At both Junipalooza and Imbibe this year there was a big focus on aged gin, but how do they taste and how should you treat them?
Aged gin isn’t a new concept, in fact all gin was transported in casks until a law was passed in the 19th century stating it had to be exported in single bottles, after this the method all but died out but in the last few years it has been revived by brands such as Makkar, Da Mhile, Campfire, Greensand Ridge, East London Liquor Company, Sharish, Herno and Elephant to name but a few. I was lucky enough to taste quite a few at both events, I’m not surprised to report that the differences between each are vast with many different oaks being used and also the time frame for ageing differing greatly.
So far only two have made it into my cupboard, Campfire Cask Aged (https://puddingstonedistillery.com/) and Da Mhile Oak Aged (http://www.damhile.co.uk/), Campfire age their gin for just 22 days whereas Da Mhile age for 6 months and I’ve really enjoyed comparing and contrasting them both.
When tasted neat the juniper is still present, just about. It’s a very warming drink with lots of vanilla and spice notes coming through. With ice added it does have a very bourbon like taste, it’s extremely rich and has some of the deeper notes you’d expect such a baking spices and even a little banana. A rich deep drink. Taste 3/5
In comparison this still holds its juniper heavy, slightly liquorice and citrus notes with a light element of vanilla and cinnamon coming through softly. This gin is very rounded, smooth and mouth-filling. As it’s only been aged in casks for 22 days it hasn’t picked up any of the bourbon characteristics making for a much lighter drink. Taste 4/5
But how do you drink them? Well Da Mhile recommend sipping neat over ice but over the past few weeks I’ve experimented a fair bit and I’ve found them both to be very versatile. Both stand up very well when mixed with Schweppes 1783 ginger ale, the subtle ginger notes help tease out some of the subtler oak characteristics and emphasise the juniper with the Campfire gin but with the Da Mhile it does the opposite in mellowing out a few of the harsher whiskey notes I detected when sampling neat. A slice of lime brings it all together easing out a light citrus note in both.
I also sampled the Campfire with FeverTree refreshingly light aromatic tonic, I have to admit when I first poured it I did fear I’d made the wrong choice, but it worked remarkably well. The tonic helped bring out the rich juniper notes and the angostura bitters helped tease out the vanilla and spice elements, mixed with a slice of lime I preferred this to the ginger ale combination, but maybe the heatwave we’ve been experiencing had something to do with that! I also tested quite a few cocktails with varying results.
Manhattan – Sweet vermouth, gin, dash of bitters (I used orange)
Both stood up well using a 1:5 ratio and I added a tiny dash of orange bitters. But have to admit this isn’t where either shone for me. Taste 2/5
No-groni – Gin, sweet vermouth, BTW Syrup
Here both gins excelled themselves! It’s well acknowledged that I’m not a fan of the Negroni so I swapped out the Campari for BTW Syrup (http://www.btw-drinks.com/). Using a 1:1:1 ratio I found that the gin stood up extremely well and the full flavour profile could be tasted above the other ingredients – I made a batch with the Campfire for a recent masterclass and proved to be a huge success. Taste 5/5
Floradora – Gin, lime juice, raspberry syrup, ginger ale to top
Keen to push the boundaries with the Da Mhile I made the final shot into a Floradora, the raspberry syrup can sometimes be a little overpowering with certain gins but the extra flavour profile from the ageing process meant it stood up well with the vanilla and spicy oak characters coming through softly against the other ingredients. Taste 3/5
Bees Knees – Gin, honey, lemon juice, orange juice
It was here that I felt the campfire was at its best. Even my non-gin drinking husband was full of praise for it claiming it to be best cocktail I’ve ever made, maybe I can make a gin drinker out of him yet! The character profile of this gin gave this cocktail an element of a smooth, subtle hot toddy (even though it was serve extra cold) with the honey mellowing out some spicier notes. Taste 5*/5
As a concept I really like these gins, they offer something different and I think they’re a great way of introducing whisky drinkers to the category. As for the price point a few might squawk but remember these have been sitting idle in casks for a number of weeks or even months and small distilleries need to make a living. I recommend giving a bottle a try and highly recommend experimenting with a number of cocktails, including the ones above. I for one will certainly be adding another bottle to my shelves very soon as both of these have disappeared very quickly!