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Navy Strength Gin: Plymouth vs. Plymouth Navy Strength

Navy strength gin traces its legend to the British Royal Navy. Gin is usually around 40% alcohol. As you know, the British Navy always carried rations of gin and beer on board. Navy strength gin ups the ante to 57% or more alcohol.
The theory was if the gin spilled on the gunpowder, Navy strength would still light and the battle could go on.

So, Jim who keeps black powder around the house for some reason conducts the trial.

Does it work?

Plymouth gin (41.7%) vs. Plymouth Navy Strength (57%).
Jim Trotman, Russ Lay and Harold Gracey conduct a black powder experiment on the deck of Russ’s house. Next time we’ll do it before the taste test


Brand: Aviation Gin

Style: American

Distillery: House Spirits Distillery, 2025 SE 7th Ave, Portland, OR
ALC: 42% 84 Proof

Average US Retail Price: $30-35 / 750mL



Jim’s Review

Named for a cocktail created nearly 100 years before “taking off” in 2006, Aviation Gin “found its wings” in the new American interest in craft distilling that became the rage over the last decade. Timing was on their side.

The name alone evokes the romance, glamour and style of the early age of flight. These days, airline transportation for the masses has largely lost all of that, but the image is strong in our mythos and remains an attractive, seductive national memory.


Photo by Jim Trotman On a crisp October day in 2008, I was loading some gear into my car and looked up to see two aircraft approaching each other from opposite directions. I tend to keep my main camera fitted with a 70-200mm lens. I just reached for it, pointed it skyward and made the background image as they were nearing each other. I filed it away, knowing I had no immediate use but it was sharp enough and interesting enough to hold onto. For my birthday one year, Cathie and T-Mike Morrison, friends and neighbors we share with Russ and his wife, gave me a set of cocktail glasses, one of which you see here. Cathie’s father Jerry Bellmer was an actual Cold War F-86 Sabre Jet pilot in the 50s and 60s. These are my favorite cocktail glasses. On tasting Aviation, these elements all came together.

Or one may also conjure up the image of an airport bar, just before closing. Down at the end an exhausted pilot takes a seat, looking a little worse for the wear from fighting headwinds and dodging thunderstorms all the way from Pittsburg to Chicago. He has just brought his DC-9 home in the nick of time before fog and low ceilings closed the airport to all other inbound flights. All souls who were aboard are safe, and either heading to their homes or their hotels. All he wants is a dry place to sit and gin in his hand.

It may be nostalgia, it may be that remake of “The Great Gatsby” or it may just be the taste, but Aviation Gin, this Northwestern regional crafted spirit, hit cruising speed right out of the gate.

Hey, it works for me.

I first learned of Aviation Gin by way of an iPhone pic my brother snapped and sent me. He’d seen it at a Dallas Liquor store and knowing of my own past as a pilot knew I’d get a kick out of it..

So then Russ and I got this little enterprise going and in his travels he managed to acquire a bottle or two. It was time to get our review hat on for this one.

And so we tasted.

The first thing I noticed was this was no docile pet. A LOT was happening, wit the juniper element happily present but right up along side was more spice than herb.

Aviation hits the tongue energetically.

A pepper like note, somewhere between parsley and peppercorns highlights the warmth of the alcohol bite.

When I tried to speak after tasting, and on the audio it is evident, my voice was hilariously altered a good octave higher than normal. That is one hell of a handshake.

In martinis, with more traditional and milder gins, the taste buds can get saturated with the juniper notes after a couple of drinks and one can be fooled that he or she may not be playing with a full strength sample. I do not see that being the case with Aviation. It is so tenacious that there will be no false assumptions.

Yeah, sure, we made jokes about it being as subtle as Genghis Kahn, Jet A fuel, and carbon footprints, but this really is just a very tasty, probably highly mixable gin with backbone.

We should mention we sampled this just after giving No. 209 a spin. The No. 209 is steady, mild and as gentle a gin as you may find. Aviation is also steady, but not subtle at all. Both were delicious but the contrast was significant.

Aviation defines their taste profile as a “botanical democracy.” A term Russ and I got a kick out of. Not a social flora democracy, not an herbaceous communism but a botanical democracy which they list on the Aviation Gin site as juniper, Elletaria cardamom, lavender, sarsaparilla, coriander, anise and dried sweet orange peel.

I suspect the coriander and sarsaparilla were the pepper like component with the lavender adding a sooth, mollifying effect. If this gin were music, the lavender would be the backing baritone saxophone playing off the higher melodies of the citrus, anise juniper. In the case of Uncle Val’s, the florals were like a whole sax section.

This is an outstanding American style gin that is fine as a martini and has the will to stand on its own in a mix. As soon as I can get my hands on some Créme De Violette and some Marachino Liqueur, I’ll have to whip up an Aviation Gin’s namesake cocktail for a test flight. That is providing Aviation Gin can be found somewhere in the hangar.
Bravo Zulu, Aviation.

Russ’s Review

Aviation, like No. 209, is another new American gin that has begun to break out into the national market.

It is widely distributed across the country and is available in many liquor stores and increasingly, bars.

On the nose there is the usual heavy alcohol presence with a hint of juniper and spice.

Drinking it straight and warm—our patented “naked” tasting routine, revealed a circus of flavors, or as I described it—a palate party.

On the rocks, heat was still present, but much reduced.


From Aviation Gin website

One could debate if Aviation qualifies as a traditional gin with the requisite juniper forward profile, but I’m coming down on the side of Aviation firmly belonging in the gin camp.

It’s not as smooth as No. 209. Rather it’s a muscular gin with a ton of flavors competing for attention.

As a martini it will put a little hair on the chest– again, quite different from the No. 209 experience, but it’s power is not a flaw, it’s a major plus.

At the finish I sensed a botanical that was flattening the juniper taste and taking some of that entry muscularity down a notch or two, which worked. In other words, a nice finish–more of a soft landing after a stronf entry.

But it won’t sneak up on you, and as Jim noted, martini drinkers won’t suffer from “pine tree” fatigue if you choose to drink more than a couple at one sitting.

And a hint of spices as well as some citrus was playfully making the rounds in my mouth in the “rocks” mode.

This is the type of complexity that tasters love.

Whether it is coffee, whiskey, beer, and especially wine–differing sensations from the nose to palate entry to finish, and everything in between is generally a good thing. And if done correctly, a sign of quality and attention to detail.

Complexity done right makes for a unique product.

As it turns out one of the botanicals in the mix is lavender. However unlike Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, which was lavender heavy—Aviation’s use of lavender takes some of the edge off of this heavier-handed gin.

We taped our tasting for this one and reviewing that video we kept returning to the theme that Aviation is no wallflower.

One observation I made was if compared to wine varietals, No. 209 is a Pinot Noir, whereas Aviation would be on a scale with Cabernet Sauvignon or a hearty Zinfandel.

Veering into a dance analogy, No. 209 is a like a waltz—light and fluid.

Aviation is the action dancing down in the mosh pit-organized but wild and free-wheeling at the same time.

Another botanical, sarsaparilla as revealed by the distillers web site probably explains a lot of that muscular tasting experience—adding the zing provided by licorice or wintergreen without actually tasting like root beer or medicinal attributes often used to describe sarsaparilla.

Also present is coriander, which adds a citrus and spicy component, cardamom and anise, and finally, orange peel.

Put it all together and one can easily figure out why our first reaction on the video tasting was: “Wow, there is a lot going on here.”

As a gin and tonic Aviation took on an entirely different profile—all of these botanicals work to make a gin and tonic where the gin can stand up to the tonic and deliver a powerful, but flavorful punch.

In essence, Aviation is not going to be denied its flavor profile when mixed with tonic and even a squirt of lime.

Instead, it asserts itself and actually delivers a G&T that does not taste run-of-the-mill.

If you regularly order G&T’s in bars where Bombay or Tanqueray is most often used, you will notice right away Aviation is something different.

The gin has won tons of awards in competitions and has been rated extremely high in most wine and spirits magazines.

And for myself, this is the first American-style gin that I’ve tasted that successfully pulls away from juniper-forward and creates something that is still a gin, but ] completely different and quite good.

I rank it four olives, or four shot glasses, but also award Aviation an American flag cluster for successfully breaking the mold without crossing the line into the world of flavored vodkas-American style gin that gets it right!

No. 209-A San Francisco treat!

Brand: No. 209

Style: London Dry (they say)

Distillery: Distillery No. 209, Pier 50, San Francisco, CA

45% 90 Proof

Average US Retail Price: $35/750 ml


Additional coolness factor: Kosher/Passover versions available in both No. 209 gin and vodka!

Jim’s Review

My studious research reveals an interesting tale regarding the genesis of No. 209. In 1870 William Scheffler purchased a patent for California rights for a new still design, headed west and became a winemaker for Krug in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. He built a distillery attached to the winemaking buildings at Edge Hill which he had purchased two years prior. When he applied for a distillery license, the government granted him distillery license 209. So he named this new facility, with all the imagination of a 19th century bureaucrat, “Registered Distillery No. 209.”


Photo by Jim Trotman. PHOTO NOTE: Man, iPhone cameras are getting better and better. Lighting was the natural light bouncing all around Russ’s stairwell. The bottle is handsome in a Spartan way, with a bold, 19th Century font proclaiming simply, “No. 209.”

Enter winemaker Leslie Rudd, of Standard Beverage Corporation, Dean & DeLuca, PRESS Restaurant, and the Rudd Oakville Estate winery. In 1999 he “became the new steward” of Edge Hill and while looking over the property he stumbled across a hay barn with the words “Registered Distillery No. 209 over the doors. A light bulb came on and Rudd set out to restore the property and to rejuvenate No. 209 gin.

The restoration was completed and the effort won awards yet as it turned out, the size and location were less than ideal for Rudd’s aspirations and so he built a new distillery on the industrial Pier 50, on San Francisco’s Eastern waterside, south of the famous Embarcadero.

The man of many talents who actually crafted the recipe and currently maintains the production of No. 209 gin is Arne Hillesland, their “Ginerator.”

So, hanging out basically over the water is this 1000 gallon Forsythe copper pot still with a swan like neck. Inside is a four times distilled neutral corn-based spirit. After careful blending and milling of the ingredients; juniper berries, cardamom, cassia, bergamot, coriander and several other things, Hillesland macerates the botanicals overnight in the still. This it is fired up once again and in 11 hours a single, final distillation pass occurs and bingo, out comes No. 209.


We need to admit here that we had at least one (and maybe another) swing at tasting No. 209 before we got serious about it. But those were noisy, distracting party affairs. Then one day about a week ago I was summoned to Russ’s and right there in front of a video camera, we got down to brass tacks. It’s not Russ’s fault but visually, it didn’t capture my best side, it captured my fat side. But it did make for a good set of notes for this review.

Once we finally got the cap off, thanks to my insanely strong muscles,

the sniff test brought a light alcohol base, but I didn’t get the citrus notes right off like what every other person tasting this was written on the net.

On first sip, straight from the bottle, I picked up the juniper right away, but with the sharpness smoothed out. Another reviewer said it was “slippery,” but it was too early in the evening for any surfaces to feel slippery to me. Maybe later.

On ice, the botanical blend came forward in a pleasing, if not assertive fashion. More sips revealed a peppery, lightly tingly taste that had me thinking of parsley. To me, the main secondary taste running neck and neck with juniper was that of coriander. Citrus notes were delicate to my palate. Basically this is a nice, non offensive botanical blend.

All in all I found it a quality sipping gin and probably the colder it is served, the better. A couple of drops of Vermouth couldn’t hurt it, but I think we both agreed that the tonic we added dulled the gin a bit.

It’s a San Francisco treat.

I give it three cufflinks or loosened neckties or swizzle sticks

Russ’s Review

Screw it…Let’s get the final verdict out of the way—I like this gin. A lot!

As luck would have it, I was able to first sample No. 209 in it’s native town-San Francisco

My wife and I popped into a little bar on Polk Street, aptly named Tonic after a great dinner at the Lemongrass Thai restaurant a block away on the same street.

We sidled up to the bar and the distinctive No. 209 bottle was prominent on the top shelf.

I asked the barkeep about the gin with some local pride, he responded it was from San Francisco and well worth a try.

I ordered it in a gin and tonic, and then a second, and would have gone for a third had it not been for the bitter cold walk back to the hotel as the temperature was dropping by the second.

Most people I know who dislike gin do so for one of two reasons; a) it tastes like a pine tree, and b) if they drank too much and became ill, the pine tree smell keeps them away from the stuff in the same way overindulgence in tequila spawns similar bad memories.

While following the London Dry style of predominant juniper, No, 209 keeps juniper out front, but the berry’s presence is what it should be—sanfranginwhich to me means front and center but not overwhelming.

Those of you following GinGents will remember your humble writers prefer the juniper-predominant London Dry style, but even we draw the line at gins that evoke the scent of those tree-shaped air fresheners in otherwise odiferous taxi cabs.

On the other hand, thus far, we have been more skeptical of the new American-style gins that are either so mild as to resemble vodka where lack of juniper is concerned, or move juniper too far to the background and serve up flowery gins that, while different, are not our cup of tea, or, more appropriately, our shot of gin.

But there is no rhyme or reason to the order in which these reviews occur. So bear with us as we bounce to and fro.

We acquire a gin, usually on our travels or through friends, we add it to the ever-growing gin cellar, and when we write a review, we grab one at random and drink it up. That’s the sum total of our methodology.

So, you’ll notice, just like most gin drinkers, our views of previously sampled gins can change as we are exposed to new brands.

For me, No. 209 makes a fine gin and tonic, and while I agree with Jim that it’s true value comes through over the rocks or in martini form, I highly recommend this gin for anyone who dislikes the spirit based on a bad juniper experience.

You’ll get the juniper that is the hallmark of all gins, but also some citrus-like zest and a few spices to boot.

In fact, one of our neighbors, a woman who hated gin as a rule, tried No. 209 and kept with the drink for much of the night.

On the rocks and as a martini, this is a gin that has led me even closer to adding “gin sans tonic” to my repertoire of drinks I like.

No. 209 is smooth and lacks the alcohol burn present in so many mass produced gins.

I suspect this gin is truly handcrafted and in the distilling process, some of the harshness we taste in “major” brands has been removed by careful distilling with attention to detail.

On the rocks, the juniper is more prominent than in a tonic, but it is still restrained—in a good way.

But in this form the other botanicals shine—especially the orange and lemon elements (zest-like hints, not heavy-handed orange or lemon-flavored vodka flavor), as well as the cardamom.

No. 209 is also one of the few new American gins breaking out into wider distribution.

We’ve found it in Virginia as well as in larger cities in North Carolina, mostly in liquor stores, but sometimes in a bar or two.

I’ve also seen it at numerous online liquor stores, so if you live in a state that allows delivery of spirits, No. 209 should be easy to obtain.

Larger chains such as BevMo! and Total Wine and Spirits also seem to carry it as a staple.

My rating—four out five ibuprofens—worth the indulgence!

Greenall’s London Dry Gin

Brand: Greenall’s
Style: London Dry
Distillery: G&J Distillery, Warrington, United Kingdom
ALC: 40%/80 proof
Average US Retail Price: $19-$22/750 ml

Russ’s Review

It’s time to stake out our biases and a review of Greenall’s London Dry Gin is one the best places to start.

Heck, it claims to be the first gin ever made in the London Dry style–operating from the oldest operating distillery in merry old England since 1761.


Photo Note: This was a bitch to shoot. The label’s colors don’t reflect a lot of light directly back at you when you are looking at it. Some graphic designer having fun with camouflage is my guess. To really see it, light has to skim across the label from a side angle. Meeting that challenge was most satisfying. Wish the gin was as well.)

For folks like your humble authors who are working on their sixth- decade- of- life gold star, the number of gin brands out there was minimal.

To make matters more difficult, both of us have spent a considerable amount of time in Southern states of the U.S., of late North Carolina, where the state government holds a monopoly on and is the sole distributor of “spirited” alcohol.

Greenall’s is not widely available in the southern United States, in liquor stores or bars and taverns–at this is the part of the U.S. where your two humble scribes have spent much of lives.

So those of who turned on to gin were definitely influenced by the juniper forward flavors of Boodle’s, Tanqueray and the pre-Sapphire version of Bombay–the stuff mostly available in most state-owned liquor stores–common in many Southern states.

Enter Greenall’s and my tasting notes.

Au Natural-pour an ounce into a shot glass. Sniff.

I didn’t notice any of the usual harsh alcohol notes. But the juniper was there and so was a hint of citrus—not quite orange but damn close.

Now, throw that sucker back, tequila shot style and my bet is you’ll experience a very smooth entry, similar to this gin-Bristol Bay ( with the juniper slightly, but noticeably present.

On the rocks it came across super as super smooth, but now the juniper and other botanicals begin to migrate to the backseat.

For the gin and tonic I reverted to one of the two standard American grocery store tonics—in this case Canada Dry with a squeezed lime wedge.

In this traditional drink, Greenall’s cannot stand up to the sweetness of the typical tonic. It migrated to the trunk!

While not a total loss—there is barely a hint of gin and juniper in there—(I used 2 parts gin to 4 parts tonic), in this format there are other gins than can hold their own against tonic mixes.

Last, but not least, I went with my least favorite gin drink-the martini.

Two shots were added into a shaker populated by ice.

A few vigorous shakes and then I poured the Greenall’s into a martini glass.

What came next was an epiphany of sorts.

I have slowly come to accept gin on the rocks and and the gin martini—either in its pure form or with a minimal amount of olive juice and an olive garnish (never with vermouth), but I still tend to prefer gins where the traditional botanicals are out in front.

Whereas Bristol Bay ( as a martini came across as smooth— it displayed very few gin characteristics.

Greenall’s presented as a mild gin with hints of juniper, pepper, and citrus in the martini form.

Thus, reserving the right to adjust my reviews as we sample more gins, I would highly recommend Greenall’s over Bristol Bay as a bridge for those looking to cross over from vodka to gin martinis.

However, if you prefer gimlets or gin and tonics you might want to pass on this one, although it’s awfully refreshing on a hot summer day.

Verdict-well worth the try for newcomers to gin and especially gin martinis. The price is right, the gin essentials are there, if muted, and you won’t miss your vodka martini anymore.

Jim’s Review

Tasted: September 7, 2014 & November 7, 2014

Review and Photo by Jim Trotman

Tamarind paste, mango, sourdough bread, and butter.

I’m happy to report these are tastes and smells you will NOT find in G&J Greenall’s gin.




Oh yeah…right after we wrote the review, they changed the label!

We’d had a run there of American style gins and I was getting fully psyched to encounter such inharmonious and damn near blasphemous ingredients in the next sampling for Gin Gents. I was thrilled and elated even when Russ brought us back to basics with the choice of an attractive London Dry for our next tasting.

Here it was; a crisp green bottle, it’s logo an adaptation of the England’s Union Jack, plus there’s a family crest boasting a distilling heritage from 1761. Finger wells in the sides of the bottle aid in the grip and there’s the date again, in glass relief. It’s got London Dry in its veins. And yet…

A small serving, neat, revealed alcohol. Duh. That was about it. Straight up isn’t a thing I normally do unless I’m familiar with the spirit, so I went to rocks. Yes, there was juniper in there by gosh, but only a signal hint of it. A wee bit of citrus that only came on when chilled. Finish was slightly peppery.

So we got back to juniper, however faintly, but something in there was bringing a vague sweetness. Not so dry as maybe dry should be. Where was I going?

I brought some tonic on board and things got smoothed out. Smooth to the point of it basically being an alcohol tasting tonic. Where was the “Umph” factor? Maybe they didn’t see a need any umph back in 1761. After wandering the fruity American Plains there had to be something in G&J’s I could get into.

Now this is a drinkable gin. There wasn’t anything that leapt out to me that was off-putting. As standard gins go, this wasn’t awful, like that Aristocrat swill. But it did leave me a little disappointed. I suppose I should put that on me and my own goofy expectations. My notes tell me that I would drink this again, but it would be a hard sell as a martini. I’m going with that. I was searching for character, something to hang my hat on with this gin. I just had trouble finding it.

(Photo Note: This was a bitch to shoot. The label’s colors don’t reflect a lot of light directly back at you when you are looking at it. Some graphic designer having fun with camouflage is my guess. To really see it, light has to skim across the label from a side angle. Meeting that challenge was most satisfying. Wish the gin was as well.)

Bristol Bay Gin

Distilled and Bottled in Alaska

Alaska Distilling Company

August 8, 2014 September 7, 2014 #2 December 3, 2014 #3

Review and Photo by Jim Trotman

The third time was a charm here.

At my first taste, all I could summon was that I just didn’t get it. I sensed heat, yet a total lack of juniper and not so much of anything else. So I was dismissive.
















The second time I took better notes. “Really just vodka in disguise,” “Where’s the gin?” and “Glacier water, eh?” Yes, I’m a regular wordsmith sometimes.

And then I took the bottle to photograph it for our reviews. As I was setting up I thought I might give it one more spin.

The bottle is awfully pretty after all and has a built in thumb ring. That has to account for something.

This time, I didn’t mind it. At all. I kind of started to actually like it. There was a kind of warmth right off the bat and as I let the sip sit there, the taste buds started signaling in. More spice note than flower notes and then a crisp, clean finish.

Then, feeling like a regular chemist, I mixed it with a little tonic and a lime and it was all quite pleasant. Still, even though I was almost giddy, Bristol Bay in my opinion is still pretty close to being more akin to a flavored vodka.

This isn’t a gin I would seek out for the gin taste, but it is clean and slightly bracing and will stand up to what ever you want to add to it.

For comparison purposes I made a gin and tonic with some of my brother-in-law’s left behind Skyy Vodka. Same ratios and both with a little lime squirt on ice. They tasted very similar, but the Skyy essence lingered a bit longer than the Bristol Bay.

And to be honest, Bristol Bay had a little more going on with the spice hints. But this was a subtle difference.

My hat’s off for trying something a little different. Alaska Distillery lists some twelve different vodkas on their site. Twelve vodkas. So why not push out one more and call it a non-juniper gin, right?

Love the vodka names they have; Frostbite, BUZZ Honey, Fire Weed, Purgatory Hemp (whatever that means) and of course, Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. Seriously, they recommend using it for a Bloody Mary, along with tossing in a chunk of Smoked Salmon for a “truly Alaskan experience.” Think I may just pass on that. I give it two and a half shakers or tumblers or whatever code we decide on.

Review by Russ Lay

Tasting dates: September 7 and December 13

Jim is slightly more generous in his review than I.

I was introduced to the Alaska Distillery aboard an Alaskan cruise in the Spring of 2014 on the Princess Lines.alaska-distillery-pdf-1-638

The distillery held several tastings of their many vodka iterations on almost every “sea day” of the 11-day excursion.

For the record, the Salmon vodka Jim mentions tastes more of smoke than fish, and the rhubarb vodka was surprisingly good, so much so that I brought two bottles home.

The distillery folks didn’t bring the gin on board, but I was able to procure a bottle in port and found another in a Virginia Beach liquor store.

I try gins three ways; au natural in order to get a sense of the nose and flavors without the influence of ice or mixers; next I make a shaken martini with no vermouth, and lastly, as a gin and tonic mix.

In it’s natural state Bristol Bay came off very hot on the palate and on the nose, the primary note was alcohol with just a hint of juniper–more like a whisper.

Shaken with ice and poured into a martini glass lent an entirely different profile.

There was still just a whiff of juniper on the nose, but the alcohol smell retreated significantly.

On the palate there was some heat immediately on the tip of the tongue, but from that point on, Bristol Bay proved itself to be a smooth martini with only minimal heat.

But what kind of martini? One had to struggle to find the juniper, but it was there. And something else–a slight hint of spice(s), but nothing I could readily identify. Not nutmeg,  anise root, cardamon or coriander.

Mixed into a gin and tonic I had a much different experience than Jim.

I used Hansen’s Natural Cane Sugar tonic, two shots of Bristol Bay and a tiny squeeze of lime.

What I found was a refreshing, even bracing drink of tonic and lime with a slight sense of something in the background–but that something was not gin, nor did it stand up to the tonic. Rather, it was completely overwhelmed.

If you want a super smooth martini that resembles a vodka martini, but with a baby’s breath of juniper and spice, this might be a good gin to ease the transition from vodka martini’s to the real thing.

Mixed with tonic, or I assume, in a Negroni, Bristol Bay has little to offer.

Oh, it is distilled in Wasilla, Sarah Palin’s nominal home, and they really do go into the river and lasso icebergs that have calved from glaciers for the pure water component.


Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin

Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin
35 Maple Street Spirits
Sonoma, CA
45% ALC

Retail price:$25-$60 depending upon location. Average price $30

Russ’s Review

This gin reminds me of one of my favorite Talking Heads songs “Nothing But Flowers.”


Photo by Jim Trotman. For the sake of full disclosure somehow the bottle cap (a sort of stove-pipe hat affair) for our sample bottle got lost before it was picture time. I won’t point fingers but I will take credit for fashioning a reasonable facsimile from the tin wrapping from an empty red wine bottle. See? You can hardly notice.

Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin borrows from both the so-called “American Gin Democracy” movement, (where traditional gin botanicals take a back seat, especially where juniper is concerned) while also sneaking up behind the Scottish made Hendricks by adding cucumbers to the mix.

But the overwhelming notes in this aptly named botanical gin are flowers. 

Think an entire field of flowers, where lavender and chrysanthemums spark your olfactory senses.
Or think of a newly plugged in Fabreeze floral air freshener.
According to the legend outlined on the 35 Maple Street web site, Uncle Val’s Botanical gin was inspired by Zio Valerio’s love of gardening and his native Tuscan cuisine.

Zio, aka Uncle Val was kin to August Sebastiani and hailed from Lucca, Italy.

Sebastiani is well known for his eponymous Sonoma wines and Uncle Val’s is part of a spirits based subsidiary of the family empire.

Val’s favorite botanicals for cooking and growing in his garden included juniper, sage, cucumber, lemon and lavender.

Open the bottle, pour a shot and hold it a few inches from your nose.

There is the usual alcohol heat, but one that is more subdued than found is less expensive gins.
Move it a little further away and you’re likely to detect lime notes—notes very similar to lime-scented after shave used in old school barber shops as an alternative to the Bay Rum scent.

Mixed in, and most overpowering is an unmistakable floral explosion, embraced by citrus notes.

Our little tasting group picked violets, chrysanthemums, and lavender; the latter being one of the star botanicals.

Take a hit from the shot glass in its natural, warm state and you might say to yourself, “If cologne tasted as good as it smells, this is what cologne should taste like!”

I skipped the cold martini option, leaving that for Jim.

But as a gin and tonic, Uncle Val’s has a lot to offer if one is not a gin purist.

It’s still flowery and citrusy, but unlike other American-style gins we’ve reviewed, the requisite juniper is present (although very subdued) as are hints of cucumber, although not at the levels present in the groundbreaking Hendrick’s brand.

As a G&T, Uncle Val’s is one super-smooth tasting drink, so much so that it would be very easy to over-indulge, in which case one might actually think they are drinking cologne.

Most liquor stores list Uncle Val’s Botanical gin in the $28 to $40 range, although I’ve seen it as high as $50 in Virginia ABC stores.

And make sure you don’t confuse this gin with “Uncle Val’s Restorative” gin, which uses different botanicals but comes in the same shape/color bottle with a similar label.

Final verdict?

I kind of like it.

While almost crossing the line into something more akin to flavored vodka, Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin retains enough juniper essence to remain in the gin category.

But just barely…

Because of the overt flowery essence on the nose and palate, many gin drinkers will reject this out-of-hand.
But if I were looking for smooth gin and tonic with a lighter touch—say as a poolside drink on a humid, Southern summer day, I might actually opt for Uncle Val’s as a respite from the juniper forward gins.

It imparts a cool, refreshing vibe and there’s a place for that in the world of gin for someone who wants something more complex than flavored vodkas.

I’d also highly recommend it to any of your gin-hating friends who desribe the spirit with descriptions such as “jet fuel”, “pine tree” or “turpentine.”

Uncle Val’s may just be the bridge to gin they require.


Jim’s Review

Imagine if you will, a greenhouse. A greenhouse overgrown, verdant, saturated with herbal and floral fumes. Now imagine a party in that greenhouse with middle-aged guys with gold medallions dancing away with mini-skirted pretty young things circa 1978. Now imagine that party located between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. You are either into that sort of thing or not. I am not here to judge.

I really wanted to like this gin because the bottle and its labels are interesting. It features a sort of coin face cameo of said Uncle Val (I suppose) and the bright red lettering “Botanical” gives fair warning there are floral fragrances in your future. In fact, the bottle and label are among the most elegant I’ve come across.

On close inspection, the faint filigree in the corners are in fact botanical illustrations with even harder to read binomial names of the essences contained within. It took my reading glasses plus a magnifying glass but I was able to make them out: cucumis sativus, citrus limon, and salvia officinallis. What the… salvia? I had to Google that one. Actually these denote the flavorings of cucumber, lemon and sage respectively. Miley must have gotten her hands on a different salvia. One also finds the word, “Eureka” tucked in there, as if old Uncle Val had finally conjured together the perfect mix.

On a banner diagonally placed near the bottom and across a corner, the batch and bottle number are right there for you to note. This banner also contains a bit of Uncle Val’s wit and wisdom. From the sample images I have seen online, these seem to rotate among a handful of sayings attributed to the man. The one on our bottle reads: “To quick questions give a slow answer –Uncle Val” and “Uncle Val had no patience for those with no patience.

He liked to take his time and make sure things turned out right, which not so coincidentally is the same technique we employed with this gin. Batch No. 21 Bottle No. 11,311”

35 mpl
Photo from 35 Maple Street website



I spent some slow moments just sniffing this gin at my final tasting. Some of these get a second or third go as Russ doesn’t have room for half empty bottles. The most pronounced element to me was of lemon zest, not in itself a bad thing. However lurking and then advancing forward was a sage-like floral bouquet. Not quite like taking a whiff from a bottle of perfume, but close.

I had a wonderful Aunt Irene, who I loved dearly and spent some bit of time with her growing up. I still remember and really enjoyed the scent of her purse: a heady mix of Juicy Fruit gum and perfume. I like gins, but am leery of ones that put me mentally in the state of poking around in Aunt Irene’s purse.

I took a sip from a shot glass, room temperature, at that time hovering right about 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Wham! I sensed raw heat and a pop of lemon and lavender that seemed to just hang. Not that I would serve or drink any spirit that way, but it is something we serious gin reviewers must do. Russ says so, anyway.

Then I chilled some in a shaker with ice. Same effect but now the greenhouse bit was heavier and colder.

Now, this is not to shame the craftsmen who built this libation as I respect anyone that takes as much time as they claim to have taken to perfect this gin; all that pumice filtering, five distillations and whatnot. Effort goes a long way with me. But this gin was crying out for something to add to it to turn it around and head it in the right direction.

I added a trickle of dry vermouth, more than I usually use for a martini. The dryness buffeted the sweet citrus a tad, the cucumber note was faint yet there, but still that perfume-like pall clung to the roof of my mouth. I could not detect even the slightest hint of juniper.

Tonic had to be the tonic for this. Surely quinine would deliver me from my quarrel. Hansen’s Tonic and a measure of Uncle Val’s went into a highball glass with ice from purified water. The tonic helped. Quite a bit actually, but still that heavy alcoholic bite and the sage and lavender just would not stop. I found this less smooth than Russ did and had to got eat some garlic bread to lose the aftertaste.

I am working hard to keeping my mind open to American-style gins, and I encourage experimentation with spirit flavoring, but this sort of thing can get out of hand. If we get too far away from juniper, then we are just dealing with another flavored vodka, and the world has more than enough of those. Still, at a recent party, Russ and I did find one soul, a colleague, who was quite taken by Uncle Val’s. Perhaps this is the gin for one out of three people. That’s still a sizable market.

Boodle’s London Dry Gin

Boodles Review By Jim Trotman

Boodles London Dry Gin

Style: London Dry

Cock Russell and Company Established 1845 Tasted: Mar 30, 2014 & September 7, 2014

Method: Shaken with ice. “Made with Labour and Patience” – their website.


Average price: $25-$29

I first came upon Boodles Gin in a passage in Barnaby Conrad III’s authoritative book, The Martini, An Illustrated History of an American Classic, which I received as a Christmas present from a family member who knows me only too well. Early in the book (page 35) a passage recounts Sir Winston Churchill’s own Martini method.

It said he made them “by pouring gin into a pitcher and glancing briefly at a bottle of vermouth across the room.” That struck a chord with me, as I enjoy gin the way most people do not, simply on its own, chilled and unsullied by additives or as I call them, “subtractives.” Later in the book it is revealed (page 107) that Churchill insisted using only the gin especially made for his London club, Boodles. The name stuck with me and later, visiting family in Dallas, there it was, sitting on a shelf at Sigel’s Liguors. I ponied up the quite reasonable $28.00 or so and we’ve been buddies ever since.

Sometimes our buddyship has been a long distance affair.

Short version is that it is not available here in my area. I have to drive 2 plus hours into Hampton, Virginia for the nearest source. We all have crosses to bear.

As with wines, I like a little sniff before tasting. The pleasant, clean spirit waft is warm and inviting. Then once over the lips, you know for certain that Boodles is a gin that is made for martinis. A near total lack of anything harsh, it is smooth and as enveloping as the London fog, and my tongue feels like it is being fitted with a saddle of love. (I get romantic when I’m happy) To take the fog reference a little further, the closer you get, the more things are revealed. Juniper notes are proper and present yet mellow.

The herb factors are enhanced by spices we usually associate with holidays, with subtle traces of rosemary, sage and slight nutmeg. Unlike most gins, there are no citrus notes. Their website insist this is because the distillers expect that if the consumer wants them, they can add them. That’s practical. I usually only add an olive, if that, and this suits me just fine.


Photo Note: In October 2013 the bottle and label were redesigned. It’s wide shape is distinctive and the new design has the name embossed on the sides so one can still pick it out when turned to the skinny side. Smart. Since we liked both designs and Russ had both, we include them both here.

Boo-yah! Five stars, Five Olives, Etc.

Russ Lay’s Review

Leave it to my partner Jim to frame his first exposure to Boodles in a literary scene complete with a link to Sir Winston Churchill.

My experience was not quite so academic.

It was 1984 and I found myself as a commercial banker in Atlanta. Bosses, coworkers, clients and neighbors were still knocking back my beverage of choice—beer—but I also noticed in certain social situations, wine and spirits were more commonly consumed.

I didn’t find many spirituous liquors I disliked, but gin was a beverage to which I took an instant liking, and it was gin that I adopted as my “adult” drink when PBR didn’t fit into the social setting.

I started with the two usual suspects—Tanqueray, my first “favorite” and then Bombay. Sometime around 1986 I walked into one of the many liquor stores along Buford Highway to buy a bottle of Bombay. Those familiar with that part of Atlanta, in the Doraville/Chamblee area know the type of store I am talking about. Walls of glass on three sides, blaring fluorescent light and neon liquor signs bright enough to be seen from the International Space Station.

This store was new to me and was loaded with kitsch, including a giant barrel of water, that when activated, swirled like a flushed commode, instantly chilling a bottle of bubbly or white wine. Ambling over to the gin section, I noticed a brand that was new to me. Right next to the giant swirling barrel, actually, so it was a short amble. A blue logo resembling a coat of arms of sorts, sporting two lions holding up the Boodles name. It was perfectly British so I had to try it.

And it was love at first site, for me, and my bride, another gin fan.

If I had bothered to read a book on martinis as Jim did and discovered the link to Chruchill and his club, I might have started out as a Boodle’s drinker from the start.

The botanicals are what attracted me to gin in the first place, especially juniper, which is the centerpiece of most good gins. Tanqueray is a good gin but there were times it left me with too much of a hint of pine tree lingering on my lips. Bombay dialed the juniper back a bit compared to Tanqueray, but some of the other botanicals overshadowed the drink, in my opinion, if used in a martini.

Boodles hit the perfect balance.

Open the bottle and take in a deep nose and you will be greeted with a clean alcohol smell, followed by juniper and to my nose, sage and rosemary. Southerners know good moonshine and the most important quality is smoothness.

If Boodles were moonshine, on the palate it would be considered as clean  a ‘shine made with pure, Blue Ridge Mountain water from an unspoiled creek.

Pass it over the tongue and there it is—perfect juniper without the heat of cheap gin or the Christmas tree smell and taste of gins over-infused with juniper. And then, as Jim noted, the unique flavors of coriander, rosemary, sage and even nutmeg present themselves. As one who prefers my gin mixed to a martini, Boodles is one of the few that I can drink straight up, shaken, chilled and not stirred. Mix it with just about any tonic water or traditional tonic mix and Boodles still maintains its flavor profile while seeming to absorb the ingredients in the tonic and a slash of lime.

In fact, Boodle’s should have been our first review because it was the catalyst that started this blog. In North Carolina, Boodles is not available in our state controlled liquor stores and it was, through conversation, that Jim and I discovered Boodles was our mutual favorite and something we both brought home whenever we traveled out of state. Indeed, Boodles will be the gin we declare “king of the hill” and our tastings and reviews will in part be dedicated to determining if any other gins measure up or surpass Boodle’s in our humble opinions.


White Tiger Gin


White Tiger Gin

Style: New American –kinda

Distiller: Dark Corner Distillery

Tasted: July 19, 2014 (A day that will live in infamy)-Jim

April 4, 2014-Russ

Method: Shaken with ice (Jim), Straight up in shot glass and as a gin and tonic with lime (Russ)

Price: About $20

Availability-Was available throughout South Carolina and the site has on-line ordering for customers where state law allows spirits to be shipped into your state.

A recent check of the website did not list White Tiger as one the currently available products.

White tiger

Russ’s Review

I first came across this gin in a Myrtle Beach, S.C. liquor store, featured in the “Made in S.C.” section.

I was at a Shriner’s convention, an event perfectly suited to the exploration of libation.

When I brought it home, a colleague of mine who hails from the Palmetto State mentioned he had just visited the maker, Dark Corner Distillery, in Greenville.

He was pretty high on their whiskey, but stated they also sold a gin, which he didn’t sample, but was told by the staff would be “different.”

Dark Corner’s official website describes White Tiger Gin and it’s botanical composition as “New Western” style infused with Far East botanicals.

According to their web site, White Tiger’s botanicals include lemongrass, Thai basil, jasmine, and Szechuan pepper, none of which are traditional gin ingredients.

And let’s be clear—whether it’s London-style, where juniper must predominate, or “New Western/New American” (the terms are used interchangeably these days), where other botanicals play a greater role on the palate, juniper is still supposed to be the flavor and nose that takes center stage.

With all of this pre-knowledge I twisted off the cap and poured a shot class.

I could hardly wait to taste hints of basil and Chinese pepper.

Right off the bat the predominant aroma was—whiskey.


I took a slow sip, allowing it to play on my tongue , pondered some and yep—whiskey again.

A second shot confirmed my first two impressions.

This stuff tastes like whiskey. Hot whiskey.

I decided it might need my favorite gin mixer, tonic water, to bring out the juniper and those exotic Far Eastern flavors.

A few minutes later I sat down on the couch, took a long sip, and was taken by surprise.

I was drinking a gin that was entirely new and as complex as the web site had promised.

Indeed, I decided to give this concoction it’s own name: “Whiskey and tonic”

I then read reviews on other web sites where the reviewers tasting notes revealed juniper, pepper and the heat factor.

Not a single mention of whiskey.

Thinking two of my five primary senses had failed, I gave White Tiger yet another try.


A few days later, I poured one more gin and tonic for my wife.

Before the flavors could dissipate from her palate, she blurted out, “This isn’t gin, it’s whiskey.”

I pointed to the label and told her, sternly, if the label says its gin, it must be gin.

I then took her to the Dark Corner Distillery website, where she could clearly see it was called “gin” on the internet, and as we all know, if the internet says something is true, it must be.

We left the bottle, never touched again, on the bar shelf for about three months, until my GinGents partner, Jim Trotman came by the house.

Without saying a word about my experiences, Jim opened the bottle and his thoughts follow….


dark corner

Jim’s Review

I went into this one without any prior knowledge of the gin or its distiller whatsoever. The impact on my taste buds was intense. So I set about to educate myself and like any good scholar I turned to the nearest internet.

The following is the flower of my self-illumination.

Dark Corner and Shine.

The tale begins with Celtic immigrants (those whiskey, and or whisky loving ancestors of some of us) trickling down amongst the Appalachians and setting up camp.

Among them were talented distillers who soon found corn made as decent a starting mash as anything and before the long, the exhaust of the sill fires made the Smoky Mountains even smokier.

Then came Prohibition.

The stills moved farther up the “holler” away from the lower lands and into areas harder to access. One of these places is known as Dark Corner, in the Northwestern corner of South Carolina.

These less than legal distillers had to get their hooch to market, and so they found it necessary to tinker with the family Ford a little bit.

At least enough to enlarge cargo space and fast enough to out run Johnny Law. As it turns out driving fast was a lot of fun and so informal races began to be held. Then before you know it, NASCAR was invented.

Back to our story.

Dark Corner Distillery is located in Greenville, South Carolina, smack in the middle of Dark Corner. Their motto is “Home of the World’s Best Moonshine,” and by rights I should be tasting what they are set up to make and that is whiskey.

They have won many awards for their sizable stable of small batch whiskeys with fun names like, Cock Lightening, Hot Mama and Stumphouse.

A theme maybe?

So after creating all kinds “moonshine,” Dark Corner turned their attentions to gin.

Not only that but they tout White Tiger as a “New Western” variety of gin, one using notes of the Far East, Szechuan pepper, lemongrass, Thai basil.

So New Western takes its cue from the Far East? Okay. Still, I didn’t get any of that other than a peppery heat.

I like hot spicy stuff in general, but this was pretty harsh.

Gengis Kahn harsh.

And still, the main flavor component I made out was that of moonshine. If I had known they were supposed to be there, I’d have looked for that basil, lemongrass and whatnot. Missed it.

I happen to really like South Carolina. No clear liquid can change that. Maybe I just don’t have the gene that makes me want to taste whiskey in everything.

My conclusion is that this is the perfect gin for someone.

Perhaps that person enjoys their whiskey. Perhaps that person was growing tired of whiskey or simply wanted to broaden their horizons, and dreamed of a world beyond amber colored beverages.

Then again, that person could just really be super attuned to the tastes of lemongrass, Szechuan pepper and Thai basil and perchance decided it would be a good idea to drink those flavors instead of munch them.

But my ‘buds just can’t seem to detect them mixed into whis- uh, gin.

There may be many in this world for whom White Tiger Ginis just what they are looking for. I am just not one of them.

Well, at least we have NASCAR.