Spirits Review

Review: Sheringham Akvavit by Jason Hambrey

Sheringham+Akvavit+1.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
None
Recipe
Spirit made with caraway, dill, angelica, star anise, lemon, and orris root
Distiller Sheringham Distillery (Sooke, British Columbia)

I hadn’t had much akvavit before, but I was rather curious after this took home the Canadian Artisinal Spirits Competition’s “Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year”. Akvavit is a grain spirit flavoured of dill or caraway, in this case both, but with a dose of kelp as well to give it a sense of belonging to Vancouver Island. Akvavit hails from Scandinavia, where it has been produced since the 15th century - and caraway is a magnificent spice, even if it isn’t used much in North America. I am rather fond of it, so it’s no suprise that I like this.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 1347

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Brilliant herbal aromas full of caraway, dried dill, and sea salt but with an incredibly rich and buttery grain spirit behind. Caraway is in the centre of this, through and through – but there are other spices all around it. The palate is still full of caraway, but with a rich grainy character which carries the spice and provides a nice bite. There is a nice, soft, marine character throughout. The finish is slightly citrusy, with caraway, dried dill, and light baking spices. The best part, perhaps, is that the grain spirit characteristic is not lost on this.

This is just a terrific spirit – I haven’t had many akvavits (they are hard to find) but I’ll be on the lookout for more, although this one is really dialed in so I think it’s a pretty high benchmark. It isn’t as broadly complex as some spirits, but there is a real depth here.

Also, terrific for cocktails.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.


Review: Sheringham Kazuki Gin by Jason Hambrey

Sheringham+Kazuki+1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
Gin made with local and Japanese botanicals
Distiller Sheringham Distillery (Sooke, British Columbia)

Out in western Canada it seems these Japanese style gins are increasingly popular - this one made with cherry blossoms, green tea, and yuzu.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 1308

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is pretty heavy, with deep citrus notes, citrusy spice (like coriander), green tea, cherries, and a heavy floral character. Despite all the floral characteristics, the nose is still a bit heavy with thick citrus notes, like the heavier side of lemon peel rather than the floral side. The palate is rich, with a light grain character, limestone, and a spicy and citrus-laden finish. There is a reasonable amount of grip on the palate, and the finish is biting and enduring. There is a really nice spicy finish which builds towards the end. It is very well balanced, through and through.

This plays out really well in cocktails with the central citrus character and balance - but especially those with an Asian influence.

Assessment: Recommended.


Review: Sheringham Seaside Gin by Jason Hambrey

Sheringham+Seaside+1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
Gin made with juniper, rose, coriander, kelp, lavender and citrus
Distiller Sheringham Distillery (Sooke, British Columbia)

This gin is quite well known in Canadian craft circles - made on Vancouver island with land and ocean botanicals, including local hand-harvested winged kelp which is a signature of most of Sheringham’s products. It definitely supports the coastal character implied by the label.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 1521

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose here is really nice, and rather unique – a very nice maritime influence, mixed forest (i.e. desiduous and evergreen), citrus, sea salt, mint, and rich spice – a nicely balanced, rich, and bright nose. The palate has a deep set of vegetal characteristics, but it also carries classic juniper woodiness and spice. I really like the subtle maritime character of the gin, and these seaweed gins tend to carry some nice intrigue and umami at their core. This is even a touch salty! And, it’s hard to deny the lavender edge throughout – it’s not at the centre, but at all the edges. Very nice gin.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.


Review: Steinhart Haskap Gin by Jason Hambrey

Steinhart+Haskap.jpg
ABV
47.5%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Steinhart (Arisaig, Nova Scotia)

Haskap berries are a new “superfood” and grow abundantly in Nova Scotia, having been heavily promoted in the last few years. Why not make a gin from them? Haskap berries are known by other names, like the honeyberry or blue-berried honeysuckle (they are in the honeysuckle family). As with all Steinhart gins, no artificial flavours or additives here.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Another rich, fruity, and spicy gin. The fruitiness is more like elderberry – rich and slightly tannic. Licorice notes, dried mixed berries, strawberry jam, marmalade, and the cinnamons which have more of a woody than a spicy characteristic. The palate is dense, and lightly sweet – with the rich berry notes, light bitterness (almost like clove) and a finish where cereal notes emerge alongside more rich dried berry. Throughout, there are light incense characteristics.

I haven’t tried haskap berries before – but this reminds me a fair bit of elderberry, and it’s rather nice. I suppose it’s not surprising – the berries are both in the honeysuckle family.

Assessment: Recommended. Very unique and well put together. It would mix well, with all the dense fruity and spicy flavours. In fact, a case could be made to use this as a Campari substitute in a “negroni”, with one part gin, one part this, and one part sweet vermouth – or even dry in this case.


Review: Steinhart Blueberry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Steinhart+Blueberry.jpg
ABV
47.5%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Steinhart (Arisaig, Nova Scotia)

Arisaig, where Steinhart distillery is located, is famous for its blueberries - some call it the blueberry capital of the world. Why not, then, make a gin with blueberries? This is made with local wild blueberries, not additives or colouring.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

A bit of a dark, rich earthy start – blueberry is indeed there, along with a rich spiciness and some pickled lemon. The nose is sweet, but quite spicy – in a woody sense, like nutmeg and cinnamon. It isn’t fruity in a bright fruity sense, but denser – like the dried flower, woody, and spicy notes in dried berries. The palate is fascinating, loaded with berry notes, juniper, lemon peel, and a rich berry, citrus, and spice finish. It is incredibly rich, and isn’t as sweet as you might expect – compared to most sweetened fruit gins. Terrific!

On another note, it’s made me see different sides to blueberries, which isn’t insignificant.

Assessment: Highly Recommended. This is really rich, unique, and tasty stuff. The bottle is beautiful, too.


Review: Steinhart Rhubarb Gin by Jason Hambrey

Steinhart+Rhubarb+2.jpg
ABV
47.5%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Steinhart (Arisaig, Nova Scotia)

To create this gin, Steinhart had to source rhubarb which grows like a weed but is expensive to buy (odd that) - so they utilized facebook and all their connections to source all the rhubarb they could locally - and they created this, a rather wonderful gin that is released when the rhubarb is in season and sells out every year.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This is a rhubarb gin, and perhaps my favourite part is this: it is very clearly rhubarb. They don’t shy away from it, and it is brilliant. The nose has rich vegetal characteristics, earthiness, and some rich woodiness, spice, and bright fruit – but rhubarb is at the center. The palate is tangy, with a nice core of rhubarb and hot spice (like cayenne papper), with a rich rhubarb, spice, and juniper finish. It is quite awesome – easy to drink, yet complex, and still unique and rich. Most excellent.

This is sweetened so it is a bit syrupy – but I quite like it.

I was immediately curious how it compared to Dillon’s Rose Gin, another Canadian sweetened and richly flavoured gin. It’s quite different – a bit more distillate forward, and very much light and floral compared to this – which is rich, thick, and spicy. Both excellent – Dillon’s might be more elegant but this is richer. Which do I prefer? Probably this, but that’s likely a mood question.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended. I had it at “highly recommended”, but this is so unique in how it utilizes an ingredient I rarely see in gin – rhubarb, and it’s focused around it so beautifully. And it’s one of those gins, for me, that makes me think of childhood and rhubarb pies – and it’s so special to have food or drink bring you back to good early memories.


Review: Steinhart Dry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Steinhart+Dry+Gin.jpg
ABV
47.5%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Steinhart (Arisaig, Nova Scotia)

The first producer of gin in Nova Scotia, and a rather good one - this got my attention at the World Gin Awards (judging was blind, I found out later what it was) where it eventually picked up the best Canadian “classic” gin. It is made with Prince Edward Island wheat and legitimately fresh ingredients - the citrus peel which goes into this gin is fresh, not dried, from organic fruit. Diligent care is taken in distillation cuts to produce exactly the profile desired, and it’s not just one cut as often seen with whisky. The juniper is from Tuscany as Canada doesn’t get warm enough summers to achieve the flavour profile desired. It is bottled at 47.5%, so it packs a good kick of flavour – and comes in a beautiful blue bottle. It is made from a wheat base combined with 26 botanicals, including rather expensive ones like vanilla and saffron.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

What a beautiful nose as you pour the first glass – bright mixed citrus peel, woody juniper, deep coriander spice, and a light earthiness. The nose is intense, yet balanced – citrus, rhubarb, lemon, coriander, dill seed, cucumber peel, and fruity notes – something like grape – tying everything together. The palate is rich and spicy, balanced between the woody notes, the fruity notes, cucumber, and the spice. There is a slight sweetness which balances the palate quite nicely. A nice mouthfeel, viscous and spicy. The finish is long and developing, with waves of cucumber, spice, juniper, and coriander. The finish is very nice and clean, too.

This might be a touch hot for some, but a touch of water really opens this up and you don’t lose any flavour with some water. Excellent! This is a terrific gin to sip – one of my favourite Canadian gins. Of course, it mixes well too – but some of the subtlety is lost in cold cocktails.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended. This is nearly a perfect complex gin for me, sipping wise, and it is a masterful mixer - it really is.


Review: Foursquare 2004 Fine Blended Rum by Jason Hambrey

Foursquare 2004 2.jpg
ABV
59%
Aging
11 years; Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Foursquare Distillery (St. Philip, Barbados)

Foursquare is becoming an exceedingly popular rum brand, offering high proof, quality rums with transparent information (cask type, aging, etc.). Sadly, I've never seen it in Canada but it's not too hard to find in the states. They produce rums from pot and column still, and this is a blend of both distillates bottled as part of their exceptional casks selection.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Exceptional Cask Selection Mark III

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Bright, earthy, interesting – orange, molasses, sweet oak, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut – still very sweet and dessert like - some spicy grassy notes balance it out on the backend too. Oak is quite dominant for an ex-bourbon cask – the warm weather must really work on the oak extraction.

Palate starts slightly sweet, with more orange, blueberry, before finishing in a slightly earthy, molasses laden and spicy finish. The oak fits in very nicely – I imagine it’s a rum bourbon whisky drinkers might relate to because of the big oak integration. The finish builds very nicely, seemingly picking up flavor and viscosity as it builds – starting with dried fruit, then adding in dry spice and eventually oak – in the end drying out. Nice dried berries on the finish, too. I really like it at full strength – it swims well but there is a bit of tarry, medicinal notes that seem to be lost as water is added.

Very nice. Stylistically, I like sharper pot still rums (like the Jamaican Smith & Cross, which is sharper and almost smoky) – but this is terrific, complex, balanced, and interesting.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Average. While it’s hard to find high quality, cask strength rums for this price, it still comes at a decent price (~100 CAD).


Review: Caroni 2000 High Proof Trinidad Rum by Jason Hambrey

Caroni+17+YO.jpg
ABV
55%
Aging
17 Years; Matured in Trinidad
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Caroni (Trinidad)

Caroni is a legendary rum distillery which shut down in 2002 after the shut down of the sugar refinery which the distillery used as an ingredient source. It was noted for its heavy rum which supplied the British navy, but now it's known for a strong, unique and exceedingly complex rum. This rum was bottled from 7 casks which yielded 2700 bottles - over the 17 years there was an evaporation loss of 80%. But, what remains - remarkable rum.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: B35L6

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a fascinating nose. I’m not that exposed to premium and boutique rums, only having explored the largely mass produced and commercial rums. This is exactly what I have been looking for in exploring connoisseur rums – extremely unique. Warm rubber, tar, iodine, black pepper, clove, peat (not peat smoke, but rather peat bogs), dust, orange peel, dried orange, dried apricot, prune, bamboo, tamari – absolutely fascinating. Things become clearer with water, but it’s remarkable how much complexity is maintained at the higher ABV levels.

The palate continues with the medicinal and rubber notes, along with all the spice and citrus – but adding some cacao nibs and vanilla cream. I love the effect – it starts out big, dips down for a second or two, and then the flavor starts to grow and grow – sort of like a „U” in terms of the impact of flavor. The finish is full of almost every note in the nose – fabulous, rich, and enduring – but has maybe even more, with the vanilla cream, cacao, and some milk chocolate and oak coming in as well. Ubelieveable – in my top echelon of spirits.

Assessment: Exceptional. One of the best spirits I’ve ever tasted (inclusive of whisky!).

Value: Low (this goes for around $250 US) – but if you want to spend the money, I would!


Review: Roku Japanese Craft Gin by Jason Hambrey

Roku Gin 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Producer Suntory (Liquor Atelier, Osaka, Japan)

This gin is made from 8 traditional botanicals (juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, angelica seed, cardamom, cinnamon, lemon peel, bitter orange peel) to which 6 botanicals are added to highlight all the season in Japan - sakura cherry leaf and sakura cherry blossom for the sping, sencha and gyokuro tea for the summer, sansho pepper for the fall, and yuzu peel for the winter. As Suntory is apt to do, the bottle is 6 sided to denote these 6 core seasonal components.

Suntory first started making gin in 1936 with an old tom gin called "Hermes gin". This, however, is a very modern gin launched in 2017. The exported edition sits at 43%, while the Japanese domestic version sits at 47%.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Juniper and lemon peel lie at the centre of a richly spicy nose. But it’s more than just baking spices – it is actually peppery with spicy notes. Coriander ties the citrus and the spice together, and it has some very nice high floral notes on the nose too. The palate starts off woody and spicy (nice coriander spice) before slowly heating up to peppercorn and chilli, with juniper and a drying tannic finish a bit like tea. The tea notes really develop on the finish – quite nice.

It is very well balanced – great floral top notes, great citrus, a nice array of spices and teas underneath, and light woodiness. Perhaps to convey more clearly: I’ve never had a gin (or spirit) which so delicately and appropriately linked floral, citrus, spicy, woody, and deep vegetal (i.e. tea) flavours together. The nose alone is worth significant effort – how often is that true for a gin? It’s the best gin I’ve tasted to date (to drink neat). Even better at higher ABV.

Assessment: Exceptional.