One of the things I love about gin is its variety. While it may initially appear to be a fairly simple category, being a grain spirit that is flavoured with juniper, once you start to consider the many different complexities different brands provide, as well as further extensions like the newly revived category of Old Tom gin and the “New Western Dry” gins emerging from the US, things start to get rather more interesting.
One type of gin that, until recently, has been fairly overlooked is yellow gin, where the sprit has been aged in barrels generally for a relatively short period of time when compared to other aged spirits. Yellow gins likely emerged as an unintended side effect of the transportation of gin. In days gone by almost all alcohol, and indeed most other substances, were transported across the world in barrels. Gin transported in this way over countries and continents would have aged slightly in their transportation barrels so by the time they arrived at their destination the gin would have picked up a yellow hue and a mellower, oakey taste.
Over time some brands came to deliberately age their gin, the most famous of which was probably Booth’s gin. Booth’s was founded in 1740 and came to be one of the most highly regarded gin brands, producing Old Tom and dry gins the later of which was aged in oak barrels for a short period of time before bottling. Booth’s was specifically called for in several drinks from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, but is unfortunately not widely available and no longer produced in an aged form similar to the historic product.
Seeing a gap in the rapidly expanding gin market for an aged product, Citadelle last year released Citadelle Réserve, a limited edition gin (just 5800 bottles have been produced for the 2008 release) that is aged for 6 months in oak. The gin has a medium juniper nose, with hints of citrus, and in the mouth has a soft, creamy texture. It has a rounded juniper taste, with a slight oakiness and hints of vanilla and star anise. It’s a remarkably smooth gin to sip, despite the slightly stronger than usual 88 proof, and is quite unlike any other gin I’ve ever tried.
Upon tasting, and I’m not sure why, I immediately decided that I wanted to try it in a Last Word, and the result did not leave me disappointed – it was perhaps the finest Last Word I have ever had. After a quick search around various classic cocktail books I came across several recipes that called for yellow gin or Booth’s, but few really called out to me. Eventually I came across the following drink, and its unusual mix of ingredients intrigued me enough to give it a try.
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz yellow gin
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz Kina Lillet (Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc)
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz crème de prunelle (or sloe gin)
- ¼ shot / 7.5 ml / ¼ oz lemon juice
- Half an egg white
- Shake all ingredients hard with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass.
Crème de prunelle is an usual liqueur based on sloes that is rather hard to get hold of. Briottet produce a “Prunelle de Bourgogne” liqueur but I’ve yet to track down a bottle, so instead I used some Plymouth sloe gin plus a dash of sugar – an imperfect substitute, but the best I could manage.
The overall result is quite an unusual cocktail, tart and aromatic with a slight bitterness from the Cocchi and a lovely smooth mouth feel thanks to the Citadelle Réserve and egg white. I’m not sure it’s a cocktail I would make again, though I would definitely return to it if I ever manage to track down a crème de prunelle. In the mean time I’m happy with my Last Words, and look forward to experimenting with other classic recipes that call for aged gin.
Citadelle Réserve is an impressive and very different product, and it’s nice to see that gin is popular enough these days for brands to feel more unusual, experimental products like this are worth producing. This isn’t the last we’ll see of barrel aged of gins – Oregon-based distillers Ransom Spirits are producing a barrel-aged old tom which sounds very interesting and should be available soon – and l look forward to seeing what other usual gins crop up as the category expands.
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