Spirit Review

Review: Newfoundland Seaweed Gin by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Spirit, Dulse Seaweed, Juniper, and Savoury
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

Newfoundland Distillery produces two gins, one focused on cloudberry (an inland flavor) and this one, focused on dulse seaweed (a maritime flavor) with some savoury and juniper as well. You often see gin loaded with multiple ingredients, but this is just about three simple and deep flavours.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This is fairly marine in character, with sea-spray, sweet and oily grain spirit, and some juniper in the background. It’s probably the gin with the most seaside character that I’ve ever tasted – quite remarkable. It’s slightly sweet on the palate, and has a nice honeycomb character as well as a nice, delicate woodiness. The savoury is perfect, here. Spices come through quite richly at the end – slightly bitter spices like clove, with a light drying nature. It works a nice trick! Caramel comes through at the end too.

Works really well in cocktails, especially lighter gin cocktails where the marine character really pops (like, for instance, a cocktail made with basil, elderflower, soda, and a bit of lime).

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like premium gins. $35 isn’t bad for that.


Review: Newfoundland Cloudberry Gin by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Spirit, Cloudberry, Juniper, and Savoury
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

If you notice, most of Newfoundland’s products are centred around three ingredients, often with one local and unique ingredient - roses and kelp (their Rose & Gunpower rum), chaga mushrooms (their Chaga rum), dulse seaweed (their seaweed gin), or - in this case - cloudberries. Cloudberries grow in Newfoundland, and taste (I’m told) similar to a blackberry or raspberry and are a big delicacy in Scandinavia and fetch high prices. However, they aren’t widely cultivated. This gin is made with just three botanicals - juniper, savoury, and cloudberry. It’s rare to see a “bridge” in gin between the juniper and the brighter fruit character other than coriander, but savoury plays a really nice trick and it’s a very different play on traditional gin.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

There is a real woody-juniper nature to this one, reminding me more of juniper wood than the berries themselves. Big herbal characters blend into woody juniper and dense, dried mixed berry notes. Simple, clean, balanced, and elegant. Very well put together, and I like how the grain character comes through but it’s still a very clean spirit and I like the centrality of the herbal notes here – many gins are focused on citrus, spice, or juniper and not many venture this far into the herbal side of things. Savoury, also, is one of my favourite herbs…

The finish carries the herbal notes quite nicely, along with a bit more intense wood.rit.

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like premium gins. $35 isn’t bad for that.


Review: Newfoundland Aquavit by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Barley Spirit, Peat-smoked juniper, and honey
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

I don’t often go after unaged spirits, but this one caught my eye on a beer coaster which was advertising this product - it is made with peat-smoked juniper, barley spirit, and honey. I’ve tried some other Aquavits I quite liked this year, and it’s a category I think which could be explored more. Peat-smoked juniper? Yes, I want to try that.

This, notably, was the first spirit produced in Newfoundland which has been fully grown and legally distilled in the province.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose has a rich grain character, smoke, juniper, lemons, and a light mineral essence. I like the grain-forward nature of the spirit. I really haven’t had a spirit quite like this before – it is perhaps like some smoky whisky new makes that are quite smooth, but it’s quite different as well. It has a really nice savouriness to it, almost like roasted tomatoes. Or, perhaps – smoked tomatoes (you can buy these, but they aren’t easy to find…). The smoke really comes through on the palate, at the end – a bit like a meat smoker with cherry wood.

This is a complex, interesting, and unique spirit – it has endless application in cocktails. I can just imagine great pairings with tomato, dried apricot, fresh stone fruits, or honey and soda.

This aquavit and Sheringham’s are both terrific – I think more distilleries should pursue this type of spirit.

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like smoke and unique spirits. $35 isn’t bad for that.


Review: Chaga Rum (Newfoundland Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Chaga Rum.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
5 Years
Recipe
Demerera Rum with Infused Botanicals
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

I really liked Newfoundland Distillery’s Gunpowder & Rose rum, so I’ve been very curious to try this one - a rum infused with Chaga mushrooms! Honey is added to the infusion, to round everything out. The 5 year old rum is sourced from Guyana, but the infusion happens in Newfoundland.

I’m evidently not the only one who liked this, as it also won best Canadian spiced rum at the World Rum Awards.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A terrific rich rum character, with a really nice earthiness which comes not only from oak but also from a subtle deep-forest mushroom earthiness. It has a real richness to it, much like the El Dorado rums. Orange peel, rich oak, mixed roasted nuts, dried cranberries, cacao, manuka honey, prunes, and brown sugar. The palate follows the nose, but the earthiness is amped up – dense, rich, dark earth. The finish, in particular is wonderful – there is a rich molasses character and a rich, roasted earthy character that is both sharp and deep. There is a light smokiness at the end, reminiscent a bit of chipotles.

How does this compare to Gunpowder & Rose Rum? They are both terrific. The Gunpowder & Rose is extremely floral and a bit more unique, but this one is dark and rich, and amps up the rich rum character with even more richness and earthiness. It makes me appreciate the gunpowder & rose rum more, perhaps – it is extremely innovative (rose & rum!) but works really well.

If you like aged rum, and have access to this – buy it. It would be even better at 45% or 46%.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Value: High. $40 is very good for this.


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

Gunpowder+and+Rose+Rum+2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Jamaican Rum with Distilled and Infused Botanicals
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke'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)