Gin Gents

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01topo_bottleBrand: Topo

Distillery: TOPO-Chapel Hill, NC

Style: American but with their own twist

ABV: 46%

Price: $32 at NC ABC stores

All photos by Jim Trotman

Russ’s Review

I’ve got say, I spent more time with this gin than any other we’ve tested so far.

And proud to do it, given TOPO Piedmont Gin is a Tar Heel state production!

It all started when I scored some minis at a North Carolina ABC store in New Bern, NC. (Insert our recurring theme here: Dare County, our home domain, has the worst liquor stores in terms of selection considering in the 02topo_labelsummer 250,000 people are present each day.)

I brought some home and Jim and I did a few trial runs.

We looked at each during the shot glass phase–juniper was on the nose, but what was that middling flavor?

Whiskey? Can’t be.

But there is was. Or was it?

Later I bought a bottle in another town and we tried it at a party. With no prompting, half said it had a whiskey-like hint, the other half didn’t notice it.

All concerned thought it was delightful, just very different from traditional gin.

As it turned out, Jim and I took a trip to Chapel Hill and we scheduled a visit at the TOPO distillery where we met the head distiller-Esteban McMahon.

And of course, we asked him if there was a whiskey base present. After all, our very first gin ever tested for GinGents was White Tiger from South Carolina, where they freely advertised they started with a moonshine base.

Esteban looked at us like we were crazy and he went through the botanicals and they were the usual suspects; cardamon, coriander seed, anise, a little cinnamon, cucumber and citrus (lemon and lime zest among others.)

So I tasted and tasted when I returned home and then I replayed the interview with Esteban.

And then it hit me.

TOPO’s gin, like all their liquors are not only truly organic when it comes to ingredients, about 99% of what’s in the bottle is sourced from North Carolina.


Scott Maitland-Proprietor

And for a base, they use soft winter wheat from Scotland Neck, NC.

The same wheat that makes delicious Southern biscuits in our part of the world when ground into flour.

And there is was. Good whiskey (at least for me) comes from wheat, barley and anything else except corn!

So let’s get back to TOPO.

Like many American-style gins, they’ve dialed back the juniper–but not enough to remove it from the nose or the palate.

And yep, there is a citrus note, especially in a martini, along with those notes of cucumber (but not as strong as Hendrick’s), cardamon and coriander.

And a lot of other stuff going on–both on the nose and in the taste. This is one complex gin.

And it is so beautifully distilled that one other flavor lingers–the soft touch of the winter wheat.

TOPO does not overpower its base spirit and I personally associate a great wheat base with a great whiskey.

Thus, the wheat across as whiskey to me.

The more I sampled, the more I liked TOPO.

It makes a great gin and tonic because all of the botanicals are strong enough to stand up to the tonic water. It was so smooth I skipped the lime squeeze and merely enjoyed. Quite a feat for a gin sporting a 46% ABV level.

In a martini it works just as well. All of those interesting botanicals, the hint of wheat, and the absolute smoothness of this gin make it a pleasure to drink.

If you like London Dry and a strong juniper flavor, TOPO may not be your cup of tea, or your glass of gin.

But for my taste, this is one American style gin that came up with the proper formula–keep enough juniper to make this old gin drinker happy, but dial up some other botanicals to keep it interesting–and by all means, avoid the floral notes that too many American gins have adopted.

Instead, dial up the citrus and other traditional botanicals and let have a chance to strut their stuff.

TOPO–I like it. If you’re going to stray from the English tradition, this is the way to do it!

Harold’s Review


So on to Topo, which my friends prepped me by explaining is a small batch, organic, award-winning, world-class elixir made right here in NC. I was given the honor of opening the very attractive bottle, and raising it to my nose, expecting the familiar aroma that only Gins have — a blend of juniper and other botanicals. What I got instead was a puzzle. What is that, I asked quizzically? They shrugged and asked me to go further. So I poured a shot straight up, sniffed and sipped it (not a technique I usually use). I was still puzzled, and a bit put off. They pushed me to say what I thought, to which my response was that I wasn’t sure what it was, but it reminded me of something I didn’t like…not an answer they expected, I sensed.


Esteban McMahon-Distiller

So what is it? I’m stumped. It clearly is Gin of a sorts, because after being put over rocks, it was drinkable, and the juniper is there, but hidden. And to my nose and tastebuds it is hidden by a clear earthy, peat aroma and taste that tastes like scotch or maybe a rye or Irish whisky. It is clearly grain based, but also earthy, and to me not choice I’d make.

Upon hearing that Topo also makes other distilled spirits, I asked if it was possible they shared the same still, with the taste of one passing on to another. That’s the only thing I could imagine might be the answer.

You might like it if you like Scotch, but I wouldn’t give it a thumbs up. I’m fairly sure I know what Gin is, and Topo isn’t one I’d pick as an exemplar.

Thumbs up to the guys in Chapel Hill for bringing a distillery to the Tar Heel State! I wish you the best!

TAKKA: Good gin on the cheap

Brand: Taaka

Style: London Dry “Extra Dry”

Owned by: Sazerac Company of New Orleans, La

Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Ky

ALC: 40%, 80 Proof

Average US Retail Price: Cheap!


Review and all Photos by Jim Trotman


I was not too familiar with Taaka gin before our tasting but certainly remembered the distinctive label in visits to liquor stores in my travels. I should have jumped in earlier.

When Russ told me the paltry sum he paid for this girthy, 1.75 liter plastic bottle, I didn’t sneer. I’ve learned not to do that on impulse. In fact, my own “regularly stocked” gin, Booth’s, is part of the plastic value pack and only a few shekels more than Taaka.

Still, on tasting I was on the lookout for problems. In the value brigade, the 1.75s that go for $20.00 and under, quality varies greatly. But try as we may, we could not find anything wrong with this gin. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but it is not. It was just the mindset going it.


Well, the label is a little conglomeration of several things. Russ found out the people that make Taaka aren’t even sure of the origin of the name. Seems Eastern European or maybe former Soviet Bloc to me, with the Cyrillic-style motif of the brand name. But then you have the English crown, the Lion Rampant, from the Royal Standard of the Kingdom of Scotland, and some gold and red filigree. And they love to hear from their customers. Being a value gin, they save some coin of the single label decal the only other adornment being a simple neck sheath. There is no back label.

It is not the smoothest gin to pass my lips, but if you pay attention to the “extra dry” part of the label, you’ll be ready for that. It is warm, bracing and quite tasty, with a certain earthy quality we found pleasing but it’s origin hard to pin down.

For those of us who insist on upfront juniper, Taaka doesn’t disappoint. Whatever that other umami taste factor was (the botanicals and both imported and a secret) it played a lovely counterpoint to the juniper.

We don’t have to work hard here to note the benefits of a gin like Taaka. For a party it is most economical and for the gin lovers in your crowd, it should go over well.

There’s not a lot more to say. This is a good, high even, quality gin with a low price tag. What is not to love.

Poking around I learned a bit about the owner. Sazerac Company is based in New Orleans, Metairie actually, and lays claim as the largest distilling company in the United States. I did not know that.

I do know that the Sazerac cocktail, which is said to be the first of all cocktails, was born there in the Big Easy by pharmacist Antoine Amédée Peychaud. I also know they are delicious and it in fact ranks as my very favorite non-gin drink. My second favorite non-gin drink is the Moscow Mule. But, we’ll discuss those at a later date.

Back to the Sazerac company. Their info says the New Orleans location is largely their administrative headquarters and they own various distillery sites around the country, including the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky where this lovely beverage is made.

I’ll have another Taaka. Danke.

 Russ’s Review

Carry this large plastic bottle to a party and the other guests will likely think you are communicating one of two messages: a) I came here to seriously drink, or b) I left the good stuff at home so as not to waste good money and good gin on unsophisticated palates.­­

I must admit, our expectations for our Taaka gin tasting were subdued—based upon the incredibly cheap price ($14 to $16 for 1.5 liters) and of course, the plastic container (which comes with useful handgrips–great for hefting the bottle for a pour or tossing it to a friend forward pass style.)

Also, I found it literally on the bottom shelf of a Total Wine & Spirits in Florida, right next to other plastic enshrined gins we know are, shall we say, subpar.

But the tasting proved our trepidation to be unfounded.

From the shot glass, the nose is subtle. A little strong on alcohol, but our beloved juniper scent is present, yet not overpowering.

What else is going on inside is a little tougher to grok.

Jim and I came up with a similar nose, but it wasn’t a flavor, it was a color—a “brown” note.

It’s got to be coriander, and “brown” means a little dusty or earthy.

Downing the shot in one fell swoop, the taste shocked me.

In a good way.

Quite smooth and yes, a nice juniper forward taste presented itself but did not overwhelem.

Something in Taaka definitely tones the juniper down and makes this one smooth and subtle gin—without straying into the lavender, apple, or medicinal flavors high-end American boutique gins employ to create the faux gins we don’t care much for at Gin Gents.

So we moved on to the “on the rocks” phase.


A smooth gin, juniper forward and nary a hint of harshness or off flavors were detected.

As a gin and tonic, Taaka easily makes the cut—a super-refreshing cocktail and one that we now say is a perfect choice for those who turned away from gin because a heavy-handed juniper presence, but want to know what real gin is supposed to taste like.

However, I want to emphasize how smooth this gin is and how soft the juniper presence reveals itself.

If you like a drink with a strong gin taste, or if you mix it in a cocktail like a Collins or with the new tonic syrups out there, Taaka could easily disappear in the mix.

But I still liked it.

And no, we’re not getting carried away here.


On closer inspection, that lion rampant (that’s what you call it… not rampant lion. You don’t want to sound foolish in front of the last king of Scotland) not only has his claws out, but his right paw seems to be holding a dagger. Hmmm. Mysterious.

Taaka is not on the same level as Boodles or Bombay or even some of the more expensive boutique gins such as Aviation, Waterloo or Bluecoat.

Why? Because it’s not super complex and hardcore martini fans will want more than Taaka offers. For that crowd, it’s way too subtle.

But if you want an everyday gin that is inexpensive, this stuff blows Aristocrat, Fleischmann’s and other cheap offerings away.

You can be a gin hero without breaking the bank!

And, if you really want to tie one on, Taaka is a great choice—because you and I both know after two drinks of expensive stuff, you no longer recognize the qualities that make those gins expensive—so why waste your money?

Of course, as responsible drinkers when we say “tie one on” we are saying, “drink at home” or “call a cab” when you imbibe to the point where you believe the Red Sox still have a chance to make the playoffs in 2015, or you start drunk texting an old girlfriend.

It’s also great for parties because you get the best of both worlds—an inexpensive gin that tastes great and won’t burn the throat or nostril hairs of your guests.

It is of course, not available here in North Carolina, but I suspect it’s fairly easy to come by in the rest of the country—even those with state controlled liquor stores.

MONKEY 47 GIN: It’s just wrong!

Brand: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

Style: Dry (they say)

Distillery: Black Forest Distillery

Imported by: Sidney Frank Importing Co. Inc., New Rochelle, NY

ALC: 47%

Average US Retail Price: Expensive as all get out, especially for just 375 measly ML



Review and Photos by Jim Trotman


“Monkey 47 is the greatest gin I have ever tasted. It’s as good as it gets. If ever a gin deserves 100 points it’s this.”

These are the words of Robert M. Parker Jr, one of the world’s leading wine critics, famous for his 100-point scale and his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.

Mr. Parker, I beg to differ. Even better, I beg to face palm. facepalmThere, I did it.

The quote is used on a full page ad for Monkey 47 and having tasted it, I think Mr. Parker needs to stick to wine.

Folks, what we have here may have a winner for the strangest tasting gin of all time.

It is absurdly complex, it is nose-bleed expensive and I found it horrid.handcomparison

This stuff gave me a severe Jägermeister face. Not that it tasted exactly like it, but I tell you this, it comes close. There is this herbal assault that grabs your mouth, vapors of a whole greenhouse so strong you think it would knock the taste buds out of your mouth. That would be merciful. Instead, it lingers. I just took a sip now just to make sure and now I have to drive to the 7-11 to get an Icee to wash this all away.

And we thought Uncle Val’s was rough.

It is fun, once one samples for themselves and draws their own conclusions, to look around at what others have to say about a particular gin. Many review sites are not honest.

You can tell by how they talk all around the taste and never really tell you their honest opinion. They do this because they do not want to suffer advertiser backlash. Perhaps they get their samples for free and don’t want to upset the apple cart.

But I tell you this for real, Russ and I (okay, mostly Russ) buy the gins we drink with our (his) own money. If it is a skunk, we will tell you it is a skunk.

This Monkey is a skunk. To me. Personally, anyway.

On the plus side, the container is rather handsome, a medicinal looking brown bottle, short and squat with an amusing, highly detailed label with scrolls, an English crown, the Black Forest of Germany, and a not particularly cute monkey. In fact, on closer inspection, the poor little fella is clutching what appears to be a branch that is no longer attached to anything.

labelHe has no visible means of support. [Label pic]

I have this recurring pain in my right elbow from repetitive motion that comes from retouching with a graphics tablet. Seeing as how Monkey 47 resembled an ointment of sorts I rubbed a little on the painful area. It actually made it feel better! I’m not fooling.

Monkey 47 is marketed to the hipster niche, and I’m sure they will hit their mark. If not, they can maybe try pharmaceuticals

But it just does not taste good.

Now I’m sure, just as some people like escargot and some would never think of eating snails, someone out there probably likes this. Thinking this might be the case, at a recent dinner party we invited guests to taste it. Two people out of eight, said they found no fault with it. So there you go.

But, and this is just one 375 ML bottle, and after seven tastings by five people, it still remains half full.

I rest my case.

Other than it’s medicinal value, the saving grace of this whole experience is that at least I didn’t buy it.

Russ did.

And if Mr. Robert M. Parker Jr. is reading this, I hope you got paid well, son.


Russ’s Review

You can pay $10 to gain admission into a zoo, stand in front of the monkey exhibit, and have them fling poo at you.

Or, you can plunk down $50-$70, depending upon where you buy gin and drink something that tastes like monkey poo.

If you choose the latter, you probably took the bait from all the cool advertisements in wine and spirits magazines extolling the virtues of Monkey 47, a German gin previously unavailable in the United States.

The fact that it is now available here is perhaps one of the few arguments this libertarian can come up with against the concept of free trade.

And for that $50-$70 you are rewarded not only with a drink that doesn’t even come close to tasting like gin, you only get half a bottle (375 ml), or as Jim and I like to say, “Hey, there’s only half a bottle left, we’re out of gin. Crack another bottle open, please!”

From my perspective, Monkey 47 (named so because it has 47 botanicals in it, although we’re not sure about the monkey part of the name) tasted, as Jim said, like medicine. Or bad licorice. Or perhaps they share a factory with Jaegermeister and the stuff accidentally got mixed together–kind of like peanut butter and chocolate in Reese’s cups, but with the opposite tasting result–monkey poo instead of a perfect marriage.

It is simply impossible to describe the taste of this stuff. The only truth in the advertising they publish is Monkey 47 is indeed complex.

But so is the process of decomposition and I don’t bottle that and peddle it as something worth buying.

wholebottleOh yeah, as for juniper. It ain’t there.

Their web site claims a “pure scent of juniper.”

That’s a load of M.S. (Monkey Shit).

Nothing, and I mean nothing, could save this gin.

Except to chase it with an old Southern USA standby-RC Cola.

Straight out the bottle–medicine. On the rocks-medicine. As a gin and tonic, medicine and tonic.

And of course, no one but Robert Parker, the guy who apparently can taste the difference between  wine rated 97 and one rated 96 could possibly appreciate 47 botanical tastes vying for attention on your palate.

To be fair, we passed this around to other gin drinkers.

Not a single one was willing to call it a gin and among the four other tasters, only two liked the taste.

But they thought of it as more of a liqueur type concoction than the subject of this blog–gin.

So, there’s our $50 worth.

Wish it been two cents worth–because that’s our rating….

PS: Last time I checked with Jim, to whom I gladly bequeathed the remainder after our taste testing, the bottle was still not empty.

That’s never happened in our tastings before. Even Uncle Val’s was eventually consumed!






Plymouth Navy Strength Gin

Style: Plymouth-Navy Strength (Fire breather)

Distillery: Black Friar’s Distillery, Plymouth, England

Producer: Coates and Company, Plymouth, England, UK (distributed by Pernod Ricard)


ABV:  57%

Price: All over the board–$25 to $38. Available online where legal.

Jim’s Review


So, what happens when you take a nice, sturdy and elegant gin and then boost its alcohol percentage up a good 16%?

Firewater, that’s what you get.

And that works out because that’s what they needed.

As the story goes, the Navy required a stronger concoction to be dubbed Navy Strength.

Any sailor, or even a casual cruise goer, will attest that space on board a ship is limited.

Trade cargo would be stashed together as compactly as possible, and then the combustibles, in this case gunpowder and gin, would be stored in close proximity as well.

Whereas a good gin will still do its job if it gets a little gunpowder in it, gunpowder will refuse to do its job if it gets even a little wet. Regular gin will prevent gunpowder from lighting.

But amp up that alcohol and the gunpowder, even moistened by Navy Strength Gin, will still burn.

We tried it. There’s a video and everything.

Here it is:


Out of the powder keg and onto the lips this one took some work to try neat.

Yes, I know it was meant to mix, but mercy, that’s a firecracker.

On the rocks, it is still a bear but doable.

It is clear this one is meant to carry its strength through as a mixed beverage.

And it lingers. In the classic Mel Brooks comedy, Blazing Saddles, a fully inebriated Gabby Johnson has only to exhale in the face of a villain and the guy falls over.

plynavystrngth copy

Photo by Jim Trotman. History lesson by Jim Trotman The British Empire was vast and it was brokered with the help of the Enfield P1853 Rifle Musket, an example of which is shown here. These were revolutionary at the time and outfitted the far-flung British military from 1853 to about 1867, when many were converted to breech-loaders using the new fully encased metal cartridges. This particular rifle was made in 1861, exported to the Confederate States and was carried in the American Civil War. If you have one of these beauties and fire it, as I do, you usually have a little black powder on hand. And I did

If you want to try that move at a party, this may be the drink that will do it.

In another sense though, you could think of Plymouth as a person of average height and weight of good character, who turns into the Incredible Hulk at Navy Strength.

Interesting to meet and hang with on an occasional basis. I give both a thumbs up, but in my house, that Navy Strength bottle is going to last a long, long time.


Russ’s Review


Somehow, methinks the Navy Strength gin lasted a shorter time at Jim’s house than he predicted. Just saying.

We actually have two videos, one comparing the two gins with some black powder we have laying around the neighborhood in case the British attack us with muskets and we want to even the fight by not using our AR-15’s, and the other of us having our first sip.

My first words were “Ow!!” as it moved from shot glass, past the lips and onto my soon-to-be third degree burned tongue.

Unlike a nice gin buzz, the warmth generated here that spread to my face, ears, and upper chest was more akin to a hot flash. (And yes, since I take Niaspan for cholesterol, even I, as a mere male, know the sensation.)

As Jim noted, on the rocks things didn’t get much better.

I’d say rather than a British gin, it’s more a Brutish Gin…one concocted in the mean streets of Liverpool as opposed to a refined London distillery.

I doubt you’ll find it being served in one of those fancy gentlemen’s social clubs on Fleet Street.

As a gin and tonic things noticeably improved.

Here the gin retains all of its traditional gin elements, but rises above the tonic in such a manner than you have a GIN and tonic rather than a gin and TONIC.

In that context, it rocks, and I would rate it highly.

But you will lose the Plymouth citrus balance in there that makes it slightly different from a London dry.

The alcohol takes control of that situation, and juniper is what you are left with for the most part.

And the ability to set fire to small house plants by exhaling on them.

But don’t forget that alcohol content—it will sneak up on you. Best to avoid at parties and bars if you have a long night planned.

To paraphrase Toby Keith in his song “Weed with Willie” you might find yourself singing:

“I’ll never drink Navy Strength Plymouth again.

My party’s all over before it began.

You can pour me some regular Plymouth my friend,

But I’ll never drink Navy Strength Plymouth again (unless I’m at home)”


Harold’s Review

Having said wonderful things about the gentleness and drinkability of Plymouth gin, I need to make clear that the same isn’t true of its more assertive (nasty) brother.

Plymouth Navy Strength has no subtlety about it.

It punches you in the nose before it gets to your mouth and then had all the gentleness of a fiery car wreck.

I’m not sure if it shares any spices or tastes with its brother gin, because after sipping a shot glass of it, I had no sense of taste or smell left.

Nor can I recall reading much on the label, except to be sure I could tell it from the more drinkable version.

Maybe the story about being a black powder rejuvenation elixir is true, or perhaps on small British sailing ships, perhaps getting the most alcohol in the least volume of storage was the issue, but I can assure you they didn’t carry it for its taste!

Rough stuff, the Navy version of Plymouth, even for a guy who thinks Beefeater is smooth!

I’ll pass!

Plymouth–It’s not your father’s car, but it might be his gin!

Plymouth Gin


Style: Plymouth

Distillery: Black Friar’s Distillery, Plymouth, England

Producer: Coates and Company, Plymouth, England, UK (distributed by Pernod Ricard)


ABV: 41.2%

Price: $28-$35. Widely available in most states, high-end bars and online

Russ’s Review

Plymouth. It’s been around since 1793 and for good reason.

It’s damn good gin.

There was a time when Plymouth and Boodles were right up there on the shelves of good bars and liquor stores with Tanqueray and Bombay.


Photo by Jim Trotman

But Plymouth was left behind when huge conglomerates purchased Tanqueray and Bombay, literally saturating the market with their main gins and all their new variations.

But that fact doesn’t deter me from keeping Bombay on my shelf.

Until this month, I could only buy it up in Virginia, a 90-minute drive from the Outer Banks.

But now, the North Carolina ABC store in Nags Head is carrying it again. For how long, who knows? It’s been an on again, off again thing here for two decades.

Part of why I love Plymouth is its history.

There was a time when England boasted three styles of gin—London, Liverpool and Plymouth.

London was not just juniper forward, many brands were and are juniper heavy.

Liverpool style disappeared long ago so I never got to try it.

But Plymouth, a huge port home to the Royal Navy and British merchant ships boasted several distilleries and being so close to port, Plymouth style became the gin of choice for seafaring men—and subsequently spread throughout the British Empire.

There is no defined standard for Plymouth-style, but most histories of gin note the spirits produced in that town had more detectible citrus notes than their London cousins.

Now, only one Plymouth style gin remains and, of course, it is eponymously branded “Plymouth.”

So why do I love it so much?

Pour some in a shot glass and waft it under your nose.

Oh yeah, there’s juniper. But wait, the alcohol scent, while present, doesn’t singe your nose hairs. It’s actually pleasant.

And there’s some lemony thing going on, as well as a hint of spice.

Now throw that shot glass back.

Smooth. Baby-butt smooth. Kenny G smooth. A right-wing politician with slicked-back hair smooth.

OK—maybe the last one was a stretch.

You’ll love the subdued alcohol burn while the juniper dances around with some citrus notes.

And then it comes to you.

You can bring this gin to any gunfight you want and it will keep right on being smooth, but with enough backbone in flavor to survive even an onslaught of WalMart brand tonic water.

Shake it up in a martini and it slides right down.

Pour it over some ice—even those cubes that have been in the icemaker for a month and reek of plastic and it retains it’s gin like character without an overwhelming essence of Pine Sol.

Personally, I think Plymouth, like Boodles, puts Tanqueray and even Bombay to shame. Neither of them are this slick.

Smooth, juniper-y, lemon like, and still some spice.

You will also detect notes of cardamom and coriander.

Cardamom is most likely what drives Plymouth’s citrusy, even lemony notes.

Cardamom is a common traditional gin botanical and when used correctly, it also serves to reduce the alcohol burn and take juniper down a notch without relegating it to the background.

And the coriander adds to the citrus sensation and perhaps provides a pinch of sweetness.

Juniper is still the star, but it doesn’t dominate like LeBron James.

Plymouth’s juniper plays more like Steph Curry—allowing it’s other botanical teammates to shine.

In a gin and tonic, Plymouth continues to shine and this is why I like it so much.

It will hold its own against tonic water, rising above the quinine and even a fresh lime squirt, still retaining it’s flavor profile, including those citrus notes and the delightful juniper presence.

Unlike other “gins” we’ve reviewed, I’m not drinking “flowers and tonic” or “apple and tonic” or a gin so lacking in character (Bristol Bay) that I’m thinking “Wow, I’ve got a freaking glass of tonic and tonic.”

Oh yeah. It’s good.

And who the hell am I to argue with 222 years of history and the Royal Navy?

Give it a shot. Or a double shot.

Hell, break those AMA binge drinking guidelines and drink a few doubles!

Jim’s Review

Ahoy! It is safe to say that, like the British Empire at one time, the sun never sets on a bottle of Plymouth Gin.

Plymouth, as with many a sailor’s DNA, was spread all across the globe by wind and sail.

From their own website: “Thanks to the British Royal Navy taking it on ships all over the world, it was to become the world’s largest volume brand of gin with 1000 cases a week going to New York alone by the 1900’s.” Thanks indeed.

It may have much more competition these days but this is still a widely available gin.Plymouth_Gin_Distillery

Hey, I can even get a bottle here in the gin dessert of Dare County, North Carolina!

The even better news is that it is good, really good. It is at once bold and smooth with a complex citrus sensation that rides on the back of warm juniper notes. The mouth-feel is rich but not cloying, and I found the finish crisp and clean. Exactly what I look for in gin.

Naturally one is tempted to compare Plymouth, which is its own style, to the venerable London Dry kings such as Boodles, Beefeater and the like.

In my mind, Plymouth is less dry than it’s London neighbors but I don’t notice a great deal of difference as to amount of juniper in the equation. It could be the mix of the other botanicals that make the juniper a sharper part of the whole. The London Dry gins share many characteristics of this taste profile, but I discern a sharper edge on the Plymouth.

Am I making sense?

Harold’s Review

I am a guy who drinks gin usually on the rocks with nothing added except a LOT of ice and sometimes a splash of tonic…splash being defined as less than a tablespoon.

That drives me toward the really smooth gins, Boodles being my favorite since it can be commonly found (except in Dare County, NC). 

Regular strength Plymouth reminds me of Boodles. 

It has no perceptible “burn” on the lips or tongue and none of the pine/juniper scent that comes to the front in so many gins, especially the cheaper brands of the London Dry variety.

Having said that, my everyday gin has been Tanqueray, and I like a little juniper presence and even enjoy a taste of alcohol, especially in a G &T. 

Plymouth is the best of both worlds.

Plymouth3It is reasonably priced in most places and pleasant consumed in almost any drink. 

Over ice it is very smooth, and while I ordinarily add some lime to my drinks, with Plymouth it really wasn’t necessary, since it has some hint of citrus in its scent and taste. 

I’ve read that in part that may be due to the cardamom, the world’s 3rd most expensive spice, which can have a lemon or lime hint.  It is used in some medicines as an anti-irritant for the digestive tract as well as for adding a subtle zing.  Whatever it is, it earns its keep in Plymouth Gin.

The Plymouth folks have used the right touch with their recipe of ingredients and have succeeded in creating a wholly enjoyable gin that is cooling and smooth over the lips and past the tongue.

Flight 69 Gin

Brand: Flight 69

Style: Reformed Hippie?

Distillery: Treasure Island Distillery, San Francisco, California

ALC: 40% 80 Proof

Average US Retail Price: $30 per .75 Litre



Jim’s Review



Photo by Jim Trotman: The logo is a nice design, clean and elegant and the bottle is long and lean, low drag. The glass is frosted, except for the blink and you’ll miss it detail near the bottom. (See next photo)

First things, first. I liked this. I liked it just fine. I’d have another.

Second, I shudder at calling it a gin.

If I read another sentence that includes the phrase, “perfect for those who find the pine scented aspect of gin off-putting,” I’m going to hunt that guy down and dump a bucket of cold sesame noodles on his fat little head.

People, if you don’t like gin, drink vodka or tequila or rum or bourbon or Pepsi or pineapple juice or lemonade or Rumple Minze or Jägermeister or Bénédictine or any other beverage that make me use the option key. Leave my gin alone.

Here’s the deal. The term ‘gin’ has an appeal attached to it the way vodka does not. We gin drinkers happen to like the pine-juniper taste. We wear its taste like a badge of courage. We have our own little club and our own little tent.

Drinkers, listen up. You don’t get to say you are a gin drinker if one cannot taste the juniper in the gin you’re drinking. Go to the vodka tent. You have a big old huge tent to drink under. You’ll be happier there.

Distillers, listen up. You don’t get to wear the gin moniker just because you add a tiny drop of juniper essence to a thousand gallons of vodka. That is vodka.

Off of soapbox.

For now.

Don’t push it.

I’m a little edgy at the moment.
I just completed three weeks of photographing and editing a bunch of little dancers for a local school. I love the work but I need to get out to the range and shoot something.

Now this wasn’t the first wine we tasted that… (Freudian slip, but I’m leaving it in) …it wasn’t the first gin we tasted that used a distillate of grapes as its base. But that’s another review. This was however the first one we tried in which the grape notes were so plainly evident. But I like grapes so I wasn’t unduly bummed.

To hear them tell it, the makers of Flight 69 Gin intended for the juniper notes to be a “gentle breeze” background note. I missed that note completely.

But what it lacks in juniper it makes up with a rounded out, creamy and complex mouthful with vanilla accents, a warm wash of lavender, and some things I just couldn’t pick out. But it tasted really nice. Hey, California grapes make everything good.
Then there is that smell. I’m walking a tightrope here but when I took my first whiff to check the nose of this gin, a bright orange tube shape appeared in my mind. The word “Testors” appeared as well.

Now, I am not saying this gin smells like airplane glue, it does not. It just has a certain quality in it’s smell that kind of shares a scent profile that I immediately related to the countless hours I spent building plastic model airplanes in the 60s and early 70s, at least until girls got my attention.

As anyone who will spend six minutes around me knows I’m an aviation buff. And I just tipped you guys off to it in that sentence above, but I was intrigued with Flight 69 from the get go.

The bottle is sleek, the label depicting a high-flying four-engine prop job, likely a DC-7 from the looks of it, heading Northeast on an extension of the ‘6’ in 69. As to why the makers chose that particular flight number, well, let’s just say attempting to form a consensus could make for an interesting conversation.

The makers write something about the revolutionary spirit of 1969 being the basis, but I think that is just to cover their butts.

Don’t go putting an olive in this stuff. Maybe a grape stuffed with cream cheese would be good. This is a fun beverage. Hard to acquire in these parts but we all do a little traveling.

Russ’s Review

I went back over our video recording of this tasting and the first word mentioned was “lovely”!

So, we have a winner!

Too bad it’s hard to classify this product as a gin. But it tastes good, so it’s a winner in some category TBD at a later date.

In a separate article following this one, we’ll go over what has become a conundrum for this new site, and recap what is going on in the industry as whole over these so-called “New Western” or “New American” style “gins.”

As mentioned in Jim’s review, the nose of Flight 69 is harsh. In my case it was pure alcohol, but both Jim and Harold found that airplane glue scent.

All of us detected a grape-like essence in Flight 69, which in theory should be absent.


Photo by Jim Trotman: The graphic device, only depicted in frostless relief, depicts and airmail stamp for November 10, 1969 and two boarding passes. They pay good money for this sort of thing and I want them to know I appreciate it.

All traditional gin is distilled from grains such as barley and maize, but any agricultural product can be used as the base in distilling gin. In the case of Flight 69, it was grapes.

As a rule, once distilled into a neutral spirit, that spirt should be tasteless-but in this case the grapes left a residual flavor.

Moving on to the real taste tests–martini style, on the rocks and in gin and tonics we were very impressed with how awesome Flight 69 tasted in all of these forms.

On the palate, in spite of the harsh alcohol scent, Flight 69 is quite smooth.

There is a very distinct vanilla note on the mid-palate, along with  the aforementioned grapes and a heavy floral note–lavender once again, which appears to be the flavor-of-choice among many American distilleries seeking to distance themselves from the traditional juniper-led gins.

In that context, Flight 69 succeeds without question.

It does indeed produce a “lovely” cocktail that is simultaneously light (even breezy) and refreshing.

The botanicals are able to assert their presence even when combined with a mass-produced quinine heavy tonic water,

However, the juniper is barely detectible and I suspect, only by those looking for it (and contemplating carefully what they are tasting) or imbibers possessed of a long association with gin and it’s juniper presence.

If you’re a gin drinker and order one up in a bar, you’ll probably be tempted to ask the bartender something like “Hey, I thought I ordered a gin martini, not a bouquet of flowers! What is this stuff?”

If you unlucky enough to have a new breed, “well-educated” bartender (now called mixologists to differentiate themselves from the “pedestrian” men and women who work in places with names like “Joe’s Tavern” or “The Thirsty Clam”) you’ll be regaled with t vague and undefinable terms like “American” or “Western” style gins and how groundbreaking they are.

Go back to the Thirsty Clam….you’ll get better gin drinks.

So, if you hate gin and want to continue hating gin, yet still have a burning desire to call yourself a gin-drinker, especially if you’ve succumbed to drinking so-called vodka martinis–by all means find a bottle of Flight 69 and join the New American Gin Club (TM).

You can then convince yourself that you have graduated to the level of a real martini drinker, and most of the New Wave drink magazines and judging panels will back you up in your claim.

For the rest of you who still love gin–take a pass.

There are plenty of other boutique gins out there being made in America, Canada and the British Isles that still keep juniper where it belongs-up front and leading the charge.


Harold’s Review


Harold Gracey is back and here’s his take:

Flight 69 is one of “those gins” that isn’t a traditional gin.

It has subtle yet evident grape, almost like vermouth, and when served neat has a strong odor of alcohol or other ester like scents (airplane glue).

Over ice it is very smooth, and would probably almost disappear into a gin & tonic, making it another possibility for G&T drinkers who don’t like the taste of a traditional London Dry Gin.

Then there is their closing line on the bottle label..”…where will I have my next 69?”, maybe one of the riskier conversation starters imaginable.




Waterloo Gin

Brand: Waterloo Gin
Style: London Dry (with a twist)
Distillery: Treaty Oak Distilling, Austin, Texas
ALC: 47% 94 Proof
Average US Retail Price: Russ?

Russ’s Review



Photo by Jim Trotman. The Ferguson rifle was among the first breech loaded weapons to see active service. They were an experiment of sorts and were used by a elite British unit during the American War of Independence. Conventional muskets of the time involved loading at the muzzle, with a good soldier being able to fire 3 times per minute. With the Ferguson, one turn of the trigger guard opened the breech at the rear of the barrel. A round bullet would be dropped in followed with a measured charge of gunpowder. One twist in the other direction closed the breech and on charging the flash pan, the weapon was ready to fire. Though crazy expensive to manufacture, a soldier armed with a Ferguson could double the muzzle loaded musket rate of fire. Not only that, but it could fire sixty shots before the action had to be cleaned. Though a breakthrough in engineering in its day, the Ferg floundered as it was just too expensive to produce and the wooden stock had a tendency to break in combat. Hand crafted, bold and ahead of its time… no wonder they picked it! And you thought all we knew was gins.


It’s not just about Napoleon’s great defeat at the hands of a guy who may or may not have a beef dish named after him.

Nor are we speaking of one of the worst songs ever to grace the airwaves; the annoying tune performed by the Swedish group ABBA.

Instead we are talking about a gin made in Austin, Texas.

Texas is not a locale one would even remotely link with the word “gin.”

But thank your Lone Stars the folks at Treaty Oak Distilling conjured up a gin recipe that while not traditional is in all respects a damn good gin.

As our readers are by now aware, we tried the gin straight from a shot glass.

And this time there was a trio of tasters in attendance, with the addition of neighbor and gin aficionado, Harold Gracey.

I passed the shot glass under my nose and immediately sensed this was not a harsh gin. The alcohol was muted.

And then came the taste test.

My response was “Wow!” as the video shows. And I didn’t even grimace.

Gin is not a “shot drink”, but man was Waterloo smooth going down. I knew I was in for a treat.

Juniper was certainly there and with enough of a note to place Waterloo in the London Dry category that the distillers wanted to emulate.

But something was softening the juniper as I sipped it from the shot glass and my suspicions were those notes would be uncovered as we moved to a more traditional tastings.

With my rocks glass at the ready and my anticipation rising I poured about a shot’s worth into the container.

The ice immediately brought to the front more notes—something nutty (turned out to be pecans), a little citrus (grapefruit) and another something that complimented the juniper while the same time, softening its effect.

Turns out there were two botanicals at work here—lavender and rosemary.

We’ve spoken of lavender with other gins we’ve reviewed.

Some distillers give this botanical too much of a heavy hand, turning a perfectly good into something that tastes as I imagine a flower bouquet might taste if I took a big bite out of the blossoms.

In Waterloo the lavender provided a softening effect on the juniper, but more importantly, its note had more effect on the nose.

Waterloo, to put it simply, is nice and inviting on the nose. Wine lovers will recognize this technique, where lesser-known grapes serve the dual function of softening tannins and imparting a pleasant nose.

Don’t forget smell has a profound impact on how we perceive taste.

But it turns out the rosemary (and I admit we had to look it up on the internet to determine what it was) is key here.

Many gins utilize rosemary, but so far, none have mastered the botanical as successfully as Waterloo.

Like juniper, rosemary has a “pine” taste and smell, but many also detect a hint of tea, and it is that hint that allows the rosemary to balance the juniper while the lavender softens the entire mix.

The pecan adds a bit of complexity, perhaps even the ingredient that ultimately defines this gin.

To complete the tasting I used a gin and tonic with a squirt of lime juice.

This time I chose a mass-produced tonic-Seagram’s, and the result was a super refreshing beverage where the gin stood up to the tonic and revealed all its notes-juniper, rosemary, lavender, grapefruit and even that nutty pecan.

Just a bit more subdued.

And delicious.

I can see myself drinking this (and perhaps, having it sneak up at me) poolside on any hot Southern summer day and scoffing at my beer-drinking or mint-julep tasting companions.

As far as I am concerned this gin, while quite different from my favorite, Boodles, is truly top shelf and if I had the means to acquire it regularly, would be in my top ten gin rotations.

I rate it as many queenie olives as one can hold in the palm of their hand.

Jim’s Review


Okay, I dawdled long enough on this. Time to put aside work that actually pays so I can get down to brass tacks here on this gin tasting. You want to know what I think about this Waterloo Gin? I love it.
Here’s a gin that one can easily sip, straight out of the bottle into the shot glass, no chill needed. I’m serious. You can do it repeatedly, at that.

After a quick sniff that rendered warmth and “juniper” goodness, I took a sip. Wow. Not like fireworks, but like a smooth, warm “greeting” is the best way I can describe it. Mouth-feel might be the word I’m looking for here.

Normally, a sip of gin plays around on your tongue and you feel a need to draw a breath as the alcohol impacts the taste buds. Not here. It’s more like a welcoming envelopment with the accents giving up their notes in close order, and all the shoulders are smooth. It comes on smooth but with a mellow strength. This is one of the best gins I’ve tasted!

Being a Tex-patriate, it doesn’t take a lot to tempt this old cowpoke to want to hop the next flight into DFW. Well, maybe not in July. But stumbling across this gem from the town in which I invested so much of my parent’s money as a University of Texas student, had me falling deeply into a homesick mode for my home state.

But what was it in this elixir to bring forth such a profound response?

What could they put in there to make a longtime London Dry style guy go topsy-turvy?

Maybe pecans?

I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m betting most Waterloo Gin will be consumed by Texans or at least in or near the great state of Texas. I’m betting it will be huge.

Waterloo Gin has that factor; that intangible quality found in the food and drink of Texas that somehow reinforces itself. You actually taste Texas! Let me explain it this way…

Sip a Shiner in Luckenbach and you flash on a memory of the brisket at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. Bite into a Puffed Picadillo Taco at Dallas’s El Fenix and summon a cooling memory of Blue Bell ice cream in Brenham. I took that sip of Waterloo Gin, and I was transported straight to a Brats Plate at Scholz Garten in Austin. It is a cosmic connection; all taste and place. It goes around and around.


Photo by Jim Trotman:Tasting Waterloo Gin put me in the mind of pouring over a favorite book in my collection, Texas Flags, by Robert Maberry, Jr. It seemed a suitable background. In the close-up, you can note the distinctive firearms chosen for the label.

For this tasting we have a friend of mine to thank. Whit Martin-Whitaker, from my hometown of Garland, follows this page and tipped Russ off to this gin. It is Whit’s favorite. By the way, when you are in Central Texas you can listen to Whit spin classical music tracks on KMFA 89.9 FM. And you can listen in on the internets too at

Holy cattle guard! I’ve been a-rambling like the Rio Grande.

Back to the gin.

As Russ points out, Waterloo Gin has nothing to do with Napoleon’s defeat (or Wellington’s win, if you look on the bright side, like me.) Instead, Waterloo was the name chosen for the site on the Colorado River where the seventh and final Republic of Texas capital would be built. Not long after, the site and resulting town was renamed in honor of the Father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin and Waterloo went the way of the dodo.

Treaty Oak Distillery takes its name from a 500 year-old live oak in Austin and was one of a grove of trees known as the Council Oaks. This area under the trees was a meeting place for the local Comanche and Tonkawa tribes. Stephen F. Austin met with the Indians there and negotiated a boundary treaty. Austin now of course is the beverage and culinary crossroads of the country, with big time music habit.

This gin seems the successful result of crafting a London Dry style gin then injecting it with Texas character.

Beyond the juniper, the classic botanicals but are present yet buttressed with the addition of pecans and grapefruit, all Texas grown. What the pecans lend is not a stand out taste of nuts. To my mind they do impart a slight nuttiness but bring more of a balancing agent to the combinations of licorice root, ginger root and rosemary and lavender.

Indeed, it may be the pecans that add so much of that extraordinary mouth-feel. I’m convinced it was the pecans.
This is not a meek, mild wallflower gin or another vodka posing as a gin. This is a big, bold and yes, brave gin.
On the web you can find an interesting graphic supporting Waterloo Gin. It is a highly stylized “battle” design based on the iconic Lone Star Flag with the motto, “Don’t just drink it because it’s from Texas, drink it because it’s not from England.”

Couldn’t say it better myself.

Waterloo3Harold’s Review


Let me start by introducing myself: I’m a rare person in that my drink of choice is Gin which tastes like Gin, and maybe even burns a little. I generally drink it on the rocks, unadulterated except by a small slice of lime…no vermouth, no tonic, no nothing except for lots of ice and that small slice of lime.

My go-to gin is generally Tanqueray, if that gives you a notion of what I prefer. Having said that, Waterloo was a nice surprise. I was surprised, given its “gentleness” on the tongue and lips even straight up, that it is 94 proof, at the high end for most smooth tasting gins. It was also a little different from most, in that it had almost no detectable pine/juniper scent or taste, but did have a nuttiness or woodiness that we surmised was probably from the pecans which are listed on the bottle as one of the botanicals it includes.

Over ice, it glides over the lips and tongue with almost no alcohol sensation, and with a good tonic which Russ provided it was like a soft drink.

My guess is this will prove to be a great gin especially for that summer gin and tonic drinker that really doesn’t like the traditional gin, taste but likes the look feel and taste of a tall G&T when it is HOT in the summer.

For some it will be a dangerous gin, at 47% alcohol, sneaking up on them and leading to embarrassing summer pool party experiences.

Cap Rock Colorado Organic Gin

Brand: CapRock® Colorado Organic Gin
Style: New American
Distillery: Peak Spirits, Hotchkiss, CO
ALC: 41%
Average US Retail Price: $32 is the average online price


Review and Photos by Jim Trotman



Our local market actually carries Braeburn apples. I’m partial to the Fuji myself. My wife likes the Granny Smiths. But those are real Braeburn apples in the pic. Because, accuracy. We don’t fool around here.

If I had a dollar for every gin review said. “it’s a gin for people who don’t like gin,” I be able to acquire gins like Russ. People please, that’s why God made vodka. It’s for people who don’t like gin!

Okay, we got that out of the way. Readers understand at this point where we generally are coming from. Let’s move on.

Russ kind of sprang this one on me during a road trip. Indeed, for a couple of hours it was the only gin in the room.

Gave it a look, lovely. Gave it a sip… what tha?

So I made up a Traveling Salesman Martini, which is gin on the rocks in the plastic cup from your hotel room.

The taste was bright, fresh and candy-like and fruity. Russ, already aware of it’s provenance said, “Well, what do you think?”

“I, I’m trying to figure it out.”

“Think about what grows in Washington state.”

I suppressed to urge to say that Jolly Rancher Watermelon Candy doesn’t grow in Washington state because I wasn’t sure if it actually did or not.

“Any guesses, maybe…apples?”

Bingo. Now, the site says the base distillate is made from both organic wheat grain and from organic Jonathon and Braeburn apples. The flavorings come from a dozen fresh and dried botanicals.
If I were to list the tastes I encountered, truthfully it would be hard to break them down because the stuff is really round and smooth and nothing really sticks out to me other than that crisp unctuous apple-ness, but not like a cider though.

I guess it just really reminded me of more like a subtle, better crafted version of some homemade applejack I sampled at a friend’s hunting lodge. That isn’t a bad thing.

It is, in a word, delicious. It is also fairly narrow cast in as much as there will be limits to what can be done with it, but it is certainly a substantial drink on it’s own.

Not a lot more I can say here but to conclude this is a clean, crisp, well-toned elixir, without much juniper flavor at all, but is lovely to drink nonetheless.

Two and a half olives… just don’t put an olive in this one.


Russ’s take:

I have to admit, I cheated on this one.

I acquired it and took it on a long road trip to Chapel Hill, NC, where Jim and I visited Top of the Hill restaurant and the TOPO distillery, a special feature coming soon to GinGents.

We stayed at the funky, Euro-cool Aloft Hotel in the UNC Tarheel capital, and while Jim was freshening up, I popped the bottle open, found some hotel ice, and poured it into my plastic hotel room cup.

Then I had another. Jim takes a while to make himself purty.

I also tasted it straight, then on the rocks, then as a gin and tonic. Then one more.


Photo and description from Peak Spirits web site. The still shed, world headquarters for Peak Spirits® Farm Distillery, is where we craft grapes, apples, peaches, and pears into CapRock® Gin, Vodka and Brandies. Our little Holstein still was made in Germany’s orchard country, near Switzerland, so it’s very happy in it’s home on Jack Rabbit Hill Farm, surrounded by the breath-taking orchards and vineyards of the North Fork Valley!

By the time Jim emerged, I knew we’d be taking a cab for our to and from Friday night foray into Chapel Hill.

But I digress.

Neat and on the rocks–wow! What a blast of fruit. On the nose and the palate.

And yep, apple hit me front and center.

And then another botanical that is becoming very common in American gins appeared–lavender.By now I am almost able to detect lavender right off the bat as so many American gin distillers use it.

The website for Cap Rock say roses are in there also and I have no doubt that is the case. I just couldn’t detect those notes.

And, a whisper of juniper was present.

This is a gin that, in my opinion, does not qualify as a true gin when served up as a martini or on the rocks.

The juniper is far too subdued and the apples and flowery notes– too strong.

Some American style gins may taste great (this does) but that doesn’t mean they qualify  as a  true gin martini or on the rocks drink.

You might think rum and Dr. Pepper makes for a tasty drink, or even rum and RC Cola, but that doesn’t make it a real rum and Coke.

With these American-style gins, the same sort of confusion exists. It tastes awesome, but is it a gin martini or something else?

When you transition to a gin and tonic, things change and do so for the better.

My gin and tonics almost always include a squeezed wedge or lime or lime juice from a bottle.

I had tonic but no lime at the hotel so I waited until I returned home to make a real gin and tonic, with fresh lime wedge, and a double shot of Cap Rock in a Tom Collins glass, which also implies extra tonic as well as extra gin.

Which is OK with me!

In the G&T form, the juniper comes forward a bit more, just enough for it to score as a gin.

But the combination of the ice, lime, and tonic tones down the apple and lavender into something that is delicious and refreshing.

If I saw it on a shelf in a bar, I’d order it as a gin and tonic.

If I wanted a martini and didn’t care if it followed a gin, vodka, or something completely different, I’d still order it.

Just be prepared for Cap Rock, in that scenario, to defy your expectations.

In any event, if you come across it in a bar or a liquor store…buy it, try it, and open your mind–but only so far. Because the jury here is still out on whether or not it’s a gin.