May 31, 2015

∴ A Gin-off

The Botanist gin and Broker's gin

I’m always looking to improve my cocktails’ ingredients and their results. Today’s liquor taste-off follows an identical try from last evening, but with an important change. This time the tasting is blind.

I’m taste-testing two gins, weighing which will remain or become my go-to ingredient for the Vesper. Ian Fleming fans will recall the Vesper as three parts gin, one part vodka, and a half-part Kina Lillet, so the gin carries a lot of this cocktail’s flavor. And since there’s no mixer or fill in the Vesper recipe, there’s nothing to hide a bad choice.

Putting Hendrick’s, my favorite Martini gin, aside for the moment, today’s tasting is between Broker’s and The Botanist. Brokers enters as the gin I’ve come back to from each excursion into something new.

The Botanist was recommended in an article by Aaron Tubbs, wherein he discussed how to build a better Vesper.

Broker’s, a London dry gin distilled in England and bottled at 94-proof, has a distinct aroma of juniper and pine. No surprise there. It also goes down a little harsh neat, likely (I thought) due to its elevated alcohol content. Enjoyable in a mixed drink, even one composed only of liquors, this gin makes for an affordable house bottle at around $22 for the 750 ml size.

The Botanist, a not quite dry gin distilled in Scotland by the Bruichladdich whisky distillery, clocks in at 92-proof. Surprisingly, it lacked the strong aroma found in so many gins. On the nose it comes forward sweeter than Broker’s. Its flavor is similar to, but milder than Broker’s, and finishes cleanly. The Botanist rings up at about $37 for a 750 ml bottle.

In both the self-poured and blind tests, the differences between these two were apparent. I had forgotten which had the nose-full of scent from my self-poured test and began the blind test with what turned out to be The Botanist, on the assumption that the less aromatic sample would be less flavorful. This was a false assumption. Both gins gave a good accounting of themselves on the tongue, but the nod goes to The Botanist for its more refined, and yes, even a wee bit sweeter finish. A gin aficionado could enjoy The Botanist neat. I don’t believe the same true of Broker’s.

Two Vespers, one each made with The Botanist and Broker's gin

At nearly double the price of Broker’s, though, The Botanist presents a choice. I prefer my Martinis made with Hendrick’s and a good dry vermouth. But Hendrick’s renowned mild cucumber infusion makes it wrong for a Vesper. That leaves these two from among the several I’ve sampled. And, at three parts gin per cocktail, a bottle disappears quicker than any other in my bar. The Botanist makes for a pricey Vesper.

On solo taste alone, The Botanist finishes a head above Broker’s. You’d be forgiven for assuming that the inclusion of vodka in the Vesper recipe masks Broker’s harsher edge and brings them even in that cocktail. Add a bit of Kina and the difference should vanish altogether. Not so. Broker’s harsh finish shines through in the poured cocktail, though not as evident as when taken neat. The Botanist is the better gin, both neat and in a strong liquor mix such as the Vesper.

But let me be clear: Broker’s is not an unpleasant gin, having survived many a taste test. You’ll enjoy its strong gin flavor in any cocktail that calls for London’s renowned spirit. You may even prefer its boldness in the Vesper. Simply, there is no wrong answer between these two.

I’ve found liquors whose price belied their quality. Rittenhouse rye whiskey comes to mind. With a price in the twenties it sits head AND shoulders above bottles twice the price. These two gins don’t present such a choice. The Botanist is an easy favorite, but Broker’s, even with its harsher finish, is not unpleasant and provides more enjoyable drink per penny. Either is a good choice mixed. Go with The Botanist neat, however.