Two relatively new (and completely new to Illinois...I was told these were the first bottles sold at retail here) products from one of my favorite U.S. distillers.
Leopold Brothers Navy Strength American Gin & Fernet Leopold Highland Amaro
Leopold's Gin has been one of my favorites going back at least 6 years when I first wandered into their old distillery in Ann Arbor, MI. Their traditional gin has a great balance of juniper and unique citrus notes (pomello, love the pomello), rounded out by familiar spices (clove, coriander, cardamom). My only knock on it has been the low proof...no matter how good it tastes, something about an 80 proof gin doesn't sit right. So, imagine my delight when I heard they were coming out with a higher proof version. My anticipation was heightened, if that was possible, to see if referenced in extremely heady company
on Tuesday. To paraphrase a terrible marketing campaign, "Gentlemen, this is gin." It leaps from the bottle and smacks you in the nose, proudly announcing that this is not another one of those "New American" gins striving for the acceptance of the vodka-soda crowd. It hits all the high notes of the original Leopold, but they are amplified...turned up to 11 if you will, because as we know, proof is flavor. As good as it smelled & tasted, I didn't reach for the jigger at the late hour I finally got around to opening it. At 114 proof, it's not going to effortlessly integrate into most (if any) existing gin recipes...this is going to require restraint and judicious thinking, probably some algebra. I'm looking forward to the challenge.
If the gin presented as a sock in the nose, the Fernet Leopold is a warm (bartender's) handshake. It is, of course, evocative of Fernet Branca, the de facto standard-bearer of the genre, but there are also facets all its own (a touch more citrus...orange, I think, certainly less saffron, thankfully in my opinion...and perhaps more spearmint than aloe/eucalyptus). A short pour in a Glencairn glass and all the excesses of earlier in the evening promptly melted away. Will shots happen? Highly likely. But, if so they'll be missing some of the refinement of this amaro. Not to say it isn't bold, but the sharp edges that are characteristic of some more mass-produced liqueurs are absent, and it'd probably be more comfortable with being sipped by the fire.
True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.
DeVoto, The Hour