Best Barrel Aged Gin We Have ever had – and that is saying a LOT. Subtle,complex, balanced, deadly smooth. World Class.
Notes: Highclere Castle, for those who do not follow such things, is the setting/location for the wildly successful Downton Abbey series and the rather regrettable movie that followed the series. That aside, the Lord and Lady of Highclere, also titled The 8th Lord and Countess of Carnavon, had previously joined with some gin enthusiasts to bring us all the Highclere Castle Gin, Which is a lovely example of a London Dry type gin. The family has lived at the castle since 1679, which is about the time gin was introduced to England, or maybe I should say when it came from Holland by English soldiers who had developed a taste for it, having captured barrels of it in their war with the Dutch.
An interesting part of the backstory for their gins is the inspiration and use of the castles herb garden to formulate the botanical bills, including the use of lavender. The lavender in the castle’s herb garden was originally planted by the bishop of Winchester in the 9th Century AD. Also, the highly unusual addition of oats to the mashbill of the gins, the oats having been grown on the estate itself, and the oats add a lovely overall mouthfeel to the gin. Overall the gins have ten botanicals.
The London Dry version of Highclere Castle Gin was 2 years in development, using the estates’ botanicals in probably countless recipes and samples to get it right. To quote the President of a very famous bourbon company ( who I will not name)”Gin is a very fiddly thing” and something he would not attempt – despite making many world-class bourbons, he has never wanted to try attempt making a gin, it is a very complicated process fraught with pitfalls and disappointments. It is indeed a difficult process to get right – I have tasted many failures, a fair number of good attempts, and a few excellent examples, but few are truly subtle yet wonderful. That gin is one of those.
Highclere Castle London Dry Version of their gin is readily available at better liquor stores which we also highly recommend. A link to our review of that gin can be found HERE. For a short lesson on gin and its various styles, please check out our short tutorial here.
This highly limited edition of their gin was created to commemorate and be an homage to the 5th Lord Carnavons generous backing and involvement in Carters’ expedition to Egypt that led to the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, Whose 100th anniversary of the discovery is occurring this month ( November 2022). Sadly, Lord Carnavon was one of the five people involved in the expedition who died shortly after its discovery and who some credit as the curse of Tutankhamun for anyone who disturbed his tomb.
While gin production itself falls somewhere between science, art, and alchemy, Barrel aging adds a whole new dimension of both difficulty and possibility for the intrepid ( and/or foolhardy). It is the final rock on a difficult journey to perfection upon which many spirits and especially a gin can founder. Of all the barrel-aged gins I have tried ( including French, Dutch and Belgian Genevers/Jenevers, This is far, and beyond the best and most complex but subtle gin we have encountered anywhere.
This very limited production ( less than 2000 cases worldwide) is barrel aged in a select mix of Armagnac, Scotch, and American Whiskey barrels for a period of 2 years and being released on the 100-year anniversary. A few interesting points about this should be expanded upon for better understanding;
The barrels used consist of NEW American Oak charred barrels ( a lately obscenely expensive barrel to use and a real flavor bomb of a wood to use), Scotch Barrels ( read used American charred oak reused for Scotch aging), and some 50 year Old plus Armagnac barrels.Oddly and fortuitously, they used a ⅓,⅓ and ⅓ blend of these disparate barrels to come up with and extremely harmonious blend ! The entire story can be read on their blog here and well worth the read. Anyone who has tried blending, or just seeing the knowledge should give it a read!
If you want to order the Highclere Barrel Aged Gin before it is gone, here is a link. There is a 3-bottle limit, by the way, so enlist a few of your teetotaling friends to get more. As A side note, DO NOT put any away as a collectible. That would be an unconscionable waste and deprive yourself and others. Drink and enjoy it!
Appearance: Clear. viscous, slight, very pale gold yellow, almost the color of a very highly refined watch oil= and I mean that in a positive way- it is a whisper of wood aging, the lightest touch of aging, and an important mellowing and marrying of all the grains and botanicals in the wood of the most delicate kind. Many people over oak their gins much to their detriment. Whoever did this one has a very deft touch! but extremely cohesive and well-blended gin resulting in a medium coating of oily distillate on the glass, which then forms a very even coat that then forms some tears on the meniscus and then continues to coat the glass for a very long time, speaking to the body and overall viscosity. It then eventually forms a constellation of small tears as it retreats back to the bottom of the glass. Really quite a testament to its overall composition just by itself,
First Impression: Like their original gin, we find the following notes and see the impact of the barrel aging quite distinctly also Lavender, lime, and juniper hints of angelica in the background are the first impression, backed with the distinct influence and impact of the barrel aging. The interplay of the Armagnac, Scotch and American whiskey barrels influences brings a wealth and range of spices with it. Hints of citrus, grape, mace, allspice, nutmeg, tobacco, leather, oak char, and a slightly biscuity, slightly carmelized whisper combine and enhance the citrus, lavender, juniper, angelica, and coriander playing supporting roles. The pepper and cardamom also tickle the nose but play nicely with the other ingredients
Taste: Lovely, oily rolling entry, with delightfully prickly herbal follow-on with a sweetening, then drying, with a final whisper of juniper and lavender giving way to a long and pleasantly lingering finish, to use a Japanese Sake term Shiripin -” it has a tail” the oats that are grown on the estate and used in the mash bill for the base make their appearance in the first sip and carry on through the harmonious progression of botanicals providing a lovely smooth bass line until the end where it anchors the more aromatic botanical oils and provides a nice blanket of viscosity that yields unequaled smoothness to the gin overall.
Drinks: Like its unaged London Dry older sibling, I am very much of two minds on this particular gin. Because it is such a spectacular gin in its own right, I really enjoy sipping it at room temperature out of a tasting glass (thistle type, footed or flute, a NEAT technical glass, or simply a nice bone china teacup on its own- it’s that good.
It is rare to be able to sit and sip a gin at room temperature and appreciate the art that went into it. I’ve sampled hundreds of gins over the years, and there are very few that I like to sip and just enjoy for the art of them. This is one of them. The fact that they were able to barrel age it and add so many more layers of taste and complexity to an already outstanding gin in its own rite
That is not to say that a cocktail using Highclere Gin is lesser than the sum of its parts. It IS a marvelous mixer and elevates both new and classic gin cocktails to another level. You should use other superior but subtle ingredients for the cocktails – a stirred NOT SHAKEN Martini made with it is a delightful cross between a gin martini and something akin to the whiskey and brandy families of cocktails in flavor complexity and melange for a start. among others, and all the artisanal bitters and modifiers to add to the gin. Highclere Gin is an excellent foundation to build a cocktail from, and every one we tried was made better by using this gin. The exception to this is a gin and tonic – the quinine overshadows the gin. A Silver Gin Fizz, on the other hand, by the use of an egg white, a touch of extra fine ( Castor) sugar, and a few drops of lemon juice, shaken then good seltzer water added, is a subtle and wonderful thing. You can also go a bit further down the sour family tree with essentially a pisco sour swapping out the Pisco with the gin ( and possibly skip the bitters unless you have a very particular one to spin it with) but be careful what you use so as not to overwhelm rather than compliment the gin.
Bottle: A very striking and stately-looking bottle overall and easy to spot at a distance by the striking combination of shape, color, and graphics.
The bottle itself is a tall rectangular bottle, square with rounded edges and shoulder with a frosted finish which has a nice velvety feel but is not slippery. The color is quite striking, and it is coated with a burnished gold-colored skin. The color in the afternoon towards dusk is particularly striking. The graphics are directly silkscreened to the bottle ( no cheap plastic labels pasted on ) with a line rendition of the castle, the designation as a Barrel Aged Gin ( a helpful designation these days given that barrel-aged gin is a rare and completely different animal from a standard gin). Along with a Graphic of a Scarab Beetle with outstretched wings holding a red sun. A further notation is that the gin is “Made With The Finest Highclere Garden Botanicals,” alcohol strength ( 45 % by volume or 90 proof), and refreshingly the bottle capacity is written out, a rather more elegant way of doing things rather than expressing it numerically. The side panels have line graphics depicting King Tutankamen being served by his queen a bowl. Above and below this illustration is a set of hieroglyphics
Tastefully simple yet easy to identify, The back panel has a short story about the expedition and the commemorative occasion for which this gin was created for, along with some other details and tasting notes. Also below this, there is a facsimile signature of The 8th Earl and Countess and the CEO of the Highclere Gin Company, The screw cap is a bit heavier in a quality sort of way and is decorated with the family coat of arms on the sides and a raised crest in gold on the slightly domed top. All of which make sure that the bottle can be easily identified from any angle or in whatever you have hidden it away in. In short, a lot of thought and attention to detail was done to give birth to this bottle.
Other: The use of estate-grown oats adds a unique element to the mashbill and shines through the taste, mouthfeel, and body of the gin and makes for a lovely, harmonious gin.
Final Thoughts: As a Barrel-Aged London Dry Style Gin, this THE of the best gins now on the market. It is also almost 1/2 the cost and easily twice as good as its competition, Kensington Barrel Aged Gin. Subtle, wonderfully complex, harmonious, deadly smooth and aged to perfection. A very distinctive and singular gin that has carried off a very difficult hat trick combining ingredients and aging to bring the world a new standard to measure a gin by. The best barrel aged gins of its kind.
An interesting website that is attractive and fast loading. A bit light on the gin details but beautiful photography.
If you want to learn more details on the gin, go to the Langley Distillery page here