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Review

Corbin California Estate Grown Western Dry Gin

Distillery

Sweet Potato Spirits, Atwater, near Modesto, California, USA.

Website

Sweet Potato Spirits.

History

David John Souza is a 4th generation Sweet Potato farmer (and has been since 1991), working the Merced County land originally started by his Portuguese born great grandfather back in 1920. The farm has been passed down through his grandfather (David Souza Sr.) and father (David Souza Jr.) and today David is co-owner of D&S Farms. Based in the San Joaquin Valley town of Atwater, the farm has 700-acres dedicated to sweet potato crops and 350-acres for almonds. Did you know? Out of the 120,000-acres farmed across the USA, approximately 18,000-acres of sweet potatoes are farmed in California.

It was during the quieter months on the farm David John Souza set out on an entrepreneurial adventure and in 2003 started Souza Enterprises Inc. This Nightclub, Event and Party promotions business included franchised restaurants and a base in Las Vegas. It was here he was truly exposed to Marketing, including New Product Development and Branding, but it also brought him into contact with a wide range of poor quality Vodka that sparked an idea…

David believed he could produce a truly fresh, farm to bottle, high quality Vodka and use sweet potatoes from the farm to do so. In 2007 he set about creating it and, after much work, in 2009 launched High Roller Vodka - the world’s first Vodka distilled from sweet potatoes. By 2010 David had built a fully functioning distillery on the farm and began producing a range of spirits. In 2012 High Roller Vodka was renamed Corbin Vodka, in line with the branding for the range of spirits they produce (see Name below).

Corbin Gin was launched in early 2014 and is the world’s first Gin made from sweet potatoes.

Production

The base spirit is made from sweet potatoes, taking around 10lbs to produce each bottle, and is not easy to produce. Most spirit bases are made from grain, sugar cane, grapes, apples or potatoes because they contain the starch and sugars to readily begin fermentation. Sweet potatoes have to be left to “cure” for up to 16-months, in a warm humid environment, which aids in more sugar development. In the words of David Souza: “Now I know why nobody uses sweet potatoes to make alcohol, because it's a pain.” Did you know? Sweet potatoes are only distantly related to the potato and although sometimes referred to as a Yam, are not related to these at all.

Once cured five different varieties of sweet potato are blended, mashed and cooked for about 3-hours. A complex blend of enzymes is used to break down the sugars, aiding the fermentation process with yeast, across a period of 5 to 7 days. The resulting 7.5% ABV “beer” or wort is distilled in a hybrid copper still, made by the Arnold Holstein Company (from Germany), with two columns containing a total of 17 bubble plates. The 95% ABV “Vodka” base spirit is passed through the rectifier once, with some of the botanicals steeped and some vapor infused, to create the Gin distillate. Using water from a 300-foot natural spring on the farm, this is diluted down to 45% ABV ready for bottling. Around 90% of byproducts from the making of their spirits are recycled, including spent mash used as fertilizer or cattle feed and all wastewater being reused in the distillery or on the farm.

The Gin is presented in a specially made clear, tall, cylindrical glass bottle from Italy with slightly rounded and slopping shoulders plus a short neck. The lower half of the bottle is covered in small raised glass beads providing a secure grip for amateur and professional bartenders alike, and is a signature feature for the Corbin range of spirits. Three long dark green colored labels circle the bottle, with silver-grey colored text and trimmings, including “Corbin” clearly displayed on the uppermost label.

This Gin is stated as gluten free.

Category

New Western Dry Gin, although it has more in common with a London Dry than a Contemporary Gin.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

45% (90 Proof).

Price Range

$$$ - $$$$. Available online in the USA from K&L Wines or Beltramo’s.

Botanicals

Not fully known but contains at least 5 botanicals: angelica root, clementine (California), coriander seed, juniper berries and (Lisbon) lemon (California).

Name

Named after the founder’s son Corbin, a 5th generation member of the Souza family. Corbin was born during the inaugural run of spirits at the distillery, and his name has been used for a range of drinks made by Sweet Potato Spirits. 

In this picture: Founder David John Souza is front and center, David Souza Sr. (his grandfather) is standing next to him, behind him is David Souza Jr. (his father) and seated on the tractor is Corbin Cash Souza (his son). 

Tasting Notes

On the nose is clear juniper with sharp citrus notes and hints of herbal grass. On the palate this smooth medium bodied spirit has strong juniper, bitter lemon and orange citrus aspects. In the background are earthy angelica plus faint traces of nutty caramel (from the sweet potato base spirit). On the finish the juniper lead continues with drying notes of angelica and a slight sweetness from the clementines (and possibly the base spirit), leading to a very long warming (coriander) finish. An uncomplicated spirit, that successfully manages to push some boundaries while still faithfully remaining a true Gin.

On the face of it, this has all the elements of a classic London Dry Gin and it certainly uses the “holy trinity” of juniper, coriander and angelica to good effect. Where the different comes, in the form of a New Western Dry Gin, is the use of distinct citrus flavors to sit firmly alongside the juniper. This is particularly prevalent with the bitter lemon, which permeated throughout the different drinks we tried. Although pleasantly agreeable in a Martini and drinks using ginger ale or ginger beer (e.g. Gin Buck), these were not the best choices. We found it works much better in sweet citrus drinks (e.g. Tom Collins) and surprisingly, mixes well with cola and orange (no doubt due to their sweetness). Where this really excels is in a Gin and Tonic, the bitter lemon and dry herbal notes make for a wonderfully astringent and mouth puckering experience (and it grew on us considerably). Note: Not tried by us, we believe this might just make a truly superb Gin Blossom!

This is a bold and adventurous spirit, not just for it’s unique sweet potato base (we suspect their Vodka is quite amazing) but also for it’s use of locally grown citrus varietals. This is perhaps not best suited for contemporary Gin drinkers, unless they have found themselves developing more of a juniper head. For traditional Gin drinkers we could sum it up with: If Ernest Hemingway tried this Gin it would probably become his go to brand of choice for a G&T. We readily recommend this Gin, the quality of craft is plain to see and the taste experience is certainly worthwhile.

Awards & Accolades

Unknown.

Our Appreciation

Our thanks to David J. Souza and Sweet Potato Spirits who kindly provided the Gin for us to review.

Music

Suggested music to listen to while drinking your favorite cocktail made with Corbin Gin, “Sweet Potato Blues” by Tuba Skinny:



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