo

In the States: Indie Bound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble

In UK/Europe: Book Depository, Amazon, or Waterstones

Thanks for reading! and I can’t wait to share this book with you! 

Behind the scenes at The Gin Is In

Hello friends! On this rainy Tuesday, why not come take a behind the scenes tour of The Gin is In? The drinks are always carefully measured.

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Some people have a shelf for their liquor. Perhaps a modest bar.

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Some people have three book shelves. (To be fair, there’s some tequila and a bourbon here. Plus your creme de violettes (4 types), spicy pear liquor, bitters, etc.)

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Some people also fill up their entertainment centers. These truly are the luckiest people. (The birds are not alcohol. Nor are the games, as far as I’m aware.)

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This is where the magic happens!

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This is just the gin still life lying around. You know, to remind ourselves of the beauty of it all.

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This is an average amount of citrus (and tomatoes) for the house. Scurvy is not a problem.

Citrus

 

And this is Juan, the turtle! He says hello. And that he would like an Aviation, please.

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Cooking with Gin – Gin Salt

Tasty, I promise.
Tasty, I promise.

I guess you’re not really cooking with the gin, but this gin salt will certainly make your dishes more delicious, your pets better behaved and your life, generally, much better.

More realistically, I guess, this salt would make a killer addition to a gin-margarita. Really love gin? Find a way to take the gin jam recipe from earlier, put it in a gin cocktail with the gin infused salt. Triple gin action.

 

 

Ingredients:

A lot of salt. Like a canister. 3 cups maybe? The salary of a Roman solider for a week.

At least a cup of gin

Juniper berries, if you’re feeling adventurous or just can’t get enough of that fresh pine flavor.

Flat sheet pan

A place to let the pan sit

Bowl and spoon for mixing

Food processor or spice grinder or a lot of elbow grease

Steps:

Maybe two weeks pay, even.
Maybe two weeks pay, even.

1. Throw some salt into the bowl. Like, a week’s paycheck for a Roman soldier’s worth.
2. Crush the juniper berries lightly. I use the flat side of the knife. You probably shouldn’t copy me because I live dangerously in the kitchen. The flat bottom of a bowl would also work.
3. Throw those juniper berries into the salt mixture.
4. Add some gin, maybe a quarter cup at a time. Keep adding gin until the salt is the consistency of wet sand that’s not good enough for sand castle making, but isn’t totally dry. It shouldn’t be soupy, it should almost be moldable.
5. Spread the salt out on the pan. Let it dry. I’d advise against cooking this in the oven at a low temp – you want to preserve the aromatics and flavor of the gin. Let it sit overnight and it should be plenty dry in the morning.
6. Plop that salt into your processor (or whatever) and grind it up. With enough elbow grease, you might be able to do this by hand with a mortar/pestle situation, but if you have the processor, I’d use that. Advice: don’t use a regular blender unless you know it can grind rocky salt.
7. Done! You now have some fine juniper flavored salt. Put this on popcorn (if you don’t feel like making the full recipe of gin popcorn), add it to chicken or fish, make gin-margaritas, …anything you do with salt, really.

This salt would be best for finishing – something you add after the main cooking is over. You’ll infuse the dish with the aromatics of the gin of your choice. This is an easy and fun way to use gin! Besides drinking it, of course.

Cooking with Gin – Vanilla Gin Extract

IMG_20150322_123340Hello gin drinkers, gin wife here again to talk about cooking with gin. Before I begin, you might ask, Gin wife, why are you cooking with gin? Well, dear reader, because there are two hundred odd bottles floating around and I have had enough. Cook with it I must!

So let’s talk about a delicious thing you can do with a lot of gin – Vanilla Gin Extract. Wait…stay with me. It’s not that imitation vanilla extract you once drank on a dare. This is serious shit. This recipe is easy, but takes some time. So if you’re thinking, man, I could use some holiday gift ideas, start now! By the time October/November rolls around, it will be too late!

Ingredients:

Gin (Pick something with aromatics that will compliment vanilla, or something ‘gin-neutral’ aka juniper forward.)

Vanilla Beans (Splurge on them, it will be worth it. Get real vanilla beans. Don’t use vanilla extract – c’mon, that’s what we’re trying to make.)

Glass jar with lid

Dark place to store jar for at least eight weeks

Sharp Knife

Steps:

  1. Take the vanilla bean, slice it open.
  2. Put the vanilla bean (sliced) into the glass jar.
  3. Pour in some gin.
  4. Put the jars in a quiet, dark place. Maybe with the potatoes that you forget about in the back of the cupboard. Maybe shake it up, why not. Wait eight weeks.
  5. Enjoy!

Now, if you’re planning on making a huge batch, you can slice open three big vanilla beans and pop those right into a bottle of gin and you don’t have to fuss with the jar and pouring.

The result is deliciously vanilla flavored gin. Strongly vanilla flavored, you might say. You can use this as you would use vanilla extract in any recipe. Want to make some bad-ass whipped cream? Use the gin vanilla extract. Pancakes with a kick? Yes! Cookies, syrups, etc.

You can also drink this on its own! It’s a bit strongly vanilla flavored, but you can use this to liven up cocktails, make soothing summer drinks, and other such drinkable ideas.

Now – the gin you pick for this will be important. I tested this out with a lovely aromatic gin (Greenhook Ginsmiths), a strong navy strength gin (Perry’s Tot), and, for science, a plain vodka.

The results: Perry’s Tot would be best for a cooking vanilla gin extract. A nice, bold flavor with a lot of kick. It would stand up well in any recipe you threw at it.

Greenhook’s was addictively drinkable. I might use it in cooking, but I think the taste would be more delicate and prone to cooking away in higher heats. I’d save this for cocktails and drinking. It’s really quite light and flavorful. I would probably try to use it in cookies and whipped cream. Mmm.

The vodka ended up being regular ol’ vanilla extract – but richer, more flavorful than the stuff you might buy at the store. If you’re looking to just make a good kitchen replacement and not something a bit more fancy or specialized, I’d just go with the vodka. (Can I say that on a gin blog?)

Anyway, TL;DR – Throw some vanilla beans into some gin. Cooking? Navy strength. Sipping/Cocktails? Something with pleasant aromatics. Ta da!

Cooking with Gin – Berry Jam Recipe

IMG_20150222_175415Hello friends, Gin wife here to talk to you about another delicious thing you can do in the kitchen with gin. Besides drink it, of course. Gin-berry jam! Which, come to think of it, you can put in a Gin Jam Cocktail. So you can drink this, too. Or put it on toast. Or both. No judgement.

Working with sugar is always tricky – break out the pants and long sleeves for this.

Now, this berry gin jam recipe will not preserve your jam on the shelf indefinitely. This will definitely have to go into the fridge when you are done. If you want to have jam that will last for months on the shelf, I’d look into how you sterilize and boil jam jars – plenty of resources out there! Also, you add gin to boiling liquid, but assume there will always be a trace amount of alcohol.

Berry Gin Jam Recipe

3 pounds fresh, clean berries – I used blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry.

7 and a half cups of sugar (about 4 pounds, measure it out!) – Yes, you need this much. Don’t try with a sugar substitute, it will not set in the same way. There are ways to make sugar-free and lo-sugar jam, but this is not one of them.

6 ounces liquid pectin –  I bought mine on Amazon, but any decent grocery ought to have them. DO NOT buy gelatin. Trust me. IMG_20150222_165929

1/4 cup gin – Go with something you’d think would taste nice with berries. Cumin gin is lovely and all, but maybe not with berries and sugar, yeah?

Juice of 1 lemon

Canning jars and lids – about 8 – 12, 16 or so ounces

A wire rack

Wide mouth funnel

Lots of paper towels

A deep, big pot. Not quite a soup pot, but big. And deep.

Wooden spoon or any sort of spatula

Scooping spoon

Recipe:

Make sure the jam jars are clean. We’re not preserving for the shelf, so they don’t have to be sterile, but you know. Wash them up. And the lids!

Wash the fruit. Cut off any stems, leaves, etc.

Put the whole 7 and a half cups of sugarIMG_20150222_170902 into the pot. Add the berries and lemon juice. Squish the berries a little bit. Don’t be like me and forgot to do this until the very end. Squish them up so that jam will spread!

Bring the sugary mixture to a boil for one minute. Add the gin, then add the pectin, and boil another minute. Splash some more gin after that minute. Let the hot mixture sit for a couple minutes. Skim any foam off the top. It won’t kill you, but it’s pretty flavorless.

Once it starts to cool, set up the canning jars on the wire rack with plenty of paper towels underneath. Use the wide mouthed funnel and scoop the jam into the jars. Leave a bit of room at the top. This makes a lot of jam. I filled up 6-16oz jars plus a few more jars I had lying around as emergency overflow. Let jam cool and set. Keep in the fridge – should last a couple of months.

Then eat! Sometimes I have some jam and think, wow this has a strong gin flavor. Sometimes, I don’t taste it as much – this might just be poor mixing on my part, or just the whim of the taste bud. I find the jam to have a delicate gin-note, with the non-juniper notes to be as present as the other flavor.

So what do we do with this?

Why, Gin Jam Gin Jam Cocktail, of course. I used a “Classic Gin” (Lord Astor’s in this instance) to let the notes of the other gin (Greenhook) shine through! A double gin cocktail. Perfect.

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Cooking With Gin – Gravlax Recipe

Gravlaks with cucumber and cream cheese on brioche.
Gravlaks with cucumber and cream cheese on brioche.

Hello readers, Gin wife hear again to talk about cooking with gin. Or, in today’s case, not cooking with gin. Pickling, maybe. Preserving? I’m not too sure on the exact term, but there is definitely no cooking involved.

So are you feeling brave? Good. Let’s talk Gravlax. Gravlax is a Scandinavian dish of salmon dry-cured in sugar, salt, and delicious flavors like dill, or you know, gin. Well, the gin is my addition. Traditionally one uses aquavit. And this was a surprisingly delicious dish. A bit like lox, for those familiar with it. You can taste the juniper, and any notes of the gin in it. I chose a navy strength gin (Perry’s Tot) to ensure a strong flavor and I had some vague ideas about a higher proof being safer, backed up by nothing by assumptions. And as always, this is not an alcohol-free dish!

The gravlax recipe is simple but you need time. I let it sit for 72 hours, but some recipes have you digging in after as short as 24 hours. I would opt for the 72 hours. You’ll also need some fridge space to let this sit.

Gravlax Recipe

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Some Ingredients

Ingredients:

Salmon, about a pound. This will make 2 party’s worth of gravlax. Half or quarter the recipe as needed.

1 cup sugar

1 cup salt

1 bunch fresh dill, cleaned

2 oz gin, navy strength, plus more for sprinkling

A non-shallow pan, a casserole dish would be perfect. Not too big, just about the size of the salmon fillet.

Lots of plastic wrap

Weights – that can of beans you’ll never eat, pie weights if you have them, a book you don’t care for wrapped in plastic, etc.

Fridge space – enough for the pan and the weights

A sharp knife

Steps:

Make sure the salmon looks nice and fresh. No smells? No slime? You’re probably okay. Ask your local fishmonger if you have any doubts. Safety first!

Slice the salmon in half, length wise, with a very sharp knife. Butterfly it, essentially. IMG_20150215_173822

Mix the sugar and salt together in the casserole dish. Take the filet with skin and place it skin side down on the dish. Now bury it! Sprinkle about an ounce of gin over this fillet. Add about half the dill. Tuck it under the salmon if you feel inclined. Add the other piece of fillet on top and repeat.

Make sure your salmon is covered with the sugar, salt, and dill mixture. Wrap the dish in plastic, with enough give that you can press the plastic down around the fish. Add your weights! We want this to be a pressed salmon.

Now, stick it in the fridge. Every 24 hours, check it – sprinkle a little bit of gin. Flip the filets each time, and make sure they are covered. The sugar/salt mixture will become more like a liquid mixture, that’s fine. Remember to cover and press the salmon each time you takIMG_20150219_195139e it out. If anything ever starts to smell bad, abort and try again. But with that much sugar and salt, you should only smell delicious salmon.

After about 72 hours, take that salmon out! It might be a bit stiff around the edges. Brush it clean, and get rid of the preserving stuff. Make a note to scrub that pot.

Slice the salmon very thin, on the diagonal. This will be very strong tasting on its on – try it! It’s good. If you find it a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. You don’t have to eat this on its own.

Gravlax on Brioche

Ingredients:

Gravlax (you just made them!)

Cream cheese

Cucumber, sliced thin

Dill, for garnish

Brioche or french bread sliced into bite-sized pieces (Pictured here is the gluten free version, recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring’s recipe book about baking!)

Recipe:

Spread the bread rounds with cream cheese.

Add thin salmon slice

Top with cucumber and garnish with dill.

Enjoy!

So that, friends, is the way to gin-soaked fish. It’s delicious, and worth the three day wait – nice, sweet-salty flavor with essence of dill and juniper. A good app for parties, or a solid dinner idea when you don’t know what to do with all this fish. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Cooking With Gin – Gin Popcorn

Gin Popcorn, with lime.
Gin Popcorn, with lime.

Hello friends, Gin wife here. I’m here to share with you the beauty of gin as an ingredient in food – you know, the kind you eat! With your hands, or whatever! I have several experiments in the kitchen I’d like to share with you. Some are, well, mistakes and I urge you to take them as cautionary tales. Some, however, are delicious, and I urge you to try them out! Many gin recipes will be shared.

Today, we will be discussing a gin recipe for Gin Popcorn. Yes, popcorn…with gin! It’s a lovely, light, sweet n’ salty snack that is sure to please your palate. It’s an easy introduction to fancy popcorn and candying all sorts of things.

A note of safety before we begin: I’d consider this to be a snack with low-levels of alcohol in it, it doesn’t necessarily all cook out. (That may be a bonus more so than a caution, so take it as you will.) Also, wear long sleeves and at least underpants. Burning sugar is excruciating if you get some on your skin. Safety first! And you won’t have to worry about weird sugar burns.

Gin Popcorn, with lime

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup of white sugar
    Some ingredients
    Some ingredients

    1 Tablespoon butter (salted)

  • 3 Tablespoons water (whatever temp comes out of the tap is fine)
  • 4 Tablespoons preferred gin (Aside: Pick a gin with nice, strong botanicals. I would avoid navy strength gins.)
  • 1 wedge of lime
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 cups plain, unflavored popcorn, popped (I would either air pop the kernels (1/3 cup unpopped kernels), or buy ‘natural’ unflavored, unsalted popcorn for the microwave. We’ll be adding the delicious flavors, thank you.)
  • One baking sheet
  • Piece of baking parchment paper or canola oil
  • Heavy bottom, deep pan
  • Spoon or rubber spatula
  • Oven
  • Something to pop the kernels with
  • Large bowl

Preheat the oven to 275F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, oil that baby up pretty well.

Pop the corn and set it aside in a large bowl.

Put butter, sugar, and water in the pan and cook it on medium high. Stir well and stir often. When the sugar starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.IMG_20150209_120035

Take the pan off the heat (another burner is fine, as long as it’s cold), and add the gin. This will cause the sugar to bubble and splatter – watch out! This is why you ought to be using a deep pan.

Stir the sugar into the popcorn. Coat the corn very well – take the time to really stir it up and coat each kernel.

Spread the popcorn out on the baking sheet evenly. Squeeze the lime wedge over the popcorn.IMG_20150209_120610 Taste it! Carefully grab a kernel, and making sure it’s cool enough to eat, try it out. Like the pure sweetness? Don’t add salt. Prefer a little more depth? Sprinkle a little salt over the pan. (We’ll be adding more after the baking, so no need to go crazy.)

Now, here begins a choose your own adventure. Do you like the popcorn as it is now? It’s a little sticky, and will remain so, but it’s perfectly edible. This popcorn will have the strongest gin flavor. If you decide that feh, you’re not baking this, let the popcorn dry for a few minutes. If you’re more into a more crispy kernel, toss the popcorn into the oven, let bake about 35 minutes, stirring halfway through. Check on it, and feel free to take it out when it looks good to you. When it’s done, through a bit more salt on it, and volia!

Enjoy!

 

 

What is Balance in a gin?

I like to draw. Not really so much the figures and scenes sort of drawing. But when I try to explain an idea. When something is abstract and kind of unclear. After about thirty seconds of explanation my instinct is to reach for some sort of pen or marker, a napkin or a whiteboard, and try to begin illustrating what I’m thinking.

Tasting spirits is a somewhat arcane and mysterious practice. Millions of words most certainly have been spent, in equal parts, peeling away the layers of the craft and muddying the waters with technical language and obscure techniques. A lot of what we do here at the Gin is In is opinion based. Giving gin “five star ratings,” or saying these are our “top 10” of a certain type. That’s our point of view and we stand by it.

But there’s an element of objectivity at work here as well. Previously we’ve tried to add visualizations to clarify the presence of certain “key characteristics” of a gin with our Pentagon Rating Tool, now seen on every review. And then we’ve tried to map all gins on a continuous pair of spectra to see how gins are dissimilar or related. These were designed to help demystify certain aspects of the review process by making it easier for folks who’ve tasted fewer gins to benefit from the experience we’ve had of tasting several hundred different gins. The pentagon tool tried to distill a review down to a few objective criteria that you could use to find gins similar to ones you already like and the graph of all gins tried to map those five criteria down to a couple continuous spectra.

Today we’re going to do something different. I’m going to try to illustrate the fuzzy notion of “balance” in a gin.

Understanding Balance

I believe balance is a bit more objective than most might think at first. It isn’t simply a notion of like/dislike. I can like an unbalanced gin, just as much as someone could dislike a balanced gin. While usually balance is an indicator of quality in a spirit and good craftsmanship, it is a value-neutral assessment. You rarely hear of someone going out to make an “unbalanced gin,” but it does happen. It’s important to note when I speak of balance I do not speak of balance as a euphemism for bad or good. I am instead speaking of how the distiller has balanced various notes on the different parts of the palate. Exceptional gins tend to be well-balanced, and gins which are unbalanced tend to benefit from balancing. Balance is a sign rather than a complete diagnosis.

 While usually balance is an indicator of quality in a spirit and good craftsmanship, it is a value-neutral assessment.

I believe there’s a metaphor for this in the world of audio recording. Producers have to learn in what part of the audio frequency range instruments tend to give off sound in. By mastering the art of this arrangement, they can create recordings where every instrument is clearly heard, and that pleasingly fill the entire spectrum of human-perceptible sounds. Here is an illustration of this idea, and as this is a vastly complicated area of study, here’s some more reading on this. There’s another point in this metaphor I’d like to make: if you’ve ever listened to recorded music, you innately recognize when this has been done well.

When I speak of balance as a gin writer, I generally refer to the presence of certain notes/flavors which occur in clear distinct places on different parts of the palate. I look for richness in the low-notes, flavorful mid-notes, and bright top-notes which really pop. I look for clarity and interesting convergences of flavors. I usually like them to be clearly identifiable, or if not identifiable, for the notes to present a clear singular approach on that part of the spirit’s profile. Before I start to make this sound too arcane, let’s start breaking out some diagrams. Balance in Gin

Firstly, we’re using a purely fictional gin for this example. Let’s say we have only three botanicals: juniper, coriander, and orris root— all very common gin ingredients. Let’s talk a bit about what this diagram is trying to show.

Orris root tends to be an indistinct earthy note at the very base of a gin. It primarily helps push other ingredients forward and bind their aromas and characteristics together. Its usually considered a base note (to borrow the parlance of perfumery). Coriander can provide some interesting notes to a gin. Some of the top notes it can bring are due to Linalool, a floral compound that imparts a note somewhat akin to fruit loops or sugary cereal when done to excess, but also can contribute to the citrusy bite, or enhance herbaceous and resiny notes in the mid. In the diagram above, this is illustrated. Finally, we have the juniper. The juniper contributes resiny, piney, and other “green” notes to a gin. These notes generally are perceived most acutely in the high and the mids, though due to the number of aroma creating compounds in juniper, its presence on the palate can very.

In short, this is the aroma scenario that this hypothetical diagram is attempting to portray. For example, when we look at the juniper note, the height of the peak represents the “intensity” or “clarity” of a note, how much that specific note is contributing to the notes detected in that part of the taste.

Where juniper peaks on palate

A side note on what we’re actually tracking here

Your tongue only actually perceives general characteristics: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. All of these complex notes that we detect are perceived retronasally. That is, it’s actually your sense of smell [so if we were to more closely borrow language from perfumery, with top, mid and base notes, we’d be headed in the right direction, although perfumery only deals with scents detected orthonasally, or rather, “sniffed with ones nose.”] you’re using.

As an experiment, nose a gin. Then taste a gin. This is the same sense at work here, but the depth and quality of the notes can vary greatly between orthonasal and retronasal sensory feedback. This though is a subject for another entry altogether. Let’s get back to illustrating the concept of balance.

So where does balance come in?

When I begin to talk about balance, I take a look at the three primary types of notes, and I look for a rough equivalence in each of those areas: a balanced gin will have distinct high notes, distinct mid notes, and distinct low and base notes. A spirit which has all three will have a lengthy evolution on the palate, and tend to reward further tastes with additional depth in terms of perceived notes.

differing notes in a gin

Notice, in our hypothetical gin, we have a clear base note, a couple of mid notes, and a mild nose with a touch of juniper and a slight fruity note from the Coriander. The differentiation between base/mid and mid/high is not hard and fast, there can be some overlap (say, the pine notes in our hypothetical gin), but as a generalization for illustrating the concept of balance, this will work.

Now when I look for balance, I look for a little bit of something in all three of these primary sensory regions. A gin lacking in either of these three zones will possibly lack of a good finish, or interesting nose, etc.

So to make use of this chart, if you were to use the three areas colored in above, a “balanced gin” would have equal “colored area” above the curve. Each of those three areas would be about equal, reflecting something equally interesting happening in each part of your taste. For balance, we’d say the blue, green, and yellow areas, were about equal.

balance-across-aspects-of-palate

So how about this gin? I might say that it’s interesting with differing notes shining at each time, but I might say I was looking for another high note- perhaps some citrus to balance out the flavor a bit.

It’s not entirely science.

This isn’t an absolute objective evaluation of the notes coming from different aroma giving compounds in the gin. That can be done! But it requires advanced equipment beyond what I have access to in my apartment. And secondly, those sort of analyses tend to break it down into compounds: so instead of Juniper, it’s telling you how much pinene and myrcene you’re perceiving. Or that bitter note is coming from Geranyl Acetate.

If you need a textbook to decode the aroma, it’s probably a bit too complicated. I want to try and make it a bit clearer to help visualize what botanicals are contributing to what aromas. That’s where the imprecision works in. Juniper has a wide range or aroma contributing compounds, and once they combine with those of other botanicals, it becomes hard to say with certainty what contributed which note. But we can generalize.

Gin is unique among most spirits in that what we taste we can directly attribute to individual botanicals. You taste lemon in a dark rum? You’re detecting the subtle interaction of forces at work in the spirit, the aging, and other truly arcane chemical interactions. If you detect lemon in the aroma of a gin? There’s a good chance that if you guessed that lemon was in there, you’d be right. You might not always be right (other spices/herbs contain compounds which contribute that same aroma), but more often than not. The mind of the creator is present in every sip.

That’s why in tasting spirits, we try to identify the botanicals rather than the compounds. I won’t be doing these diagrams for every gin, as it would be very time consuming. In the future there will be a couple gins that I’ll analyze and illustrate like this, to help visualize exactly what I’m tasting when I taste a spirit, and help give you a little insight into what goes on in my mind. Arcane no more.