Sahara Dry Gin
Review: Sahara Dry Gin 87.5/100
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Republished and edited, July, 2014
Highwood Distillers is a Canadian distillery situated in the town of High River, Alberta, which lies just about 40 minutes due south of Calgary, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The distillery was originally established as the Sunnyvale Distillery in 1974, however it was renamed ‘Highwood Distillers’ in 1984 linking the Distillery geographically to the nearby Highwood River and the scenic foothills in which the Town of High River is situated.Several years ago I visited the distillery and watched first hand as they turned the local wheat into whisky, vodka. and gin.
Sahara Dry Gin is produced in the London Dry style. It is produced from Canadian wheat and naturally sourced Rocky Mountain water. Juniper, Citrus of Lemon, and other botanicals are all added during the final distillation. The gin is as described, very dry; so dry in fact, that the folks at Highwood Distillers named it Sahara.
In the Bottle 4/5
Sahara Dry Gin arrives in two styles of bottles. To the left is a bottle-shot of the plastic 750 ml bottle. The more recent sample bottle I received from Highwood Distillers however was the newer stubby glass bottle which (shown to the right). I have a strong preference for the stubby bottle which I feel has more character than the tall plastic (PET) bottle. Both bottles work well in a bar setting as each is designed to fit easily on a bartenders shelf, and thus is to store, easy to hold, and easy to pour. Each also represents a style of bottle which is very economical to manufacture ensuring excess costs of bottling do not creep into the cost of the gin.
I find the labeling (and the name of the gin) quite amusing. Here is a gin made in Alberta at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, yet it has a picture of a camel on the label and calls itself Sahara Dry. I get it, the gin is dry; but surely a name referencing the unique location in the world where it is produced would have been better.
In the Glass 8.5/10
I poured a little gin into my glass and examined it prior to the review. When I gave my glass a tilt and a slow twirl, I noticed a light sheen left on the inside which slowly vanishes dropping only a few skinny legs back into the gin. The nose has a laid back quality of juniper and lighter accents of lemon and grapefruit. There is a bit of an alpine scent mingled with the juniper and perhaps some scents of willow thicket, meadow grass, and spring flowers. Everything is all rather mellow; but it is also rather enjoyable.
In the Mouth 53/60
The gin has a dry mouth-feel with little in the way of oil or butter to coat the palate. It tastes very much like the nose implied with a laid back juniper flavour leading out, accented by citrus, and chased by impressions of a grassy floral meadow. The flavour is perhaps a bit more laid back than I would have expected, although the true test of this gin will be in the cocktails.
I decided to begin with a Lime Fizz, expecting the gin to be devoured by the strong flavour of lime. I was rather surprised, when instead, it was the gin that softened the lime and brought its laid back quality to the bar drink. This encouraged me to omit the soda in the next cocktail as I constructed a Lime Gimlet (using lime juice and sugar instead of Roses Lime Cordial). This time the cocktail’s flavour was nice and tart, but the finish was mouth-numbingly dry. Believe it or not, that is a compliment as the extra dry finish was fabulous! The final test for the Sahara Gin (which occurred on the next day) was a Gin and Tonic. The Sahara Dry makes a lightly bitter and softly dry Gin and Tonic. It was different, but again in a very nice way. Of the three cocktails I think I preferred the gimlet, but all three would easily find their way into my glass again.
I think, and I am only guessing here, that the wheat base for the gin is what makes this work. Although the Sahara Gin is very dry, it has a softness and a mellow quality which I have noticed before in spirits distilled from wheat. It is that softness combined with the dryness that is making me like the gin so much.
In the Throat 13.5/15
If you like your bar drinks with a dry, lightly bitter finish, then the Sahara Dry Gin will softly rock your cocktail world.
The Afterburn 8.5/10
The Sahara Gin is impressive. That soft, dry finish is very appealing. I usually prefer my gin to be just a little more assertive in the glass, but having said that, I admit I really enjoyed all of the cocktails I constructed with the Sahara.
I guess that the only real criticism I have is in the name. I wish Highwood Distillers had more confidence in themselves, and would begin to trumpet their products and their heritage loudly on their bottle labels. Instead, they often seem to hide behind strange things like a camel on the label or a name for a spirit that really has nothing to do with their distillery or their place in Alberta. If it was me, I would seek out a local landmark and reference it and the distillery in the name of this gin. Maybe something like, Highwood’s Extra Dry Buffalo Jump Gin would work; a graphic artist could make a fantastic label out of that, and a Buffalo would certainly represent the Canadian prairies much better than a camel does.
(Of course the folks at Highwood are probably rolling their eyes at that suggestion wondering why they ever gave me this bottle of gin in the first place.)
2 oz Sahara Dry Gin
2 tsp Fresh Lime Juice
1 tsp sugar syrup
dash Orange Curacao
dash Grapefruit Bitters
scrape Grapefruit Zest
coil of lime peel
Pare 1/2 a lime and place the paring inside a cocktail glass
Place the other ingredients into a cocktail shaker
Shake until the outside of the shaker frosts
Fine Strain into the cocktail glass over the paring of lime peel
Add a small lump of ice
The following recipe came about when I was making a mojito. Two fortunate mistakes, (first I grabbed the Sahara Gin instead of my white rum, and second, I was out of soda so I used ginger ale). All of this led to a most excellent bar drink I call, the Jumping Buffalo Cooler.
The Jumping Buffalo Cooler
2 oz Sahara Dry Gin
1 oz Lime Juice
Fresh Mint Leaves
In a tall glass add the Gin and the Lime Juice
Quarter the lime slice and add it to the glass
Bruise the mint leaves to release some oil and add them to the glass
Add Ice and complete with ginger-ale
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!
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)