Here in Minneapolis, an April 15th snowstorm dumped around a foot of the frozen white stuff on us, pretty much crushing the souls of those who long for spring and summer. Just between you and me, I’d be fine with Winter being a year-round endeavor, but that’s not a popular position to take, so I try to keep that under my hat. That said, I’m happy to report that, a month or so later, we’re plunging headlong into 90 degree days. I’m excited to see some things grow out of the ground and to have the color green dominate the landscape for at least a few months. So, in the spirit of Spring finally springing, here’s another look at a spirit that’s so well-suited for the warmer months…gin.
The Cotswolds Dry Gin was, predictably, the first product released by the Cotswolds Distillery, with the first round being released in the Fall of 2014. As with their single malt, Cotswolds is relatively transparent and open about their gin’s process and ingredients, giving those of us who are interested in such minutia, a glimpse into what makes their product unique. Their Dry Gin is more or less in the London dry style of gins, but has a slightly more “artisan” feel about it compared to ubiquitous, mass-produced London dry gins like Beefeater or Tanqueray. Cotswolds begins with a wheat-based, neutral grain spirit (NGS) from Hayman’s. You may well ask, “as a craft distiller, why aren’t they making their own NGS?” And I may well answer, “I don’t know, go ask them yourself!” Or I might answer by saying there are several reasons why a smaller distillery might opt to use someone else’s base spirit. One, it’s expensive. Getting a distillate up to NGS’s 95-96% abv range is a costly, intensive process, and many smaller producers probably feel it’s more cost-effective to source the stuff. Two, by definition, neutral grain spirit is supposed to be…well, neutral. When distilled to such a high proof, a great deal of flavor has been stripped out, providing rectifiers and blenders a relatively blank canvas to work with. So, I suppose that smaller distilleries, even ones seeking to express some kind of terroir, might consider the payoff from making their own NGS is not worth the effort. Not having ever sampled this kind of neutral grain spirits, I cannot speak to the differences between, say, a wheat based one and a corn-based one, but there are those who insist those subtle differences make a difference.*
Ok, enough about neutral grain spirits already. Once Cotswolds gets the high-proof stuff in their hands, they begin the flavoring process. Their Dry Gin uses nine botanicals, starting with Juniper, Angelica Root and Coriander seed, which are macerated for a period of time before the other ingredients are added. They opt for fresh lime peels and grapefruit zest instead of the more commonly used dried because of the more flavorful oils found in the fresh fruit. The remaining four botanicals used are cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, bay leaf, and locally produced lavender. The distillery claims to use ten times the amount of botanicals most other gin producers use. Once distilled, Cotswolds adds only water to lower the proof, making theirs a “single-shot” gin as opposed to a “multi-shot” gin which has more NGS added after distillation to reach the flavor profile, and is then proofed down with water. Multi-shot production is another production method more commonly associated with the large-scale production brands like Beefeater. Lastly, Cotswolds Dry Gin is non-chill-filtered, which means the final product hasn’t lost any flavor in a vain effort to always appear as clear as possible. Once you add a little water or ice to this one, you get a very pleasant, cloudy, absinthe-like “louche.”
The Nose: I don’t really think of a gin being lush and rounded, but the nose on this is very lush and rounded. Lots of citrus upfront, juicy lime, pulpy grapefruit, a bit of key lime, and pithy navel orange. All that citrus is balanced by earthy notes of soft juniper and green pinecones – though the juniper is not the dominant player here. The Angelica root and coriander add to the herbaceous side of things, with the lavender and cardamom adding a subtle, soft floral layer over it all.
The Palate: Straight, this has a slightly weighty, creamy mouthfeel. The bright, fresh citrus notes pick right up from the nose – mostly sugared lime slices and orange peels, with the grapefruit being a bit more subdued. There’s a little more juniper influence here, but it’s still coming in a close second to all that citrus. Stronger notes of cardamom join the Angelica root and coriander, again helping to balance it all. Black pepper begins to make an appearance towards to finish along with a faint, welcome hint of Eucalyptus oil.
The Finish: Ah, there’s the black pepper! Along with the earthier spices and juniper, the pepper creates a long mouth-watering finish.
Thoughts: Fairly tremendous stuff. While this has roots in the london Dry style, its citrus-forward, herbaceous flavor profile truly set it apart. The citrus is bright, fresh and complex, while the Juniper, Angelica root, and coriander make for an earthy counterpoint. This progresses quite nicely, with the pepper and bay leaf making late appearances to keep one wanting more. The flavors are bold, yet balanced and complex, making this feel like a spirit that does not necessarily need to be in a cocktail to be thoroughly enjoyed. Hell, I enjoyed this a few times just neat in a glass. Of course, that same quality also meant that I found it a bit more challenging to use in cocktails. At around $35-$45, this definitely carries a “craft spirit” price tag, but it is also a clearly superior spirit to those less expensive, more ubiquitous gins.
As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…
In a Gin & Tonic: This makes pretty terrific G&T’s. While perhaps not quite as crisp and sharp as ones made with more juniper forward gins, this is more complex than I usually think of this drink being. The citrus and juniper handle the sweetness well while the herbal notes compliment the bitter quinine, giving it a subtle, peppery kick.
In a Martini: Admittedly, Martini’s are not my favorite cocktails. The Cotswold’s Dry Gin makes a pretty stunning Martini. The citrus and juniper come through cleanly with the vermouth amping up the herbal notes to make a lush, complex drink. It’s doesn’t hurt that the unfiltered “louche” makes it nice to look at as well.
In a Negroni: Thanks to its flavor profile, this works pretty well in a Negroni, but also needs a little tweaking past the usual 1:1:1 recipe. The complexity makes it a little harder to balance the three ingredients. I found cutting back on the Campari a bit, and upping the gin helped balance all the citrus notes and let the more herbal side of the Cotswolds play with the vermouth more noticeably.
* If you’re interested in reading more about neutral grain spirits, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be interested in reading more about Neutral grain spirits, I found this article very helpful.
- “Cotswolds Dry Gin.” Difford’s Guide, www.diffordsguide.com/beer-wine-spirits/4785/cotswolds-dry-gin#
- “Does Base Spirit Matter?” Gin Foundry, 14 Nov. 2017, www.ginfoundry.com/insights/base_spirit/
- “Our Gin.” Cotswolds Distillery, www.cotswoldsdistillery.com/our-spirits/our-gin
- “The Process.” Cotswolds Distillery, www.cotswoldsdistillery.com/about-us/the-process