By Michael W. Harris
Type: Dry Gin
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.
Citrus, that is what I smelled on the nose as I took a whiff of Dogfish Head’s Compelling Gin when I sat down with whilst catching up on what seems to be an unending “watch later” YouTube video list (6/14). There is a little bit of a bite in the nose, but the overwhelming bouquet is that of citrus and fruit. It is not unlike Tanqueray 10 in that respect. However, there is a little bit of spice to it as the black peppercorns make themselves known. In many ways, it is hard to pick out a dominant aspect of the nose, indeed the entire gin, as the citrus, pepper, and everything else mesh in a pleasant way.
Speaking of, this mixture makes for a pleasant taste as well. Nothing really stands out as being a dominant flavor, but that taste is just so different. It is somehow that combination of the citrus and spices, I think, that combine to create such a unique flavor to this gin. A flavor that lingers on after you finish the final sip. There is a very slight burn on the end, but it is the citrus and spice that your mouth really remembers. Again, the similarity to Tanqueray 10 are striking, but I would need to do a side-by-side comparison to tell you much more.
Hmm…maybe a shootout is in order?
Gin and Tonic
Immediately, once this drink hits your tongue you know just how different it is. And that is all that my notes say from that evening while I was cleaning pens (6/15). I can’t really place what it is except for maybe the combination of all the citrus and limes with the spicy notes of the pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon…but the whole is quite unique. My palate is not yet refined enough to pick out what makes it such a singular experience, but it is.
But there is the rub. I like the cocktail, but it is just so unlike a typical gin and tonic that many might miss the traditional taste. It is one of those, like the Monkey 47, that might be a bit too complex and altered for its own good. It is certainly, though, a cocktail to try.
My transformation from one who tolerated a Pink Gin to one who actually enjoys it is now complete. While writing an overdue letter to a friend (6/16), I poured myself two ounces of Compelling Gin, mixed with Angostura bitters, and was transfixed. The bitters really played well with the different flavor profile of the Dogfish Head gin, and this is certainly where the spicy and citrus notes had their moment to shine. There is even a pleasant smell on the nose as you take a sip. Overall, the taste was very smooth on the tongue and the finish had just the right amount of bite to it.
Overall, the Pink Gin made with Dogfish Head Compelling Gin has redeemed the entire cocktail for me and has made me want to pour myself another while writing this review. Unfortunately, I am currently not at home.
This is a tricky summation and recommendation to write, mainly because of the rather limited distribution of Compelling Gin (on top of what might be a very divisive flavor profile). However, if you live in Delaware, Maryland, DC, or Virginia—and have the taste for a unique gin drinking experience—then I highly recommend the Compelling Gin and would say that it rightfully earns a place on your Top Shelf.