By Michael W. Harris
Note: This post has been edited to reflect feedback from Ventura Spirits as to the botanicals mixture.
Type: Dry Gin
Botanicals: “local harvested” sagebrush, purple sage, bay yerba santa, pixie mandarin peel, chuchupate
Base: Organic Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Botanicals are harvested from the wild California native plants.
Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin is an…interesting…spirit. If you look at the list of botanicals above, which is copied directly from the bottle and website, you will notice something missing: juniper. While I find this decision to exclude the key botanical for the list as interesting, I have been assured by Ventura via comment (see below) that the gin does include juniper berries. However, I will say that upon trying the gin, I did not really taste it. I cannot pinpoint what is the dominant flavor of Wilder, but it does not strike me very juniper forward.
My bottle of Wilder was sent to me by an old friend from Missouri who now lives in the Bay Area, up the coast from where Ventura Spirits is based (thank you!!). However, it was partially sent to me because she and her partner tried it and didn’t care much for it and were curious to get my take. And, after spending a week with the gin, I have to say…I kind of agree. While it is not the worst gin I have ever had, it is not something I’d go out of my way to get again. And seeing how they do not distribute outside of California except for some on-line retailers, there seems to be little chance for getting it unless you are in the state.
So, what did I like and dislike about the gin? Let’s get down to brass tacks.
It has been almost two months since I last sat down to do a proper gin review. In that time, I had avoided drinking new gins and instead tried to empty my remaining open bottles and bought new bottles only of gins I had already reviewed (lots of Beefeater and Hendricks in July and August!). So when I poured myself a glass of straight Wilder Gin (9/8) and cued up Steven Spielberg’s A.I. (be on the lookout for that post in the very near future), my palate was not only fresh, but maybe also a bit out of practice.
To the nose, Wilder is citrus forward, with just a little bit of bite to it. There are some sweet notes on it as well, along with some earthy aromas on it (much like the Spirit Hound Gin from Lyons, CO, Wilder’s botanicals are locally harvested from the surrounding area). However, there is no overpowering scent to it.
It is once the gin passes your lips that you realize that this is not a typical gin. As far as I can tell, there is little to no juniper flavor to it. The citrus and earthy flavors are all there, which makes it not unpleasant…but it does not strike me as having a very “gin-like” flavor profile. It is certainly unique, though it is not hitting you over the head with its attempt to be different, unlike the Dogfish Head Compelling Gin. The alcohol is also not overpowering, which makes a pleasant drink to sit and sip.
However, the burn does show up on the back end and lingers for a while after. There is a little sweetness on the front of the finish, but it is quickly is replaced by the taste of booze.
First impressions of the Wilder Gin were promising, if not exactly overwhelming. It was different, had potential, though was not overly memorable. But, then the gin and tonic came up in the rotation.
Gin and Tonic
After watching Minority Report (again, look for that post soon), I cued up some YouTube backlog and sat down with a Wilder and Tonic (9/9), hoping that the vaguely positive feelings from the night before could be reinforced. While my initial impression, according to my notes, was “smooth, not unpleasant, but strange,” it was the “strange” that became the dominant feature. The flavors are mostly the orange and citrus, with the earthy tones coming from the sagebrush. Finally, there is none of the juniper flavor that makes gin taste like gin. While I was reassured that juniper was including in the mixture, it almost strikes me as simply botanical infused vodka.
The Wilder and tonic is balanced on the finish, with a not entirely unpleasant flavor lingering, but it is still odd in an off-putting way. The lines from my notes that are most revealing read: “Nice, but weird. I am just unsure about it” and “I don’t dislike it…but not sure I “like” it.” And this is the dominate feeling I have with Wilder. I do wonder if I varied the ratio of gin to tonic if I would find a better cocktail. But I use the same 1:1 ration in all my reviews for control of the experiment.
I still don’t love pink gin, but it is slowly growing on me. And of the three drinks I have had with the Wilder, this is probably the best (9/10). The angostura bitters meshes well with the earthy tones of Wilder, and it could be a very nice cocktail to mix on a cold evening, especially because the backend of this drink has bite. It has burn to spare.
Still, not sure that I love the pink gin version of Wilder, and one okay cocktail does not a good review make. The earthy flavors do mix well in this one drink, but I have my doubts about mixing it in more adventurous or complex drinks.
Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin is a hard liquor to pass judgement on. On the one hand, it is not a bad gin. This is not a bottom-of-the-shelf well gin. However, gin is really defined by the juniper-forward flavors plus other botanicals. The name “gin” literally derives from the Latin for juniper via Dutch…so if a flavor is not really present, then it is hard for me to call it a great gin.
Much like Dogfish Head and Spirit Hound (which I will review just as soon as I can get a bottle sent to me), it is a very different type and taste for gin. But where with those I might go the extra mile to obtain them, I do not feel like it is worth the cost to get Wilder Gin unless you are local to California. At $30+ a bottle plus shipping, I cannot justify the expense. So while I might give Wilder a Middle Shelf rating, this is more a reflection of it being a well-made and distinct spirit, as opposed to being a spirit to add to your shelf.