Review – Caorunn Gin
Given that the Scots are so darned good at producing fine spirits in the form of whisky, it is unsurprising that several of them have in recent years turned their hand to producing another spirit that requires an understanding of balancing flavours, gin. Of course it is also a spirit that is much quicker to offer financial returns, foregoing that pesky barrel-ageing that slows things down on the whisky side. Produced at the Balmenach distillery, Caorunn is unique in that it uses five ‘Celtic’ botanicals (rowan berries, heather, dandelion, bog myrtle, and caol blush apples) alongside the more more traditional juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, and cassia bark. A vapour infusion process is used in the distillation which uses wheat-based neutral grain spirit at the base.
Nose: At first this gin appears to be rather light, with a mild juniper character. Fresh lemon zest nips in at the top end and some undefinable earthy notes are subtle, but present as an underlying aroma. There is a definite hint of salty sea air which works well with the moderately savoury and herbal character that develop after some time in the glass. The aromas build in the glass but it all the while retains a crisp and fresh character that is very appealing.
Neat: The crisp and fresh character that defines the nose continues on the palate, which also sees the herbal elements take a more prominent position. Despite not being part of the botanical mix, hints of rosemary and thyme creep in. Perhaps this is the effect of combining the five unique botanicals which certainly seem to have contributed an impact greater than the sum of their parts. A healthy dose of citrus keeps things fresh-tasting but without becoming out of line with the other elements such as the waxy but soft juniper and mild spicing. Although initially a little on the sweet side, this gin dries in the mouth to leave a clean finish with smudge of herbaceous spice.
Mixing: As with most gins competing for attention in an increasingly crowded market, Caorunn makes much fuss about its unique botanical mix. Although tricky to pick out the individual characteristics of these botanicals, this is certainly a unique gin with an interesting profile that lends itself to mixing. In drinks where the gin is the predominant flavour contributor such as a Dry Martini or G+T (in which it is suggested that apple slices are used as a garnish), things remain very clean and crisp-tasting with a delicate juniper contribution. Personally I enjoy these drinks with a bit more punch, but the quality nonetheless shines through. This gins character does mean that longer, refreshing numbers such as the Highland Picnic and signature Caorunn Apple Smash (recipe below) are a real treat for the palate. Although the herbal element might suggest otherwise, drinks such the Last Word in which the gin is required to work with several boldly-flavoured ingredients are a little lacklustre on the tongue, although quite the opposite is true in a Negroni which is delightfully zingy. The difference between these two drinks is that whereas the Negroni benefits from a gin which counters the potentially cloying and heavy nature of the vermouth and Campari, the Last Word is so perfectly balanced, that a gin with a bold flavour is required to keep things level. And so we discover this gins real strength lies in offering up its crisp and fresh character to those drinks where the remainder of the ingredients would tend to push things too far towards the other end of the taste spectrum. The combination of Drambuie, peated whisky and Caorunn in the Heather Martini is an excellent example of such a drink and comes thoroughly recommended.
Signature Cocktail – Caorunn Apple Smash
50ml Caorunn Gin, 200ml Tonic Water, 1/4 Red Apple, 1/4 Green Apple, 2 Cloves
Muddle apple in base of cocktail shaker, add rest ingredients except tonic water and shake with ice. Strain over ice and top with tonic water.
Caorunn Gin is a fantastically crisp and fresh gin where the unique botanical mix create a product that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Best suited to cocktails which need the gin to offer balance to otherwise heavier-tasting ingredients, it proves to be versatile and approachable. Rating: ★★★★
Caorunn Gin is available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.