Heard about your honeyed words

Overwhelming evidence points to the claim that our incoming President wants to turn America into best buds with Russia. All love to the Russian people, but its government? No thanks. This has been a strange and surreal thing to contemplate for anyone who grew up, as I did, at the tail end of the Cold War. Donald Trump in bed with a former KGB agent? America’s brashest capitalist, sucking up to a one-time enforcer for the Communist state?

Then again, no one except Trump has ever accused Trump of being a particularly capable capitalist, as his string of failed businesses will attest, so I guess it makes a kind of sense that he would be this terrible at capitalism.

Anyway, as a small act of resistance in the face of this inexplicable new order, I advise all readers to boycott vodka and instead favor gin.

Let’s face it: Vodka is just gin with no flavor. Gin minus the personality. It’s gin for when you want to get wasted as efficiently as possible rather than savor the taste and experience of a drink. This fact is, as it happens, neatly demonstrated by my current after-hours gin project: Barr Hill honey gin.

A few months back I picked up several rather unusual gins to sample, including the Apiary I wrote about last month. Like Apiary, Barr Hill differentiates itself from typical gins with its inclusion of honey as a primary ingredient. Despite having this common trait, though, the two gins couldn’t have been more different from one another. Apiary had an earthy taste, with a flavor profile reminiscent almost of a Japanese whiskey like Hibiki, though with the traditional gin botanicals present as well. It definitely falls into the Old Tom category of gins, or close to it.

Barr Hill, on the other hand, is nothing like that. Where Apiary contained a wide variety of flavors working in concert, Barr Hill is flavored with nothing but honey and juniper. As a variety of reviewers have noted, though, it has a surprisingly complex taste despite its simplicity — it’s different from your typical gin and definitely has to be used in ways that complement the sweet, rich quality of the honey.

The gin’s simplicity has an easy explanation: It’s apparently just the distillery’s honey vodka with an addition infusion of juniper. But that makes all the difference! The juniper pairs in an interesting way with the honey to create a flavor unlike anything I’ve had before. (And I’m a huge fan of the way they seal the bottle with beeswax, which gives you a strong whiff of honey before you even pour — it’s a great use of the interplay between smell and taste to create a sort of sensory preparation for the gin.) I think this drink would be pretty dull as vodka, but throw in the botanical element and it suddenly becomes much more remarkable.

Like Apiary, Barr Hill has to be integrated into cocktails with caution. Traditional gin recipes don’t necessarily work here, because the honey changes the balance of the flavor. It’s still earthy and crisp thanks to the juniper, but the honey adds a sweetness that rounds off the taste and mutes the medicinal sharpness you tend to associate with gin. Most gin cocktails are built around the need to mitigate (as in a Tom Collins) or complement (as in a G&T) the botanical edge. Barr Hill makes a great Tom Collins — lemon and honey always go together nicely, and you can cut back on the simple syrup thanks to the existing honey sweetness — but I’m not a fan of it in straight G&Ts. As you can see above, I even shelled out for a bottle of Fever Tree’s elderflower tonic to see if that would make a difference, but it still didn’t quite mesh with the gin. Half a teaspoon of St. Germain did the trick, but that’s kind of cheating…

Next up, I need to pick up a new bottle of Campari to see how it works in a negroni. And I suspect it’ll make a pretty nice martini… with a twist rather than olives, obviously.