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Caorunn Gin

Review: Caorunn Gin (41.8 % ABV) 84/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on April 16, 2013

Caorunn Gin is a product of Inver House Distillers who happen to own five Scottish distilleries, Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn, and Balmenach. Although primarily known for their Scotch Whisky (Single Malt, Blended Malt, and Blended), Inver House also produces an assortment of other spirits including vodka, liqueurs, premixes and of course, gin. Their gin is rather unusual in that it not only uses six botanicals which are seen as traditional in the gin trade, but it also contains five non traditional Celtic botanicals which are found growing in the hills which surround the Balmenach Distillery where the gin produced by Gin Master, Simon Buley, is crafted. According to the Caorunn Gin website, the six traditional botanicals are, juniper berries, coriander seed, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root, and cassia bark. The non traditional Celtic ingredients are rowan berries, heather, bog myrtle, dandelion, and coul blush apple.

The gin is hand-made in small batches (about 1,000 litres per batch), using a quadruple distilled grain spirit as its base, with the flavours from the hand-picked botanicals infused into the spirit when the distilled vapour of the final distillation passes through the trays of the Balmenach Distillery’s vintage 1920’s Copper Berry Chamber which contains the botanicals.

I was provided a sample bottle of Caorunn Gin by The Bacchus Group, who are responsible for its importation here in Alberta.

CaorunnIn the Bottle 5/5

The nice pot shaped decanter for the Caorunn Gin is shown to the left. The bottle has a nice masculine style which I like. Although the picture doesn’t show it well, the bottom part of the bottle is five sided, an obvious reference to the five Celtic botanicals which are part of the gin’s construction. (The red star-like symbol with five spokes which has also been worked into the over-all design concept of the bottle and label is perhaps a little more of an obvious symbolic representation of those five Celtic Botanicals.) Topping the presentation, is a nice corked closure, and I must say I am pleased by the attention to detail. The bottle looks quite nice on my gin shelf.

(Note: Caorunn Gin is bottled a 41.8 per cent alcohol by volume)

In the Glass 8.5/10

When I poured the Caorunn Gin into my glass I was hoping for an obvious indication in the breezes above the glass of the ‘Celtic’ botanicals. However, my initial impression was that this spirit seems to look and smell very much like a traditional London Dry Gin. The scent of juniper is foremost (as it should be) and citrus accents of lemon and orange peel fall nicely in behind.

However, after the glass sits for a minute or two I begin to notice a sort of herbal spiciness in the air. It seems sharper than it should, and I believe I am receiving the first indication of some of those Celtic botanicals within the gin. I am not positive; but my thought is that I smell some fresh-cut dandelions within that spiciness. There are perhaps a few other earthy notes underneath, but nothing that I can identify with any certainty. I guess my impression to this point is that the Caorunn Gin seems like a typical London Dry Gin with perhaps a wisp of spicy dandelion added. It will be interesting to see how this aroma translates into flavour.

In the Mouth  50/60

When I taste the gin, that wisp of dandelion I noted on the nose seems to run right through the flavour profile. Of course, I taste juniper, and citrus flavours leading out front; but there is a light ‘squeal’ of bitter spiciness that definitely reminds me of dandelion. (Yes, in case you are wondering, I have tasted dandelions, both the leaves which are sometimes served in salads, and the stems which I have foolishly bitten into just to see what they tasted like. The bitter spicy squeal I describe relates more to the flavour of the milk in the stem than the leaves, although there is some of both here.) For me, at this point in the review, the overall flavour of the gin is a little uncomfortable for sipping. That light ‘dandelion’ flavour seems to persist upon the palate becoming more noticeable with each sip.

However; as I have indicated in previous reviews, it is the character of the gin within the cocktail which matters more than the flavour when sipped neat. It is time to make some bar drinks.

In this regard, the Caorunn Gin is very satisfying. Traditional cocktails like the Gin and Tonic (see recipe below), and the Lime Gimlet seem to reveal just a hint of that extra ‘celtic’ flavour; and in my opinion that wisp of extra flavour is not unwelcome. I found that mixing with lemon juice rather than lime complimented that light squeal of flavour even more, and I constructed a few recipes following that impulse (see below).

Note: Although I have related the light bitter squeal of flavour that I taste to dandelion, it very well could be that the flavour is also (or even more) related to the Rowan Berry. Rowan berries are (I believe) the same species as Mountain Ash. I have a Mountain Ash tree in my back yard, and the fruit is definitely lightly bitter with a similar spicy squeal to its flavour. (And yes, in case you are wondering, I have popped Mountain Ash berries into my mouth and tasted them more than once.)

In the Throat 12/15

The finish is all about that light bitter squeal of flavour that I have been trying to describe. To be sure, I taste fading flavours of juniper, and a light fruity citrus element as well. But each sip seems to leave more of that light bitterness and tangy squeal from the dandelion (or perhaps the Rowan berry) behind.

While I am not enthused about this flavour when the gin is served neat, I do believe that it adds a nice compliment to the cocktail experience.

The Afterburnburn 8.5/10

I enjoyed my sample of Caorunn Gin. The Celtic botanicals which have been used in its production are not necessarily front and center; but I did find indications of their presence in the flavour profile. The dandelion (for me) was most obvious, and as I indicated, perhaps I sensed and tasted the influence of the Rowan Berry as well. If I stretch my imagination I believe I also notice a bit of apple in the flavour, as well as heather, but those impressions were so indistinct that I did not mention them in the tasting notes. As for the Bog Myrtle, I must confess I have no idea what it tastes like, so I will leave that to someone else to decipher.

I think it was a good idea for the Gin’s creator to allow the more traditional botanicals like juniper and citrus to dominate the gin. (The juniper in particular and to a lesser degree the citrus peel were the obvious flavour contributors.) This led to the gin working very well within traditional cocktails. However, it was also nice that there was just enough ‘Celtic character’ to make this spirit unique.

This is a nice gin that I would recommend to anyone who wants to try something just a bit off the regular path; but something which will still bring him (or her) to a familiar destination.

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

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Suggested Recipe

Although Caorunn Gin features non traditional botanicals in its construction, a traditional Gin And Tonic mixed with the Celtic gin is very satisfying. Instead of adding just a squeeze of Lime to the cocktail, some lemon is added as well to compliment the Caorunn Gin.

Caorunn and TonicCaorunn and Tonic

1 3/4 oz Dry Gin
1/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3/8 oz Sugar Syrup (or to taste)
Ice
2 oz Q-Tonic
Cucumber Chunks

Add the first three ingredients into a rocks glass
Stir and add ice
Fill with Q-Tonic
Garnish with cucumber

Enjoy Responsibly!

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SAM_0692 Dandelion MartiniHere is a recipe I found on the Caorunn Gin Website which seems to follow my own thoughts regarding how well lemon juice works with this particular gin.

The Dandelion Martini

1 1/2 oz  Caorunn Gin
1/2 oz  Triple Sec
3/5 oz  Lemon juice
1/2 oz  Limoncello
Ice
Fresh lemon peel zest

Add the first four Ingredients into a cocktail Shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a lemon zest
Of course, Enjoy!

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Here is a recipe I came up with when I played with the idea of using lemon juice instead of lime in a Classic Darby Cocktail. I lengthened the cocktail with soda and ice and it worked out splendidly. In case you are wondering about the name, it is merely a reflection of my local neighbourhood. A nearby subdivision is called, The Grange, and I thought that would be a good name for a cocktail.

The Grange CocktailThe Grange Cocktail

2 oz  Caorunn Gin
1 oz  Lemon juice
1/2 oz  Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz Sugar Syrup
Ice
Soda

Add the first four Ingredients into a cocktail Shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a Glass with Ice
Add a splash of Soda
Garnish with a lemon slice
Of course, Enjoy!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!

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My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

 
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