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Review

Barr Hill Gin

Distillery

Caledonia Spirits, Hardwick, Caledonia County, Vermont, USA.

Website

Caledonia Spirits.

History

The North East of Vermont is an agricultural based area consisting of three counties, and since the 1950’s, has been commonly referred to as the Northeast Kingdom. Established in 1792 Caledonia County is part of this “Kingdom”, and is so called because of the large number of Scottish settlers to the area (first used by the ancient Romans, Caledonia is the Latin name for Scotland).

The distillery is in the town of Hardwick and like many towns in Caledonia County is the central hub to a large community of farms, as can be found in nearby Greensboro which is home to Todd D. Hardie. Originally from Maryland, Todd comes from a farming background and one of his specialities is bee keeping. This interest began when he was 12 and, along with an Agricultural Science degree from Cornell University, has led to over 3 decades as a commercial apiarist (and farmer). These days being a farmer requires a large dose of entrepreneurial skills and Todd has proved to be no exception to this. While experimenting with uses for honey and making Mead, thoughts started to formulate on making other drinks with honey, and in 2008 Todd set up Caledonia Spirits & Winery.

In 1817 Todd’s Great-Great-Grandfather, Thomas Hardie left Edinburgh, Scotland and set up a new life as a farmer in Maryland, USA. A phrase by Thomas Hardie is used in the farms marketing today:  “The best fertilizer is the footprint of the farmer,” showing how much farming is still in the blood. But what about the Spirits? Thomas Hardie left behind a brother and his two sons, John and William, started making Scotch Whisky in 1857. Today, J.W. Hardie Ltd. is still operating in Inverness, bottling and blending Whisky for Tomatin Distillery, proving farming is not the only thing to run in the Hardie family’s blood.

Todd Hardie used to manage nearly 2,000 beehives up until the beginning of the Millennium. However as his drinks business increased, and the move to Greenboro being a less suitable location for beekeeping, most of the hives have been “farmed” out. These have gone to long-term colleagues already in the bee-keeping industry, with much of the honey used by the distillery supplied by the same people.

Caledonia Spirits launched their Barr Hill Gin in 2010.

Production

The neutral 95% ABV base spirit is made from corn, which is distilled using a 300-gallon hybrid pot still where the juniper is extracted by vapor infusion. Raw honey is then added immediately prior to bottling and, although we have not noted this in the Gin ourselves, we understand there is a natural variation between each batch due to changes in the honey (according to locales and seasonal flowers used by the bees to produce it). The distillery has found the honey varies in its flavor, viscosity, nutrient levels, ph etc. and because of this it is often blended to buffer these ph swings and balance the flavor.

The Gin is presented in a clear, squat cylindrical bottle with curved shoulders. It has a wide light yellow colored rectangular label with Barr Hill Gin clearly written in the middle with green colored text. It displays an image of a bee and a view from the top of Barr Hill (see name below) and is sealed with beeswax, which creates a pleasant aroma, particularly when first opened.

This Gin is stated as kosher and gluten free.

Category

Distilled Dry Gin, although given the taste profile (see tasting Notes below), it may be best considered as an Old Tom Gin.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

45% (90 Proof), although our bottle (Batch 13, 2014) was 43% (86 Proof).

Price Range

$$$$. Generally available across the USA, try online at: Urban, Hi-Time Wine Cellars, K&L Wines, Liquorama, or Astor Wines.

Botanicals

Uses 2 botanicals: raw organic honey and juniper berries.

Many view this as a single botanical Gin, discounting the honey and viewing it only as a sweetening agent. However because of the floral qualities the honey brings we have included it in the botanical list.

Name

Standing at 2,000 feet Barr Hill Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy of Vermont, is a beautiful area of over 250 acres. Found about 7-miles North East of Hardwick, close to the nearby town of Greensboro, it is one of Vermont’s prettiest picnic spots. The Scottish refer to this area as “thin”, a sacred place where heaven and earth come close together, and it was here the juniper bushes inspired Todd to create this Gin and its name.

Check out this You Tube panoramic view from Barr Hill.

Tasting Notes

On the nose is a clear aroma of honey with hints of piney juniper and just a trace of lemon citrus. On the palate of this smooth full-bodied spirit is sweet honey, which gives way to juniper with floral nuances in the background. To this there are ethereal notes of lemon citrus, green grass plus fruity apple and apricot (and some find vanilla and cinnamon too), creating a feeling of multiple botanicals. On the finish the sweet honey continues but closes with long sharp mouth drying juniper and light herbaceous earthy notes plus a hint of pepper. This is a surprisingly complex and well-balanced Gin.

The honey makes for a pleasingly smooth Gin and it is very easy to sip neat, becoming quite an addictive drink. Beyond this, the sweetness makes it much more like an Old Tom Gin and ideally should be treated as such to gain the best from it. The Gin may be used in a Gin and Tonic or a Martini (although expect the taste to be contemporary rather then traditional), but its beautiful sweetness and bitter dry notes are better employed in the following: Bees Knees (you might wish to reduce the honey/honey syrup), Martinez, and Tom Collins. The Gin can prove interesting when drinking with a cigar (see Cigar Pairing below) and, although not tried by us, we understand many enjoy this Gin in a Negroni too.

Overall, this is a remarkable Gin. Some classic Gin drinkers may find the honey sweetness too contemporary however; many Gin drinkers and non-Gin drinkers are likely to enjoy this finely crafted offering from Caledonia Spirits. The simplistic complexity behind the juniper and honey is a masterstroke and we have no hesitation in recommending this Gin, even if you only try it once, its simple elegance is worth the experience.

Awards & Accolades

92 Points, Wine Enthusiast.

Gold Medal & Gin of the Year, Hong Kong Internal Wine & Spirits Competition, 2013.

Double Gold Medal, New York International Spirits Competition, 2012.

Cigar Pairing

As a Gin that may be sipped neat, this can make for an unusual but very pleasant pairing with a cigar. Ideally the cigar should be mild (to medium) flavored so as not to overpower the Gin and preferably have spicy bitter notes to offset the sweetness of the Gin. This combination can be hard to find in most cigars but as a broad generalization those with a Connecticut wrapper should work well. Several brands come to mind as broad matches to this Gin - Cohiba, Davidoff and Montecristo. Here's our suggested pick of specific cigars, which we believe display the best aspects to pair with this Gin:

Alec Bradley Kensington Connecticut Reserve

CAO Gold

Helix Blue Tubular

Illusione Fume D'Amour

Macanudo Hyde Park

Montecristo White Belicoso

Olivia Nub Connecticut

Rocky Patel Connecticut

Romeo y Julieta Vintage

San Lotano Connecticut

Music

Music to listen to while you sip this Gin: "Me in Honey" by REM.

A Closing Thought

The last few decades have seen decreasing numbers of bees across the globe, with the term Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) used to describe the situation. See if there is something you can do to help, at the National Resources Defense Council.



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