On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos

By Michael W. Harris

The deeper I have delved into my hobbies of pens and gins, the more I was struck by their opposed temporal aspects. Part of this came out of my previous post about how pens do have a timeless quality to them. They are created, tools to be used, and maybe passed down to a new generation as treasured family heirlooms. They are markers of our existence. Proof of our lives and a piece that might live on to carry small part of us forward with it.

Gin, on the other hand, is the opposite of all that. It is a product that is, first and foremost, a consumable. Enjoyment of it only comes through using it up, leaving only the bottle, and a possible hangover, behind. Gin, unlike win or whisky, is also “cheap” in the pantheon of wine and spirits. There is little point in “saving” a bottle in the hopes that it becomes rare, like scotch or whisky, or improves with age, like some wines. And there is certainly no reason to acquire some gins to only save and pass on. Gin will always expire with the emptying of the bottle.

But the longer I thought about it, the more complex the reality of this notion became. Within each is part of the other. Life and death. Eros and Thanatos, as Freud might argue. In creating objects for our posterity, there is an inherent meditation on our death. And in the enjoyment of good spirits, there is a celebration of life.

Granted, drinking too much can kill you. And while the pen is mightier than the sword, I doubt it will actually kill you—unless you are James Bond, a ninja, or Marcus Brody fighting Nazis in a tank with Henry Jones, Sr.

Barring that highly unlikely scenario, or accidently drinking poisoned ink (DON’T DRINK THE INK!), pens will not kill you.

And yet… Continue reading “On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos”

Ginology 7: Cadenhead Old Raj Red Label

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 46%
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. Continue reading “Ginology 7: Cadenhead Old Raj Red Label”

Ginology 6: Dogfish Head Compelling Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 44%
Botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Black Peppercorn, Lemon Peel, Green Cardamom, Hibiscus, Orris Root, Orange Peel, Lime Peel, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Cinnamon
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The base is Dogfish Head’s Analog Vodka, which is made from “2-row barley.”

I should start this review off with an apology: most people will not be able to try out this gin and for that, I am sorry because it is truly an experience worth having. As of this writing, Dogfish Head’s Compelling Gin is only available for purchase in Delaware, Maryland, DC, and Virginia. I hope that they will eventually expand nationwide, much like their beer, but for right now, those are the breaks.

There are many interesting things going on to make this a “compelling” gin. First is that Dogfish Head uses their own vodka as the base spirit, which is then infused with their botanical mixture. This simple fact makes me wonder how much of the gin’s unique taste is from the botanicals and how much is in the vodka to begin with. Second is the use of citrus peels, Kaffir Lime leaves (which I had not encountered before), and black pepper. None of these are particularly out there, but this precise mixture seems quite different. In the end, though, while I am not sure that “compelling” is the right appellation for this gin, it certainly is interesting. Let’s dive in. Continue reading “Ginology 6: Dogfish Head Compelling Gin”

Ginology 5: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: “Schwarzwald” Dry Gin
ABV: 47%
Botanicals: “47 handpicked ingredients,” which include local cranberries, juniper, citrus, etc. See a complete list on their website in the “Encyclopedia Botanica” section.
Base: Molasses
Distilling Notes: Gin matures in earthenware containers.

Monkey 47’s Schwarzwald Dry Gin is not available in my local Virginia ABC stores, however, after a friend recommended the spirit to me, I happened upon it at a DC liquor store while hunting for a bottle of Cadenhead Old Raj (more on that in a later post). I only picked up a 375ml bottle, though, as it is a rather expensive gin (around $40 for just that small bottle). Unfortunately, for this post at least, I had already drank around half of the bottle prior to beginning this review series.

This is to say that this review will be slightly truncated for now as I ran out of gin before finishing the full three tasting cycle. However, I feel like I got enough of a taste of Monkey 47 (so-called for its 47 botanical mixture), to make a general recommendation.

Before we get to that, though, I want to mention that Monkey 47 has an interesting “history” on its webpage that is worth reading. As with most of these, who knows how much is myth and how much is real, but it is always fun to check out.

Enough preamble, on to the review! Continue reading “Ginology 5: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin”

Ginology 4: Hendrick’s Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: “Scottish” Gin (Dry Gin)
ABV: 44%
Botanicals: Juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, cabeb berries, caraway seeds, elderflower, yarrow, chamomile
Distilling Notes: Blended from the distillation of two separate stills, one in which botanicals are steeped in the spirit for 24 hours before still is turned on. In the other still, botanicals are added at the top as spirit evaporates. Once these are blended together, essence of rose petal and cucumber are added.

As I write this I am on a train from Williamsburg to New York for Music and the Moving Image 2018 and it is perhaps fitting that I passed through Washington, DC, on my way there as the person who first introduced me to Hendrick’s now lives in the nation’s capital. Hendrick’s was, in many ways, the final stage of my beginning gin experience, which is why it is the last selection in my opening triumvirate of gin reviews. We have gone from a platonic gin, Beefeater, through a classic, Tanqueray No. 10 (which was not my go to Tanqueray back in the day, but it is now when I want a bottle of it), until finally landing on Hendrick’s. While Hendrick’s is known for being an odd duck gin due to its double distilling process and the addition of rose and cucumber, it is still a gin first and foremost…and a damn fine one at that, in my humble opinion.

I have a feeling this might be a short post since Hendrick’s is one of those divisive gins. People either like it or they don’t. But if you have never tried it, maybe my review can convince you to at least give it a taste. Continue reading “Ginology 4: Hendrick’s Gin”

Ginology 3: DoG Street Pub Selection and Cocktails Reviews

By Michael W. Harris

Note: For those readers who are not residents of Williamsburg, VA (not to be confused with the neighborhood in Brooklyn), DoG Street is the nickname for “Duke of Gloucester Street”—the main street that Colonial Williamsburg is situated on which runs between the edge of the William & Mary campus and the Virginia Colonial Capital Building. Therefore, when someone here says “DoG Street,” this is what they are talking about. It is not to be confused, though, with “Dogtown,” a nickname for Gloucester, MA, about which Harry Chapin sang. But this “note” has really strayed far afield…on with the review!

Exterior of DoG Street on Merhchant’s Square, Williamsburg, VA

I went to DoG Street Pub on a recent Wednesday after work to have drinks with a co-worker and in the process introduce him to the world of gin and tonics. As a sub-mission, I was also trying to find a new decent bar that might start to fill the No Name shaped hole in my heart that leaving Boulder has left. DoG Street is a bit too much restaurant to be a nice bar to hang out at with friends, but I am happy to report that they have a good selection of gin! All the standards, a few locals, plus some that I wasn’t familiar with at all. Unfortunately, for this report, I had to drive home afterwards and was unable to sample “ALL THE GINS!”

But enough preamble, on with the review, which will consist of three parts: an overview of the gin selection followed by two brief cocktail reviews. Continue reading “Ginology 3: DoG Street Pub Selection and Cocktails Reviews”

Ginology 2: Tanqueray No. 10

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: London Dry
ABV: 47.3%
Base: 100% grain neutral spirit
Botanicals: juniper, juniper, coriander, angelica, licorice, white grapefruit, lime, orange, chamomile flowers
Unique Processes: Uses the smaller “No. 10” still that was used for experiments, and is thus made in smaller batches. Also, it uses the whole citrus fruits rather than dried peels.

Choosing Tanqueray No. 10 for one of my initial reviews might have been a bit of an odd choice since it is the more “exclusive” or “step-up” of Tanqueray’s gins. Most people consider the basic, traditional Tanqueray to be among the world’s perfect gins, especially with how it seems to keep its botanicals to just the basics, whereas No. 10 throws in entire citrus fruits.

But while standard Tanqueray was my go to gin once I discovered the wonder that is the g’nt, I have since ventured outside its safe and comfortable flavor profile—though I am enjoying just such a throwback Tanqueray and Tonic as I write this. Though if I am honest, my favorite bottle of Tanqueray was probably their limited edition Bloomsbury variant. Sadly, it was exactly that, a limited edition that is no longer produced. But on to the gin at hand… Continue reading “Ginology 2: Tanqueray No. 10”

Ginology 1: Beefeater

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: London Dry
ABV: 47% (though outside the US the ABV is 40%)
Base: 100% grain neutral spirit
Botanicals: juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, seville oranges, lemon peel
Unique Processes: The botanicals are steeped for a full 24 hours prior to distillation to allow for the extraction of more natural oils.

I had never bought a bottle of Beefeater Gin prior to beginning my gin reviews, though it is probably among the gins that I have drank the most. The reason for this is that my go-to bar back in Boulder, CO—the No Name Bar—had Beefeater as their well gin. Their WELL gin. While Beefeater is certainly not in the same class as most higher end gins, it is certainly better than your run of the mill well spirits—i.e. Gordon’s or Seagram’s. It is simply one more reason why I miss that bar dearly…

Anyway, so it was that when I began tasting Beefeater’s standard gin (they have three other gins that I do not have ready access to), I almost immediately recognized it. Like an old friend I had not seen in a very long time. Continue reading “Ginology 1: Beefeater”

Ginology: A Beginning

By Michael W. Harris

In my ever-expanding quest to become more “sophisticated”—or maybe to give me an easier blogging topic that lends itself to shorter posts—I decided to start getting systematic about how I taste and appreciate gin. There are many ginand really any kind of alcohol you can think ofreviewers out there, and their palates are way more refined than mine, but you have to start somewhere, right? Continue reading “Ginology: A Beginning”

Where Do We Go From Here?

By Michael W. Harris

So I have been on a bit of a streak with the whole blogging thing. Starting in early January, I have been successfully posting once a week thanks to a back log of ideas in addition to writing two posts a week for two months—essentially writing and editing multiple posts simultaneously, though usually only posting one. Some of that was thanks to the emotional wall I had built and deciding to spend all my free time on the weekend writing, but it was also thanks to really having no other projects in front of me since I was out of library school. Continue reading “Where Do We Go From Here?”