By Michael W. Harris
Type: Dry Gin
Botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Seville orange peel, liquorice, Angelica root, orris, cinnamon, cassia quills, nutmeg, saffron
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The saffron is added post-distillation and is what gives Old Raj its distinctive yellow color in the bottle.
Prior to moving to Virginia, Cadenhead’s Old Raj Blue Label was the most expensive bottle of gin I had ever purchased at a hair under $50. In “The Commonwealth,” though, many of the bottles I have purchased have been in the $40-50 range, and if I were able to get Blue Label here, it would likely set me back around $70.
Alas, I am not able to get it, and the gin at hand, Old Raj Red Label (the different is that Blue is bottled at 55% ABV vs. Red’s 46%), had to be purchased in the District of Columbia and transported back to Williamsburg. The Red Label still costs me around $45 plus the tank of gas getting up to DC and back…not to mention the shortened life span I now have having to have driven through DC traffic.
The price premium, though, is well worth it. Old Raj is a wonderful gin to drink in any form. Straight. Rocks. And probably any cocktail you think to mix it in. The taste is not as out there as Dog Fish Head or Monkey 47, and it isn’t as heavy on the citrus as Tanqueray No. 10. However, it is more “interesting” than Beefeater without calling attention to itself.
The distinguishing feature of Old Raj is, of course, its yellow color which comes from the addition of saffron post-distillation, which is also part of what also gives the gin its higher price. In addition to this, it gives the gin its slightly different flavor profile and helps set it apart from the more staid gins without veering into the more out there craft gins that are spurring forward our current gin-revolution.
I’ve been seeing the trailing for the new Mission: Impossible film enough to make me want to revisit the rest of the franchise, some of which I have only ever saw in the theatre, others only years later on streaming. It always struck me as a solid franchise, and thankfully one that did not burden itself too much with building out a world or somehow explaining the massive geopolitical shifts that have occurred in the over 20 year history of the film series.
So, I sat down with a straight Old Raj and girded myself for the most derided entry in the franchise: John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II (7/8). And while the film was thoroughly mediocre and confusing, the gin was fantastic.
The nose on the Red Label give the gin an unassuming first impression with its nose, but the taste is anything but. The nose has the usual suspects: juniper, orange, and liquorice. However, when the gin hits your tongue the taste journey begins. It is smooth with both sweet and tangy notes. It cycles through the flavors the longer you hold it in your mouth without lingering on a single note. And you can hold it in your mouth because there is not a lot of burn with the lower ABV (though I am not sure if this would hold for the 55% Blue Label).
There is a very slight alcohol taste on the finish that does become a bit more intense on the very tail end. And whereas on the tongue you could almost forget that you were drinking alcohol, the finish reminds of the fact. This again makes me wonder what the difference would be with the Blue Label, but, in the end, this is a great gin for drinking straight.
Gin and Tonic
Next up was Mission: Impossible III (7/12), the last of the numbered films before they just went to straight subtitles, paired with an Old Raj and tonic. This cocktail was different than your typical G’nT, but smoother and more recognizable than the Dog Fish Head and tonic. The difference, though, comes squarely down to the saffron, and I could just drink it all day long. It is that tasty.
The finish is smooth with almost no bite, and the fruit and citrus flavors combine with the tonic and saffron notes to create a very pleasant drinking experience (so much so that I poured myself this combination again a few days later). If Tom Cruise were running towards a bar serving Old Raj, I could almost understand how he could have kept running for the entire third act of M:I III.
Seriously, I think he spends almost half of the combined runtime of all the M:I films running. Must be in his contract.
The run of good pink gins continued…or maybe I am just acquiring a taste for them. Either way, paired with Ghost Protocol’s Burj Khalifa sequence made for some good times (7/13). The bitters help bring out the spicy notes of the Old Raj, making for a not unpleasant or unwelcome edge to its taste. The burn lingers a bit on the finish, but again, it was quite welcoming and warming. In other words, I quite enjoyed it.
This does make me wonder, though, if I would find myself enjoying the Beefeater pink gin more now if I were to revisit it. Might be good fodder for an upcoming post? Regardless, it was a nice drink to sip on while Tom Cruise scaled the world’s tallest building and then tried to outrun a sandstorm (again with the running!).
My rating should not come as a surprise at this point. Old Raj Red Label is a tasty gin that is well worth the price of admission. The saffron makes it just different and unique enough to create a singular drinking experience. Plus it is a gin that seemingly pairs well with a multitude of cocktails. It is, without a doubt, a Top Shelf pick.