I picked up a bottle of this recently on a trip to Colorado. Uncle Val’s is distilled by 35 Maple Street, out of Sonoma, California, although the bottle says it was bottled in Bend, Oregon. I don’t know what’s up with that discrepancy, but in any case it’s an immaterial one. The gin’s featured botanicals are juniper (duh), cucumber, lemon, sage, and lavender. Not too far out there, right?
Wrong! Gin has certainly been experiencing a renaissance of late, as part of the craft cocktail and vintage cocktail revival (or whatever you want to call them) scenes, and for the most part this is a good thing. Plymouth gin is easier to find than ever, Old Tom gins are being churned out by seemingly a new distillery every day, and lost favorites like Tanqueray Malacca are being reissued, albeit in a limited run in that case. Variety being the spice of life and all that, it’s great to have a varied selection of distinctive gins at your disposal, and the right gin in the right cocktail can really make a difference.
One of the key trends in gin seems to be a moving away from the juniper dominance of the London Dry style, although juniper remains the key flavor of virtually all gins. But achieving a more floral, fruity flavor profile seems to be the goal of a lot of these gins. Hendrick’s, of course, has been very successful while pursuing this path. So let’s say Plymouth gin and Hendrick’s are something like, oh, 10% sweeter/fruitier/more floral than your baseline London Dry. Let’s say Old Tom gins, varied as they are, are 15-20% more so than London Dry. Let’s say something like Tanqueray Malacca is a full 30% more so. You can quibble with these numbers, but the point is to create a continuum from very dry to less dry.
Uncle Val’s, I would say, is roughly 150% more fruity/floral than London Dry. Which is too much. I tested this in a relatively simple gin/vermouth cocktail (featuring a few other ingredients). You initially get a nice fruitiness, reminiscent of Malacca but stronger and sweeter. Not bad, until it turns into old lady perfume taste in your mouth. This lingers for far too long, only gradually giving way to a more traditional ginny alcoholiness. The initial and ending notes are quite good, but it’s that powerful floral flavor that does Uncle Val’s in. There may be some cocktails this will play better in than others, and I guess I’m stuck with the bottle, so I’ll try it a few more times, but on the whole this is not a gin I’m excited about. Furthermore, it raises the specter, for me, of gin distillers ambling down the nightmarish path already hewn by flavored vodkas. If I start to see raspberry gin or mango gin there’s going to be trouble. I’m all for variety, but gin should and must taste primarily of juniper. Because let’s face it, it’s basically just juniper-flavored vodka to begin with.