London Dry Gin Round 2 – Bulldog (Champ) VS Bombay Sapphire (Challenger)

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Welcome to Round 2 of the Gin battle! Last time Bulldog won because of its complexity, but which one will prevail today? In the challenger’s corner we have Bombay Sapphire, another English distilled Gin with the global reach rivaling Beefeater. (Note: Bulldog’s description was copy+pasted from Round 1)

1) Bulldog London Dry Gin – 40% ABV – 750ml, (Lawrenceburg, IN, USA), ~$43 CAD @ Newport Village

  • Came into the market in 2007. (homepage)
  • 12 botanicals from 8 countries: Italian Juniper, German angelica, coriander seeds, Chinese licorice, Spanish almonds, Italian orris root, Seville lemons, CHINESE DRAGON EYE (longan), TURKISH WHITE POPPY SEEDS, ASIAN LOTUS LEAVES, ASIAN CASSIA, FRENCH LAVENDER. (differing ingredients in bold)
  • 90-95 points rated by Paul Pacult, Wine Enthusiast Magazine; Restaurant Magazine’s 2008 Spirit of the Year.

[VS]

2) Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin – 40% ABV – 750ml, (Laverstoke, Hampshire, England), $28 CAD @ BC Liquor Stores

  • Introduced in 1987. (wiki)
  • Flavour is obtained by the “hanging basket” method where alcohol vapours pass through a mesh basket containing the 10 ingredients below. Such method supposedly gives a cleaner, crisper, more balanced taste as opposed to boiling the ingredients with the mash (according to the back label on the bottle).
  • 10 botanicals from 7 countries: Italian juniper, German angelica root, Moroccan coriander seeds, Chinese liquorice, Spanish almonds, Italian orris root, Murcian lemon peel, Indo-China cassia bark, WEST AFRICAN GRAINS OF PARADISE, JAVA CUBEB BERRIES.

Criteria:

Nose: To my surprise, even though I chose Bulldog as a winner last round, this time it comes across as overly harsh and sharp on the senses. It makes my nasal cavity tingle too much for my liking. In contrast, Bombay is noticeably softer yet dampened, with floral notes of lavender leading the way. The winner is Bombay Sapphire.

Taste & Texture: Exotic fruit aromas of longan is nicely balanced with the lemon and florals in Bulldog. Furthermore, this elegance extends to the finish with soft, biting coriander and licorice. Bombay has a strange intial “grassy” quinine bitterness, transitioning into juniper and ending with massive amounts of peppery fire; This makes sense, attributable to the spicy qualities of grains of paradise and cubeb berries. In the end I prefer my gins to be first and foremost:  balanced; secondly: exciting; and finally, floral. Based on these three criteria, I choose Bulldog.

Final Notes:

  • Bulldog is more balanced, more SIPPABLE but is more expensive.
  • Bombay Sapphire has this initial grassy bitterness, and a MAJOR FIERY BACKEND.
  • Yes, I WOULD stock Bombay Sapphire in my bar based on its unique spicy character, it certainly has its place in gin-based cocktails.

WINNER = BULLDOG London Dry Gin (Round 1 & 2 champ)

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Used to be new but is now old News Flash: Bombay Sapphire East! It has two additional ingredients, Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns. I have a bottle that will be reviewed in the future.

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Coffee Liqueurs Round 1 – Kahlua VS. Tia Maria

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Greetings! Tonight we have one well-known coffee liqueur going up against one that you don’t normally see served in bars, clubs, etc.. ABVs are identical in addition to price, at least here at the BCL stores. Note also that the they also have common ingredients. (At the end of this tasting I ended up with a pulsing headache…strange?)

1) Kahlua –20% ABV – 750ml, Mexico, ~$27 CAD

  • Ingredients: sugar, kahlua concentrate (coffee extract, rum, caramel, vanillin); water

VS

2) Tia Maria – 20% ABV – 750ml, Scotland, ~$27 CAD

  • Ingredients: sugar; water, alcohol (Jamaican rum), coffee extract, coffee flavour, vanillin, citric acid, caramel

Criteria:

Nose: Taking a whiff of the Kahlua, I get sugary medium-roast coffee mixed with very detectable tingly medium-burn invasive alcohol.  I have to say that alcohol eventually overpowers the pleasant coffee aroma and becomes offensive after several more nosings. With Tia Maria I get much cleaner coffee, caramel, and slight nutty vanilla nose with only minor alcohol detection, about a 1/5th burning level of the Kahlua. No doubt the winner is Tia Maria.

Taste & Texture: The Kahlua in my mouth has a syrupy mouthfeel. It goes down with 9/10-sweetness, cascading waves of roastcoffee flavour, caramel mixed with nasal numbing from the alcohol, light-medium burn (which is a surprise since the nose was so aggressive in alcohol) and finishes sugary cloying. Tia Maria is noticeably thinner in viscosity. Going down Tia Maria starts off with more intense and bolder flavours of coffee, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, nuttiness, 7/10-sweetness, with the mid-palate and finish consisting of medium alcohol warmth and and long bittersweet roast coffee finish. In my mind it’s crystal clear: the winner by far is Tia Maria.

Final Notes:

  • Kahlua is more syrupy, aggressively sweeter, less smooth/more nasal burn, less depth and length of flavour, and a sugary cloying finish. I WILL NEVER BUY KAHLUA AGAIN
  • Tia Maria has a better nose, better flavours, and goes down smoother.

WINNER = TIA MARIA

Absolut Citron (SWE) VS. Skyy Infusions Citrus (USA) – Citrus Vodka Round 2

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Here we have Round 2 of the citrus vodka battle, with the Round 1 winner Absolut Vodka up against the challenger Skyy Infusions Citrus.

1) Absolut Citron – 40% ABV – 750ml, Sweden, ~$27 CAD

  • continuous distillation, winter wheat
  • Ingredients: vodka, natural citrus flavour (how?) (Note: lime is also added according to their website)

VS

2) Skyy Infusions Citrus – 35% ABV – 750ml, USA, ~$27 CAD

  • 4x column distilled, 3x filtered, reverse osmosis
  • vodka infused with sun-ripened ingredients

Criteria:

Nose: The newcomer Skyy has an amazing full-bodied bouquet of a nose, exhibiting the aromas of lemon zest, lemon oil, and a touch of the pulp when freshly squeezed. The nose of the Absolut is rather, well chemical in comparision; the alcohol is much more detectable and covers most of the lemon scent. Hands down the winner is Skyy Citrus.

Taste: With such a promising nose on the Skyy, the taste should be equally as luscious. It doesn’t disappoint. Its entry is soft and rounded, medium-sweet with the tingly-light tangy citrus warmth kicking in the mids until the finish. The alcohol is soft and never invasive.  Absolut drinks much sweeter and aggressive flavouring in all aspects – bolder but more artificial citrus, more vodka wheatiness, stronger alcohol burn and warmth, and rougher finish. In picking a winner based on enjoyability and balance, a new champion has been crowned in Skyy Infusions Citrus.

Final Notes:

  • Absolut has bolder artificial-tasting flavour, aggressive and alcohol. Not as good as Skyy.
  • Skyy has better smoothness, authenticity of citrus flavour, and drinkability. This will work better with cocktails that require balance and finesse.

Russian Standard (RUS) VS. 42 Below (NZ) – Wheat Vodka Round 1

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This will be a battle of wheat vodkas. Actually Russian Standard is a winter wheat vodka but close enough.

1) Russian Standard – 40% ABV – 750m, Russia, ~$27 CAD

  • their lowest tier vodka; the others being gold, platinum, imperia (in order of grade)
  • continuous column distillation, winter wheat

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2) 42 Below – 42% ABV – 750ml (*note: This is an old bottle. New ones are now 40% ABV, lowered due to tax reasons and to be more competitive), New Zealand, ~$35 CAD

  • distilled from wheat
  • now owned by Bacardi, but still operates out of NZ

Criteria:

Nose: First up, the Russian Standard. It has quite a pronounced roundness, composed alcohol, lime, and a kind of rubber/plastic, and minor tingliness in the nose. For the 42 Below the nose is amazingly clean and muted, without much alcohol detection nor tingliness. There is a faint lemony scent and tingliness if you get your nose right in there. Vodka supposedly being a “neutral” spirit, the winner goes to 42 Below for it’s neutrality.

Taste: The Russian Standard brings a soft supple 3/10-sweetness with a hint of citrus, slightly thicker than water viscosity (between a syrup and water), medium alcohol burn in the mids, followed by aniseed and pepperiness. Alcohol hits the nose with medium nasal burn. The 42 Below on the other hand, drinks with a bold 5/10-citrus sweetness, not as thick as Russian Standard viscosity but still thicker than water, more intense aniseed in the mids, a noticeably softer light-med burn, longer length, and a softer, gentler nasal burn. For me, the winner the has to be 42 Below for it’s more pronounced flavours with less alcohol burn.

Final Notes:

  • Russian Standard has a thicker viscosity, less aniseed, more burn, and a lower price. Good as a mixer/infusions.
  • 42 Below is smoother (less burn), with bolder flavours of citrus and aniseed. Better as a mixer to get people drunk.

As with any drink, taste is a matter of preference, how much $$ $ u wanna spend, and national pride. Personally I prefer 42 Below because it is smoother to me. Also it has won more than a dozen of awards in international competitions.

 

Absolut Citron (SWE) VS. Smirnoff Citrus (USA) – Citrus Vodka Round 1

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Today I’ll be versusing (yes it’s a real word) two closely priced flavored vodkas. Non-blind because I can’t pour with my eyes closed. I’m sure both don’t need any special introduction so here are the specs:

1) Absolut Citron – 40% ABV – 750ml, Sweden, ~$27 CAD

  • continuous distillation, winter wheat
  • Ingredients: vodka, natural citrus flavour (how?) (Note: lime is also added according to their website)

VS

2) Smirnoff Citrus – 35% ABV – 750ml, USA, ~$27 CAD

  • 3x distilled, 10x filtered
  • Ingredients: vodka, glycerin (sweetener/thickener) , natural flavor (say what?)

Criteria:

Nose: The Absolut exhibits a clean tingly lemon oil scent that kind of reminds me of Vim toilet cleaner, and just a hint of alcohol detection. The Smirnoff has a more lemon candyesque nose that is noticeably “bolder” and “wider”. Comparing both to the actual lemon in my hand, the winner is Absolut Citron.

Taste: With Absolut, I get a numb tongue, medium throat burn, slight nasal burn, medium warmth, flavour is half lemon peel/lime peel, medium smooth. And the Smirnoff I get a very watery start, creeping tingly alcohol mixed with jagged lemon oil mids, low-med burn (smoother), yuckier flavour, aspartame roughness in the mouth, and cleaner finish. Verdict: both suck aka not to my godly standards, but if I had to pick a winner it’d be Absolut Citron.

Final Notes:

  • Absolut has better flavour, fullness, and balance. Good in a cocktail.
  • Smirnoff has better smoothness, and shotability (yes a word). Good for happy time.

Chopin (POL) VS. Schramm (CAN) Potato Vodkas

Chopin (Siedlce, Poland) Potato VS. Schramm Vodka Organic Potato (Pemberton Valley, BC)

Winner: Chopin (smoother, better balanced and cleaner)

1) Chopin, 40% ABV

On the back of the bottle:

“Frederic Chopin transformed the subtleties of the Polish spirit into enchanting, emotional music. That same passion is found in Chopin Vodka. Handcrafted in Poland with methods passed down from the fifteenth century, made exclusively with potatoes grown in the Podlasie region of Poland and distilled four times. The result is an exceptionally well-rounded vodka with a smooth, clean finish. Chopin is the spirit of Poland.”

-fun facts from chopin.com:

  • produced only during mid-September to early December with naturally grown potatoes (no chemicals)
  • potatoes are harvested late in the season to maximize the starch content (22% vs 12% normally) = richer flavour
  • as many as 40 potatoes (7lb/3kg)go into making ONE BOTTLE OF VODKA
  • fermentation for 3 days, 4x distilled to almost 100% ABV, 5x filtered

My notes:

  • $50 @ BC Liquor stores (2010) – same price point as Belvedere and Grey goose
  • Flavours: vanilla, green apple, anise, pepper
  • My rating as a Vodka: A-

Tasting notes (room temp, 5min airtime, neat): pours clear as usual, thicker than water. Aromatic minerals on the nose, quite clean with almost no nasal burn. Tastes of salty vanilla, hints of green apple, transitions into a peppery anise and warm finish. Alcohol burn is controlled and dissipates with warmth. 6/10-level sweetness and am very satisfied with the texture – not as syrupy as the Belvedere nor as watery as the Sobieski. The oils in the Vodka make it supple and round. More complex than the Belvedere but not quite as alcohol-burn-smooth.

2) Schramm Organic Vodka, 40% ABV

On the side of the bottle:

“In the heart of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia lies the beautiful Pemberton Valley where Schramm Vodka is carefully hand distilled in small batches. Here, locally grown organic potatoes and pure mountain water combine to produce a genuine, ultra premium vodka.”

fun facts from the Schramm website:

  • 5 different varieties of organic potatoes are used, some of which are culls – potatoes that are too large or small to sell @ the grocery store
  • 7kg of potatotes go into making a single bottle of Schramm vodka
  • vodka is produced in small batches; it takes 17 hours to reach the final distillation (for the final distillation actually, X), that of which only the “heart” is kept
  • that’s Mt. Currie on the bottle

My notes:

  • $49 @ BC Liquor Stores
  • Flavours: caramel, agave, black cherries
  • My rating as a Vodka: B-

Tasting notes: pours clear, thicker than water. On the nose SURPRISINGLY is just like a Tequila Blanco (nosing a Cazadores Blanco right at this moment), unoaked blue agave, though not roasted or as sweet. I can’t say I particularly enjoy this nose in a Vodka, however. Tastes of light caramel, agave syrup, and subtle black cherries in the finish. 7/10-level sweetness and not quite as smooth going down as the Chopin. Can’t say I love the flavour profile as a sipper. It’ll probably work nicely as a mixer I bet.

Belvedere (Pol) VS. Sobieski (Pol) Rye Vodkas

Belvedere (Zyrardow, Poland) VS. Sobieski (Gdanski, Poland)

Winner: Belvedere (smoother, more complex, more refined)

1) Belvedere, 40% ABV

On the back of the bottle:

“Warsaw, Poland. Since the fifteenth century, the world’s finest vodka has been crafted by Poland’s expert distillers. Belvedere, meaning ‘beautiful to see’, is the name of Poland’s Presidential Palace, and is a fitting title for perhaps the world’s smoothest vodka, made from 100% Polish rye and distilled four times. Created in the same tradition for over 500 years.”

  • 100% Dankowskie gold rye
  • 4x distilled
  • $50 @ BC Liquor Stores
  • Flavours: vanilla, white pepper, almond
  • My Rating as a vodka: B+ (revised Apr/2012)

Tasting notes (room temp, neat): pours crystal clear, thicker than water viscosity. Nose is super clean of any nasal alcohol burn with a welcoming light sweet tangerine peel, vanilla, and cream (two of which as advertised). Soft and creamy texture, notes of vanilla, with a peppery backdrop, 3/10-level sweetness, 7/10-level gentle warmth and 8/10-level smooth. Also detected some of the almond (also advertised). Great sippability and excellent transitions.

2) Sobieski, 40% ABV

  • 100% Dankowskie gold rye
  • distilled once (continuous distillation)
  • $25.50 @ BC Liquor Stores
  • Flavours: aggressive black pepper
  • My Rating as a vodka: B-

Tasting notes (room temp, neat): also pours crystal clear, and thicker than water viscosity. Stronger nose, traces of minerals, medium nasal tingliness, awakening of the senses. Much more aggressive pepperiness which floods all areas of the mouth, lots of numbness on the tongue, more alcohol burn gets through but it is quickly mitigated by the warmth. Overall it’s a bit more watery less smooth and flavourful as Belvedere. The aggressive nature of the spiciness inundates the palate – not a bad thing, but definitely not as complex as Belvedere. 5/10-level sharper sweetness, 8/10 flooding warmth, 6/10-level cleanliness smoothness, not-so-smooth transitions.

Final notes: tasting was done non-blind but at least I can say I was pre-sober. After about 1/2 shot each I am still confident that if presented both blind, I can discern which is which. So with that, if you don’t mind spending the extra $$$ go for Belvedere in the more delicate vodka-martini cocktails. If you’re drinking screwdrivers or vodka-7s the Sobieski will do just fine.