I was recently in Holland where, for the first time, I sampled Genever gins. They are unlike any of the London Dry-style gins (think Beefeater, Tanqueray, Van Gogh, or Boodles) in that juniper is simply nowhere to be found in them. "How do you think Americans will like these gins?" was the question posed to me by more than a couple of Dutch people, and all I could answer at the time was that, in my opinion, they wouldn't go down very well at all in the United States.
When I arrived back home I found that an importer had sent samples of two styles of Genever gin to Wine Enthusiast—one jonge (young), and one oude (old), and when our tasting panel sat down to evaluate them I started to think about their potential. It's very true to say that a gin martini lover would never dream of using Genever in his/her cocktail, but what about people who favor vodka martinis? There's no doubt (and we experimented with this) that these gins have lots of character and need very little vermouth to make incredibly interesting cocktails. (The oude bottling needed far less vermouth than the jonge.)
Personally, I'd rather serve these spirits neat, straight from the freezer. That way you can expect lots of character, and experience a spirit that might become an addition to your home bar. Rating these gins, though, was very tough. They don't taste like gin, but they are obviously well-constructed spirits. The spirits tasting panel chose to rate them on their quality rather than on preconceived notions of what to expect from a gin. Please see the reviews below to discover how they were received—you might just find yourself rushing out to sample these products.
92 Boosma Genever Oude Gin (CVI Brands, CA) 40% abv, $16. Showing barely any color at all, save the palest hint of straw, this gin bears a sweetish malty aroma. The body is thick and buttery, and the palate shows vanilla, with a touch of licorice lurking in the backdrop. The finish is long and smooth.
90 Boosma Genever Jonge Gin (CVI Brands, CA) 40% abv, $14. Somewhat musty aromas, backed by a faint whiff of citrus zest. The palate, though, shows no mustiness—in fact, there's very little flavor here at all. This is far more like a vodka that's full of character—a big, round body with a wonderful buttery mouthfeel—than a gin. We certainly didn't experience any juniper here. The finish is warm and sophisticated.
Straight Rye Whiskeys
95 Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey, 18 years old (Sazerac Company, LA/Buffalo Trace Distillery, KY) 45% abv, $37. Walnut brown with a slight pinkish hue, this rye brings wonderful nutty/fruity aromas along with more than a dash of old leather. The body is big, and the palate is incredibly spicy but well balanced with vanilla, oak, and a hint of violets. This is a complex sturdy rye that sips very well when served neat. To be released end of 2000.
90 Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey, three years old, essay 5-RW-ARM-2-A (Anchor Distilling Company, CA) 62.6% abv, $100. Medium to deep amber in color. The soft honey aromas mingle with vanilla, oak, and a slight pepperiness in the nose. The body is huge, and the palate, though fairly hot, is very spicy with notes of cinnamon, oak, nutmeg, and wildflowers in the backdrop. This is a very idiosyncratic whiskey—it's well balanced but would probably be better with another few years in the wood. Nonetheless, try Old Potrero at a bar before you buy a bottle (it's best to dilute it a little with spring water). If you like bold whiskeys, this one could be for you.
88 Rittenhouse Rye Whisky Bottled in Bond (Heaven Hill Distillery, KY) 50% abv, $13. Mahogany in color, the nose is sweet with honey, oak and vanilla. The body is big and buttery, and the palate has lots of guts—notes of cocoa, raisins, and an incredible spiciness burst through a backdrop with faint violet notes. The finish is long and very spicy. Best Buy.
87 Old Overholt Rye, 4 years old (Jim Beam Brands Company, IL) 40% abv, $7. Soft gold in color, this rye bears aromas of light spices and pepper mixed with a slight fruitiness. The body is big and full, and the palate shows a great balance of delicate rye qualities—spring flowers and light spices—playing off some deep, dark fruits. The finish is crisp and clean, with a burst of sweetness. This is a good example of a straight rye whiskey. Well crafted, well balanced, and very flavorful. Sip it from a shot glass, drink it on ice, and definitely try this one with ginger ale—they were made for one another. Best Buy.
84 Jim Beam Rye Whiskey (Jim Beam Brands Company, IL) 40% abv, $11. This light-amber whiskey bears light floral aromas that give way to hints of pepper and wine; something akin to aniseed seems to be lurking in the background. The body is slim and delicate, and the palate is spicy, floral and perfumy. The finish is short and smooth, with just a light crispness bursting through at the last minute. A good "around the house" bottling. Mix it with ginger ale or lots of club soda for a refreshing summertime drink.
84 Rittenhouse Rye Whisky (Heaven Hill Distillery, KY) 40% abv, $10. This medium-amber whiskey holds slightly earthy aromas with a faint fruitiness in the backdrop. The body is medium, and the palate is far different from the nose—it's here that the delicate rye character shows through with hints of perfume and wildflowers, but there's also some of pepper darting around that provides good balance. The finish is long and smooth.
81 Pikesville Supreme Rye Whiskey (Heaven Hill Distillery, KY) 40% abv, $11. Light gold in color; the nose here is clean and simple, with a hint of mint. The light body brings a delicate palate that shows hints of perfume and a spiciness that tickles the tongue. The finish is short and crisp, with a touch of mint. A light style of rye, perfect for mixing with lots of ginger ale.
90 Casa Real Reposado Tequila, 100% agave (Laird & Company, NJ) 38% abv, $46. Very pale straw in color. First up on the nose is a honeyed sweetness and a hint of butter, but in the backdrop there's a fruitiness that flits between strawberries and raspberries—very unusual in a tequila. The body is medium, but bordering on big, and the palate brings a fruitiness similar to that we found in the nose, but then bursts with spices—cayenne, nutmeg and cloves. The finish is extremely dry and spicy. This is a very interesting bottling—fairly complex and worthy of consideration as a sipping tequila. Try it neat.
87 Casa Real Blanco Tequila, 100% agave (Laird & Company, NJ) 38% abv, $33. The aromas in this bottling are extremely spicy but they're balanced with a faint nuttiness and a hint of mango. The body is medium, and the palate follows the nose, although here we find a desirable vegetal grassiness that adds dimension. The finish is long, warm and smooth. A great bottling with which to make margaritas, but it's somewhat lacking in complexity to recommend as an after-dinner tequila.
95 Grey Goose Vodka L'Orange (Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., NY) 40% abv, $28. Candied orange aromas mingle with a faint peppery backdrop on the nose of this clear vodka. The body is medium, and the palate is initially a little too sweet, but as it develops, the orange flavor becomes drier and drier until it's almost astringent. The finish is crisp and clean and the orange flavors linger in the mouth for a long time.
95 Vincent Citroen Vodka (Luctor International, NV/Dirkzwager Distilleries, Holland) 40% abv, $30. Lemon zest is the predominant aroma in this clear spirit, but there's also a touch of candied sweetness present in the backdrop. The body is medium, and the palate shows none of the sweetness present in the nose—it's just pure lemon zest with a hint of almonds in the backdrop. The finish is dry, long and refreshing.
This is a perfect vodka with which to make a Lemon Drop—three parts Vincent Citroen Vodka, one part fresh lemon juice, and just a tad of simple syrup.
94 Vincent Oranje Vodka (Luctor International, NV/Dirkzwager Distilleries, Holland) 40% abv, $30. This clear vodka bears sweet orange aromas, somewhat reminiscent of blood oranges, but with candied fruit showing in the backdrop. The body is medium, and the palate is initially full of orange juice (not zest) flavor, and then develops a sophisticated dryness. The finish is very long and refreshing.
89 Ketel One Citroen Vodka (Nolet Spirits U.S.A., CA/Distillery Nolet, Holland) 40% abv, $21. This clear vodka bears a somewhat sherbety lemon-zest nose, with faint bread-dough aromas in the backdrop. The body is big, and although the lemon-zest flavors come through they are somewhat masked by the same sherbet notes found in the nose. The finish is short and very clean. We made a rather nice Cosmopolitan with this vodka—it's a drink that can be made with citrus-flavored or plain vodka, and this bottling hit the middle ground perfectly.