There was a time when the craft of distillation was less a science than an art of approximation. The resulting spirits were uneven, impure, “harsh,” “unpleasant;” they were the spirits which gave the stereotype of bathtub gin its truth. So how did the master distillers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century address this problem?
Old Tom Gin was born. Old Tom is a slightly sweetened classic styled gin. Once rare, they’re becoming more common.
So why this apparent digression? New Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Gin is technically an Old Tom Style Gin. Barr Hill has a classic and simple basic formula: fresh neutral grain spirit with zesty juniper. The honey is added after distillation. And the result? Quite remarkable. Its a refreshing gin that is easy— even for gin novices— to wrap their heads around. Every element of the gin is present, well done, clearly identifiable and [as an added bonus] well balanced.
The nose is subtle and understated. A slight, sweet, and mild juniper note is evident. But its quiet. It plays it close to the test on the nose: inviting but not domineering.
The taste is simple and elegant. It begins with a lot of smoothness, when suddenly a bouquet of almost floral sweetness hits you. The juniper then slowly emerges out of that: almost sharp, but ever harsh. The spike of the juniper is cut by a sudden drying sensation that leaves a lingering but almost “pine after a summer rain” type note cut again by a subtle sweetness. I was expecting the honey to come on strong, but it never quite asserts itself. It plays its role as a sweetener with a simple elegance, adding quiet background notes that cut the edge of the juniper, but all the while complimenting it exquisitely.
“Cutting the Edge off”
I know sometimes I use this expression, and as I’ve been asked about it, I feel this is an appropriate time to expound on this somewhat. I love the taste of juniper, and that alone is probably the reason why I gravitated towards gin readily [actually, gin reminded me of driving across the Great Basin Desert after a spring rain, the smell of the sagebrush was almost overpowering. Fresh, warm, musty, enveloping and intoxicating]. And I acknowledge that when done well a good fresh gin has a certain “edge” to it. Its that “sharpness,” “spininess” that “crescendo of spice” that’s not necessarily heat from alcohol, that’s not the heat of a hot pepper. Its a fresh sharpness that I can only describe in these words. And yet the phrase “take the edge off” has something of a negative connotation.
When I say “takes the edge off” i refer to the way that the spike of juniper is muted, but not in such a way that I’m saying “its needs to be muted,” but more in the way [to borrow a metaphor from music] that a guitarist might mute the strings of the guitar to achieve a different tone. Its different, its good, and I simply state that to express the different “tonality” that the juniper can take on. Not to say that it “needs it” or even that it is preferable in this way.
But I will say that in Barr Hill Gin this juniper tonality is quite fine.
I would easily recommend this for a Tom Collins. The original recipe calls for Old Tom gin, and the slight sweetness means you could get away with less simple syrup and let the gin do some of the sweetening for you.
A gin and tonic with Barr Hill Gin is good, but perhaps the slight honey flavor is a bit lost. Not so when mixed with Q Tonic. Q Tonic’s subtle sweetness leaves room for the honey flavor to shine. The bitterness of the quinine is perhaps the missing element in this gin, and this is a fine and supremely refreshing cocktail.
I am also impressed by how this gin pairs with a vermouth in a martini. Whether your taste is “Dry/Looking in the direction of Vermouth” or “3:1 Gin:Vermouth,” you’ll definitely appreciate the smoothness, slight sweetness, and the complete drink-ability of Barr Hill Gin.
Overall, I think Barr Hill Gin brought a memorable and smooth gin like quality to every cocktail it was faced with. Naturally, I think it worked well in the “Bees Knees” Cocktail [Tom Collins, replace simple syrup with honey] but I would suggest cutting back by half on the honey. Again, the rule is that Barr Hill brings with it a slight sweetness and depending on your taste, you can get away with less sweetening in your cocktail and still obtain a similar degree of smoothness and sweetening.
My only complaint might be that the price is a bit steep at $45. It comes in about almost $15 above most craft gins’ price point. But overall, despite this fact, the gin itself warrants a strong recommendation and I think is worth seeking out for its simplicity, its elegance and its versatility.
Price: $45 / 750 mL
Origin: [flag code=”US” size=”16″ text=”no”] Vermont, United States
Best consumed: Tom Collins, Bees Knees or Martinis are standout cocktails. But you can’t go wrong.
Availability: Vermont, Massachussetts and New York in store. Online in 32 more states. [Details]
Rating: Perhaps more technically an “Old Tom” styled gin, its incredibly versatile with a fresh juniper profile. I think it will appeal to pretty much anyone who can appreciate a well made spirit.
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