Sara L Smith, a true whisky lover.
When it comes to my tipple of choice, I’ll always pour myself a straight whisky. I like the simplicity, the concentration of flavour, and the way it can develop, gently warmed, in the glass. Recently, however, I’ve been exploring other aged spirits: Cognac, Armagnac, and moving onto Aged Gin. I’ve tried a fair share of un-aged gins and, although I have some definite favourites, many don’t have the warmth or development of flavour that I crave.
Aged Gins, however, which have been matured in or with some form of wood, provide something of an intriguing challenge: how much of an impact does the wood have? How do the gin’s botanical notes work - are they muted or highlighted? And last, but not least, how best to drink this intriguing spirit? An investigation was called for.
On its own
Whisky and Aged Gin, sipped neat, have a lot in common. The nose on Aged Gins tends to be complex, maybe even more so than many whiskies, because you have the additional flavours and subtleties provided by the gin’s botanicals. More herbal notes tend to come through, along with the anticipated juniper, which can vary a good deal in its presentation thanks to the mellowing effect of the wood.
A good example that I enjoyed sipping neat was the Ardbeg edition of Master of Malt’s Darkness!-Aged Bathtub Gin. Aged in an ex-Ardbeg barrel, this combines the flavour profiles of gin and whisky brilliantly; I would liken the tasting to listening to a symphony and trying to pick out different instruments, the flavours were that well-integrated.
Darkness!-Aged Bathtub Gin (Ardbeg) (43.3% ABV)
Nose: Crystallised sugar, vanilla, and light peat. After a while, more floral notes and sappy juniper.
Taste: Smooth, but flavourful. To start, there’s a punchy peat note (although much lighter than the punchiness of the whisky itself!) that’s accompanied by smoked cheese and liquorice. These are followed by peppery notes and cardamom, that fade into a herbal sweetness, including green juniper notes.
Finish: The main notes fade onto a short, but pleasant, finish of peat and ginger.
If you are after a less smoky foray into Aged Gin, Master of Malt have an entire range, each aged in a different ex-whisky cask. They also have a series of gins aged in casks that have previously held cocktails such as a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, so there’s lots to explore!
Whilst there has been a lot of experimentation using different barrels to finish Aged Gin - Cognac, Applejack, Tequila, etc. - some distillers have gone one step further and experimented with different woods.
Hernö (Sweden) and Blackwater (Ireland) distilleries both age a gin in a cask made of juniper wood; the result being flavourful, resinous spirits with intriguing combinations of woody sweetness and savoury herbal and spiced notes. Both also have a slightly waxy flavour, making them fascinating examples of the impact that a specific barrel can have on a spirit; especially so, because, with the use of a juniper wood cask, it keeps their Aged Gins firmly in “gin territory”.
Mark Gamble of Union Distillers uses a mix of European Oak and American Pecan wood for his Two Birds Sipping Gin. The result is a completely different flavour profile, with rich, complex wood notes, hints of maple syrup, and a dry nuttiness.
Aged Gin & Soda
One way to delve even further into an Aged Gin is to try it lengthened with a little soda water. Much like a Whisky Soda, this produces a longer, more refreshing drink that sometimes reveals or highlights different notes. In fact, Seagram’s Ancient Gin, one of the first matured gins along with Booth’s, was originally marketed as an alternative to the Whisky Soda.
I tried this serve with Hayman’s Family Reserve, which reflects the gin styles of the 19th Century when spirit would have been served from a barrel, rather than a bottle. The gin is rested in Scotch whisky barrels for three weeks.
Aged Gin & Soda with Hayman’s Family Reserve
Lovely spiced juniper on the nose as you drink, with notes of cardamom and cinnamon coming through. To taste, it’s smooth and mellow, with a woody sweetness and hints of violets and sherbet lemons. The juniper grows on the palate as you drink, accompanied by black pepper grapefruit, bitter orange, and floral orris. Wonderfully refreshing.
Hayman’s Family Reserve has all of the wonderful spice notes from their gin, but with a warm, slightly sweet mellowing from the whisky barrel that makes it wonderful to sip and explore neat, whilst keeping the strength of gin character that you’d need for classic gin cocktails.
Those who enjoy a whisky cocktail might be intrigued to see how their cocktail can vary when made using an Aged Gin. This example was made with nginious! Cocchi Vermouth Cask Finish, which has been finished in a barrel that had contained Cocchi Vermouth di Torino; this results in a spicy, slightly bitter tang.
Manhattan with nginious! Cocchi Vermouth Cask Finish
Notes of dry red berries and cola arise from the glass. The drink itself is silky smooth, but noticeably less sweet than the equivalent cocktail made with whisky. It also has a gradually-building bitterness that would make this an excellent aperitif. The wood from the barrel comes through on the finish, with a combination of dry vanilla and tart vermouth.
Another Aged Gin, Burrough’s Reserve (aged in ex-Jean de Lillet casks), gives the Manhattan a complex, but velvety flavour of fruitcake and spice with a dry vanilla finish.
A slightly sweeter option is an Aged Gin Old Fashioned, one of the first Aged Gin cocktails to win me over. This particular example was made with Big Gin from Seattle - the reserve version (aged for 3 years) of their award-winning Bourbon-Barreled Big Gin.
Old Fashioned with Bourbon-Barreled Big Gin Reserve
This has a sweet and perfumed herbal nose with lovely floral notes, reminiscent of dark chocolate rose chocolates. To taste, it is lively and bright, with lighter - but no less substantial - flavours of citrus, warming spice, and sweet Bourbon cask combined with a berry fruitiness.
I think it’s fair to say that this investigation has opened my eyes: Aged Gin is a fun, exciting, and expanding category and the products cover a whole range of styles and concepts. The flavour profiles are dotted along the spectrum between gin and whisky, which means that they are not only great to explore neat, but there is a whole variety of cocktails to try them in, too: you can easily replace the whisky in many classic cocktails with Aged Gin.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gin Guild. Any examples of analysis recited within this article are only examples. They should not be utilised in real-world analytic products as they are based only on very limited information. Assumptions made within any analysis are not reflective of the position of the Gin Guild.