One of the interesting byproducts of the current explosion in the cocktail culture is the impact that explosion has had on the creation of new spirits brands.
Prior to the current boom, new brands were likely to be made in a column (or Coffey) still. The invention of the Coffey in 1831 allowed spirits to be mass-produced, but it also enabled them to be manufactured free of contaminants and alcohol esters (impurities). One of the innovations of the modern craft spirits movement is the return to more traditional methods of distillation.
Caorunn (pronounced “ka-roon”) Small Batch Scottish Gin is unusual in a number of respects. To begin with, it’s made at Balmenach Distillery in the Highlands, home of the great Scottish single malts, the brainchild of a visionary named Simon Buley. The flavor profile is an intriguing blend of the old and the new. Along with six of the expected botanicals (juniper, coriander, angelica root, cassia bark, lemon and orange peel), Buley utilizes five Celtic botanicals that represent the soul of the Highlands landscape: heather, dandelion leaf, bog myrtle, coul blush apple and rowan berry.
The production process used to make Caorunn is as interesting as the gin itself. It is first triple-distilled to yield a neutral grain spirit. The spirit is then vaporized in Balmenach’s unique Copper Berry Chamber, a device dating to the 1920’s, prevalent in an era when the production of gin was more leisurely and time-consuming than it is today. Buley loads the five Celtic botanicals into the four trays of the Berry Chamber along with six traditional botanicals, and allows several days for their aromas and flavors to infuse into the vaporized spirit. A mere 1,000 liters are made in each batch, and the gin is bottled at 83.6 proof (41.8% alcohol).
Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin ($38) has a fragrant, appealing nose with scents of ripe citrus, apple and wild berry, underlined by a pleasant herbal note. The spirit enters the mouth gracefully, with a mélange of gentle and integrated flavors in the mid palate---citrus peel, pepper and exotic spices. The texture is remarkably soft and plump, and the finish unfolds in stages, leaving a resonant hint of lemon zest on the palate. If you haven’t had a classic gin martini in a while, consider revisiting that cocktail with Caorunn. Make sure it’s ice cold, straight up, and garnished with a slice of red apple.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, which will be published in November by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.