∴ A Four-way Gin-off

Four gins lined up on the bar

Our tasting includes:

Organic Watershed Gin, Catoctin Creek Distillery, Purcellville, Virginia. 92-proof, $34.29/750ml (Virginia ABC). A clean, well-defined juniper-forward gin with a floral scent. Though additional herbal flavors are present in this spirit, they’re subdued and enhance the product’s allure without overpowering my palate. Its above-average proof conveys Watershed’s flavor all the better.

This is a versatile, tasty product that enhances any cocktail. Try it alongside The Botanist or Bombay Sapphire gins to see how it shines.

Watershed has become my go-to for gin Martinis and Vespers, the latter of which being my benchmark for tasting new gins and vodkas. Watershed also serves as a baseline for the other three gins here.

MurLarkey ImaGINation Gin, MurLarkey Distilled Spirits LLC, Bristow, Virginia. 80-proof, $29.99/750ml (distillery MSRP). A juniper-forward gin at first blush, but its flavor fades when hand-warmed. That’s a little trick I use when I can’t decide between two alcohol products, in this case Watershed and ImaGINation. Though they express very similar flavors on my palate at room temperature, hand-warming, which should bring out more nuance in the product, in fact diminishes this gin’s flavor. A faint, funky aroma lurks in the background, evident after a mouthful and another sniff or two have enveloped my taste/smell receptors in evaporating alcohol. Overall I’d call this the mildest of the four, and one of the mildest juniper-forward gins I’ve tried.

That’s not a knock. Some palates don’t enjoy a bold-flavored gin – if not yours, this is worth a try in your next gin Martini. Also mixes well into a Vesper, but is easily overwhelmed by potato vodkas. If mildness is on your mind, try this and Tito’s Vodka with a lemon garnish in your next Vesper. I think you’ll be pleased.

Also noted by the distiller, this gin is gluten-free. I have no idea whether gluten is a component of other gins, as it comes from rye, wheat and barley. Those are more typically precursor grains for whiskey, vodka and beer. If you’re gluten intolerant, but can enjoy liquor drinks without compromising your GI health, you sacrifice nothing by employing this gin.

Battle Standard 142 Standard Strength Gin, KO Distilling, Manassas, Virginia. 90-proof, $29.99/750ml (distillery MSRP). Intensely herbal, in fact, all of the other herbs appear at similar concentration to the juniper. Accordingly I can’t call this a juniper-forward gin; it’s an herb-forward gin with nothing held back. The above-average proof doesn’t add burn so much as amplify the intensity of the herbal flavor. I had trouble divining whether there’s mint or menthol at the bottom of the flavor profile. I’m still undecided – the confusion of herbs on my palate makes it impossible for me to know and, really, to care. There’s just too much here.

Battle Standard made for a surprisingly awful, cloyingly sweet Vesper in the right proportion with a good potato vodka and Cocchi Americano. Undrinkable. I didn’t go back for a second try with a grain vodka. My take is the herbs picked up Cocchi’s inherent mild sweetness and amplified it, making the drink the exact opposite of what it should be: dry and slightly bitter.

A gin Martini served up with olives

A gin Martini stirred with a proper dry vermouth, though, made for a sturdy, even bracing cocktail. This drink will WAKE. YOU. UP. A little bold for my palate, but interesting none-the-less.

Success with the Martini redeemed my utter failure with this gin in a Vesper. If you’re fond of over-hopped beers, big, bold wines, or hot-hot food this gin may be right up your alley.

Battle Standard 142 Navy Strength Gin, KO Distilling, Manassas, Virginia. 114-proof, $34.99 (distillery MSRP). “Navy strength” is to gin what “imperial” is to beer: a code word for higher alcohol. Similar to their 90-proof expression, but with a higher alcohol content that more readily carries the intense herbal flavor to my palate, this is an intense spirit. Cut this gin with spring water (as they do the 90-proof expression at the distillery) and the flavors come out the same. Navy strength gins are often used in cocktail recipes where competing flavors from fruit or savory ingredients might overwhelm a lower-proof expression.

UnderTheLabel lists the ingredients for this gin, and presumably KO’s Standard Strength expression, as juniper, angelica root, orange peel, coriander seed, orris root, cinnamon, and cardamom. Though I sampled this and Standard Strength repeatedly I was unable to divine which of these ingredients left a menthol aftertaste. My foodee wife tells me it was the cardamom.

The take-away: of these four, Watershed remains my gold standard. Of the newcomers I’d say MurLarkey more closely matches my palate, while KO’s products simply overwhelm it. If you’re making something quite pungent that calls for gin, Battle Standard might make for an interesting experiment. And as mentioned, if gin’s not your usual thing you might find enjoyment with MurLarkey in your glass.