Spirit Review

Review: Schramm Organic Canadian Dry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Schramm+Gin.jpg
ABV
44.8%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Potato Spirit, Organic Herbs & Botanicals
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

This is a gin made from a base of distilled local potatoes, combined with juniper berries, coriander seed, orange peel, rosemary, angelica root, Ceylon cinnamon, rosehips and hops - all listed clearly on the label. I quite like how the ingredients are listed right on the label. It takes 18 pounds of potato to produce a single bottle of this!

The gin includes a very narrow hearts cut - only across 4 alcohol percentage points off the still - this was the best balance Pemberton could find between the heavier juniper and the lighter fruit notes.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 45 (Distilled Feb 2019)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Rich juniper aromas, and an incredible wild sort of herbal and floral notes. It reminds me of certain blooming meadows, rich in a light mixed floral notes and sharp herbal notes. The hops come through, slightly – and they are awesome giving a real sharp character which contrasts with the cinnamon and dried orange. The juniper is strong, as I like it.  It’s a big gin, with a complex character. In the middle too, there is a flash of sweetness coming from the distillate, which isn’t lost – another big plus, for me, in gin. The finish has the juniper, earthiness, and a nice set of complex spices and woody notes.

I quite like the stuff. There is a light touch of earthiness too, I assume from the potatoes.

Chilled, the sharp vegetable character really shines through, along with the juniper. It is remarkable how strongly the flavours shine through, even chilled. It has a good voice in a cocktail, as I believe spirits should: this mixes well.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.


Review: Schramm Organic Potato Vodka (Pemberton Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Schramm+Vodka.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Potato Spirit
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

Oddly enough, though I had tasted Pemberton single malt,, which is coming along - I didn’t really take a second glance at the distillery until I happened upon a small blurb on them in the wonderful book, The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, which delves into the plants, herbs, spices, flowers, and grains that are used to produce alcohol. In Pemberton Valley in British Columbia, lots of potatoes are grown - and this product is a result of that. But, much care here is taken.

Tyler Schramm, the head distiller, has a master’s degree in distilling potatoes. He tried a variety of single-varietal distillations, before finally landing on a blend of five different types of potatoes. This has less to do with the differences in flavor between the varietals (which he says are insignificant) and more to do with starch content and environmental stewardship: embracing the distiller’s traditional role of using food scraps not usable for consumption to use. Each bottle of vodka requires fifteen pounds of potatoes, and these potatoes are misshapen or oddly sized that the farmer would not be able to sell.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is very clean, slightly sweet, and lightly earthy. Damp, rooty earth, light pepper, and dried figs. The palate is slightly sweet, viscous, with a very clean flavour and a touch of zestiness and white pepper. On the finish, the earthiness remains, which is what I like about this vodka. A nice sweetness in the middle, too.

Once chilled, the viscosity increases, the sharpness disappears, the sweetness is slightly diminished but the earthiness remains. I am glad for this – this is the (good) signature of the vodka and I am glad it doesn’t fade with a drop in temperature. This is fantastic for cocktails! I think any vodka cocktails which could use a bit of earthiness (think vegetable cocktails) or ones which need a bit of heaviness to balance out the drink will get a nice contribution from this.

The character is light (as it should be for a vodka), but this is a vodka with character which I like. Some may like to sip this - it is a bit of a heavier vodka, but I think all the subtleties lead to a rather intriguing mixer. Time to open up the cocktail book!

Assessment: Recommended.


Review: Vodkow by Jason Hambrey

Vodkow.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Milk Permeate
Distillery Dairy Distillery (Almonte, ON)

This “vodka” is made from milk permeate, a dairy by-product which is left over once the cream and milk products have all been extracted. This milk permeate is essentially just lactose and water, it doesn’t even contain the proteins found in whey. The dairy industry cannot easily dispose of it, since sugar (lactose) cannot just be flushed down the drain. However, the Dairy Distillery puts it to good use - fermenting away the lactose with specialized yeast, distilling all the flavor away to get a clean product. The remaining byproduct left in the still can be then just dumped down the drain, safe for the environment. Terrific!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A very clean, slightly sweet nose with a touch of clove. The palate is viscous, with a sweet middle and a slight drying spiciness on the end. The finish is pleasantly sweet and buttery. It doesn’t remind me of milk at all, other than perhaps the buttery characteristic of the spirit. What a great endeavor!

Chilled, it has a light and buttery, creamy character.

Assessment: Recommended. Worth a try, for the story at least!


Review: Gunpowder & Rose Rum (Newfoundland Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Jamaican Rum with Distilled and Infused Botanicals
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clark's Beach, Newfoundland)

In the old days, rum was a part of the sailors daily ration and quartermasters, at times, might consume the rum themselves and give the sailors a watered down version - infuriating for sure. To prove that the rum was of sufficient strength, it would be poured over gunpowder and ignited. If it was above 50%, the wet gunpowder would ignite and it would be “at proof”, which is where the “proof” language comes from in discussing ABV.

Inspired by the tradition, Newfoundland distillery wanted to actually create a rum with real gunpowder - but Health Canada wasn’t very impressed. So the distillery instead wanted to recreate the flavour profile with kelp for sulphur, charred birch for a charcoal component, and sea salt for the “salt petre” of gunpowder. And, to create contrast and uniqueness, wild newfoundland roses were added to the mix to add a floral, ethereal component. Talk about unique!

I was first made aware of Newfoundland Distillery because of their seaweed gins, which has one of the richest maritime characters of any gin I’ve tasted. It really gives a good sense of terroir.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is sweet, lightly sulphury, and floral. The sulphur gives a nice edge here – it’s not like the rough sulphur often found in whisky. It’s accompanied here by a rich brown sugar and marine character, not to mention the top notes of roses. It’s not characteristic of a “pure” rum (i.e. only from molasses), but it doesn’t have any of the rather artificial characteristics of most commercial spiced rums. The palate is lightly sweet and full of rich brown sugar, blueberries, light wood notes, and a seafood-type umami. The finish has roses, a touch of sharp pine-like woodiness like juniper, and a rich fruitiness like fresh raspberry. Very interesting, rich, and easy to drink. It is remarkably balanced given all the contrasts in flavour.

Also, great to mix and some rather creative cocktails can be created from this stuff.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.

Value: High. $35 is very good for this.


Review: SMWS R1.4 21 Year Old Jamaican Rum by Jason Hambrey

SMWS R1.4.jpg
ABV
66.2%
Aging
21 years; Ex-Sherry Butt
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller N/A (Jamaica)

A SMWS old rum, from some time ago - not sure where it is from, but I'm always up for Jamaican pot still rum! One of 696 bottles.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: R1.4

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

The nose has butter, and a slightly herbal, sharp molasses character, dried rose, and smoked almond. It's a bit perfumed too. The palate is rich and savoury - a bit like the sour almonds you find at middle eastern grocers. Interestingly, a very different palate than the nose with the savoury and salty notes. The finish is toasty and remarkably herbal, the characteristic growing throughout the drink. Berries and molasses grow out of the finish too.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: N/A. This one is long gone…


Review: Havana Club 7 Years Old (1980s) by Jason Hambrey

Havana Club.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
7 Years
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Havana Club (Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba)

This is an old bottling of Havana Club, and the air has certainly done good effect on the rum, hence the lack of rating. However, always fun to taste old stuff - the bottle is about 30 years old, likely from the 1980s sometime.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~1985

Dry, and spicy. Then edgy brown sugar comes in, with nuts and macadamias. An old oxidized note - like that of burning dust when you turn on a toaster that has been neglected for some time. The taste is dry and light, with molasses and a slight earthiness. A light, quick finish - a touch of a medicinal note at the end. Vanilla comes, throughout - nose, palate, and finish - with time.

Assessment: N/A (would be a C+ bottled, but clearly has oxidized so not sure what the starting point would have been)


Review: Flor De Cana 18 Demerera Rum by Jason Hambrey

Flor De Cana 18.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
18 Years
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Flor De Cana (Nicaragua)

Although the bottle says "18" and not "18 years old" - dangerous with rum - the website seems to indicate that the bottle is in fact 18 years of age, but the bottle doesn't actually say it.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

A dry nose, with dried corn husks, lots of oak, rich earth, tamarind, brown sugar, butter, and mustard seed. A lovely nose. The palate disappoints - it dies here. Flat, a relative lose of flavor - but with oak and citrus playing off one another. Slightly soapy on the finish where brown sugar leads the exit.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Average to Low, depending on what the buying price is. It’s on the border.


Review: El Dorado 15 Year Old Demerera Rum by Jason Hambrey

El Dorado 15.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
15 years; Bourbon Casks
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller El Dorado (Guyana)

Despite enjoying the 12 (a staple of my cabinet and the best hot buttered rum base) and the rich 21 year old, I hadn't ever ventured to try the 15 year old until this summer - and it might be my favourite of the three. It is different in the distillates that go into the blend, giving it a much more earthy/funky/medicinal character that I like. Let's get to it!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose has sweet tobacco, licorice (black and red), dried cherry, clove, dried orange, and a slight medicinal quality. Candied anise too, and slightly rubbery. Even some dense, whole wheat cake! The palate is dense and sweet, but with an incredible balance between the tobacco spice and tannins - still retaining many of the flavours from the nose - brilliant. The finish has orange, rubber, spice, black sugar, and grape jujubes. A nice every-day rum!

Assessment: Highly Recommended.

Value: Average.


Review: Del Maguey Pechuga Mezcal by Jason Hambrey

ABV
49%
Aging
None
Recipe
See below
Distiller Del Maguey (Santa Catarina Minas)

This is a limited production mezcal, made with both agave and also wild mountain plums and apples - distillation only occurs when these are in season. The process is quite intense: first, Santa Catarina Minas mezcal is made from Augustfolia Haw Agave, roasted for 4 to 5 days with mezquite, huamachil, and eucalytus wood. It is double distilled in a Clay still, and then, they go nuts. They place a hundred kilos of mezcal in the still with 100 kilos of wild mountain plums and apples, red plaintain bananas, pineapples, almonds, and uncooked rice. Next, a whole skinless, bony chicken breast is suspended in the still and a 24 hour distillation process takes place. The name, "pechuga" means chicken breast.

This has to be one of the world's craziest spirits.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Cucumber, soy sauce, fried tofu, pepper, mint – it reminds me much of the smells from Japanese ramen restaurants. Crispy Chinese duck made with 5-spice powder, and a bit of anise seed candy. The palate is quite big, which suits it well – with more of that crispy duck coming in. I am glad it is at 49%, it would be a bit watery otherwise. Finishes with 5 spice powder, some mint, licorice root, and green peppercorns. Not as complex as some other mezcal offerings, but it isn’t too hot at 49% and the body that gives to the vegetal pepperiness, fruit, and candy, makes it quite appealing.

Assessment: Recommended. How could I not? ….

Value: Low. This often comes in at a decent clip.


Review: Del Maguey Vida Mezcal by Jason Hambrey

ABV
42%
Aging
None
Recipe
Augustofolia Haw Agave
Distiller Del Maguey (San Luis del Rio)

Del Maguey is a brand owned by Sazerac, and they, like many mezcal brands, try to highlight the characteristics of different mezcal regions creating a series of single village mezcals. This mezcal is made from agave roasted with mesquite, quebrachi, and huamuchil wood for 3-8 days and distilled in a copper pot still.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

The most reminiscent of smoky whisky of all the mezcals I’ve tasted, but, not gonna lie – a bit of a manure scent to this one, like manure drying in the sun. As a friend once said…”however, a very sterile manure”. Very sharp on the palate, and surprisingly clean, without any of those detracting notes on the nose. Chorizo sausage, and drying and smoky, like burning fall leaves, in the mouth too, but a bit light.  A long, integrated finish with some light fruit like starfruit, a bit of rubber, and lots of earthy notes. And a bit of saccharin. Interesting, and good to drink, but this is something I’d likely mix more than sip, and it would be fantastic for that.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Low. A bit on the high side for an unaged spirit, if you find it for $100 as I did in Ontario.