I’ve been sitting on this decision for two weeks, when I first compared Knickerbocker Gin to Leopold Bros. The problem? They were both quite excellent, and choosing one meant not giving the other its fair due.
Let me be clear, these are two very different types of gin, with Knickerbocker eschewing the traditional London Dry recipes, trying (and succeeding) to do something different. Leopold goes the opposite route, instead focusing on paying attention to the details of a traditional distillation. Knickerbocker is heavy on the botanicals, Leopold Bros. focused on perfecting the process of a classic recipe.
That’s not to say that Knickerbocker is not as well distilled as Leopold Bros. It sits very smoothly on the palate, and has no rough edges to the spirit that other gins have shown themselves to have in previous head-to-head.
So why did I choose Knickerbocker? It was that same bugaboo I came across in a previous tasting – Knickerbocker was interesting. Or, at least, it was one smidgen more interesting the Leopolds, which was also quite interesting. The flavor profile of Knickerbocker provided something new and different. Yes, yes, the juniper was there, but it played with its citrus notes a little more, and the other botanicals, including cardamon, coriander, were more assertive, but balanced quite nicely.
I have a feeling that if Knickerbocker ends up being my number one gin, then Leopold’s will be the second best gin in this exercise. Had it gone head to head with a different gin, I suspect Leopold’s would be in the final four as well.
But they didn’t, so they’re not. It’s Knickerbocker by a hair.
So the votes have been tallied, the polls closed, and the Reader’s bracket now is a little more filled out. The result? We (and when I say “we”, what I mean is “you”) have the final four brands of gin that will go up against one another.
The four? Batch No. 209, Bombay Sapphire, Leopold’s Small Batch, and Hendrick’s. Overall, not a bad selection of gin there.
The next step? Once I find time and get off of my duff to do my own taste tests and fill out my bracket, we’ll get down to the nittiest of gritties: Determine which is the best gin.
The match-ups will be
Batch No. 209
and the undercard will be:
Leopold’s Small Batch
It’s a battle of unknowns, as you, the reader, gets to decide which of these smaller brands gets to make it into the final four of the Reader’s Bracket.
Is it Leopold’s Small Batch out of San Francisco? Or will it be the upstarts from Michigan, with their Knickerbocker gin?
The poll closes in a week.
In related news, Hendrick’s make it into the final four in the Reader’s Bracket.
There’s a lesson somewhere within my review below, for you young distillers out there. I’ll let you try to suss it out on your own, but (*hint, hint*), a higher ABV is not necessarily a good thing.
Anyway, let’s get on to the competition – and for two weeks in a row, I’ve agreed with you the readers. Tanqueray? I’m not a fan. It turns out, you guys aren’t either. I’ve updated both my bracket and yours to reflect these choices.
My quick review?
Tanqueray: Strong in the alcohol, and strong juniper notes, with only a smallest hint of citrus beneath it all.
Leopold Bros.: Warm yet light. A solid cardomon taste, with the juniper more in a supporting role here, and the citrus sitting below all of it, supporting all of it.
Okay, I lied. I’m not going to let you suss it out as much as tell you directly. A strong alcohol presence can work. We see this in whiskeys all of the time where the flavors work with the alcohol. But there is a point where you can have too much, especially if there’s no flavor in support of it. Sitting at 94.6 proof (47.3% ABV), Tanqueray has to bring something bold to get over the numbing effects of the alcohol. But all they seem to bring is the standard juniper flavoring. Everything else sort of gets lost in the buzz and burn of the spirit. When you’re big on alcohol, nuance is not your friend.
Leopold’s Gin, working at only 40% ABV has a little more breathing room to do something interesting and, yes, ends up with a bit of nuance. The cardomon flavoring works here, in part because, yes, it’s a strong spice, but also because the makers of Leopold’s give it space. This is one aspect of what is called balance.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years of tasting/judging, beer, whiskey, and otherwise: There are those who simply follow a recipe and settle for good enough, and there are those who work at perfecting their product. When the products of these two philosophies go head to head, the latter almost always stands out. Leopold Bros. is a perfect example of that when compared against the likes of Tanqueray.
Here’s another big name vs. small name battle, with Tanqueray, owned by spirits giant Diageo, going up against cult favorite Leopold’s Small Batch Gin definitely not owned by a spirits corporation of any sort, but rather the Leopold Bros.
What I like about this matchup is that there are fans on both sides, with Tanqueray being one of the few big name gins that has their own cult following. Leopold’s Small Batch Gin has a smaller fan base, but from what I’ve read, they’re quite loyal. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.
So I pose the question – Which is the better gin?
Polls will close one week after this posting.