Spirit Works was founded only two years ago and already have garnered a reputation for high quality products including vodka and three styles of gin.  Started by British husband Timo Marshall and his American wife Ashby, they first started brainstorming about the idea while sailing around the world.  No, not on a private yacht, but as deck hands on an icebreaker ship.  It’s no small wonder they wanted to settle down, but still live near the coast.  Settled in the art district of Sebastopol, California known as The Barlow, their distillery is housed in the same neighborhood as a few breweries, wineries and a coffee roaster.

Ashby heads up the distilling, while Timo works to keep everything running smoothly from a business perspective.  Interestingly, even though their first product was a red winter wheat based vodka, their ultimate goal was to recreate a classic sloe gin.  Timo started with his family’s recipe, which he had been using since he was 14(!).  Since the Blackthorn bush which produces sloe berries is considered an invasive species in the US, he opted to import them from Bulgaria.

All of their spirits utilize single-distillation red winter wheat, with the gin having a blend of infused and suspended gin basket botanicals.  The Barrel Gin is aged approximately four months in new American Oak casks.  The Sloe Gin is made the traditional way with their gin infused with macerated sloe berries and sugar.


Timo and Ashby also have an official Spirit Works mascot named Bandit, who apparently considers the whole thing rather tiresome.

Gin (86 proof)
Visual: Crystal clear.
Nose: Slightly redolent of moonshine with a hearty juniper overlay. Very little citrus, but many other spices come through loud and clear.
Taste: Quite smooth with a rich, creamy body.  Instant lemon citrus on the palate, followed by the wintry bite of juniper.  The other botanicals fill in the cracks, but none raise their head above the crowd.
Finish: Long, dry and bracing.
Overall: An excellent gin that is self-assured, flavorful and well-balanced.  I honestly can’t think of any gin based cocktail which would not rejoice by its inclusion.
GSN Rating: A-

Barrel Gin (90.2 proof)
Visual: Warm yellow.
Nose: Candied lemon peel, soft juniper, vanilla taffy.
Taste: Smooth, creamy, loaded with vanilla and a touch of green banana.  The flavors have transformed into an Old Tom style with a sweeter character that still retains the essence of the juniper.
Finish: Lemon pie laced with Gin & Tonic.  I kid you not, there is a hint of quinine on the canvas.
Overall: Lovely and a fantastic gin for innovating new cocktails.  So, much to love here.
GSN Rating: A+

Sloe Gin (54 proof)
Visual: Reddish purple.
Nose: Spiced berries with a ghostly juniper presence.
Taste: Medium sweet with a punch-like character.  Fruit bomb with high spice notes of cinnamon, clove and ginger. Luscious and sublime.
Finish: Jam like with a lot of berry.
Overall: Not as tart as some traditional sloe gins, which makes this a nice alternative to drink straight.  Very balanced and I particularly like the spiciness.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Spirit Works Distillery


Every once in a while it’s nice to take a break from drinking high-proof cocktails and spirits, and enjoy something somewhat less boozy.  During the summer, one of my favorite choices is Sangria. Fruity, punch-like and great straight or on the rocks, it makes for a perfect welcome at the end of the day.

The JOYA (“jewel”) blends are created in La Puebla de Amoradiel, Spain.  Using 12% abv to allow for dilution when poured over ice, the flavor retains its intensity.  The Red Sangria is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Bobal varietals, while the White Sangria uses only the Airén grape.  Both are then mixed with natural Mediterranean fruit essences.

White (12% abv) Light, simple and somewhat one-dimensional, the white has notes of pineapple, green apple, and lime.  Best served well-chilled  and neat in a wine glass, this makes for a slightly tart sangria experience. GSN Rating: B-

Red (12% abv) Quite fruity and warmly sweet.  The flavor is fresh and natural, but obviously not a house made sangria.  I prefer to have this over ice.  The blend of red wines makes for a slightly smoky and chalky edge which work well with the fruit flavors.  GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Joya Sangria

Immagine_Carpano_Dry_alta-800GSN has previously reviewed the Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes vermouths, both made by the Fratelli Branca Distillerie in Milan, Italy.  Recently we were sent two of their dry style vermouths for review.

Carpano Dry is a new vermouth debuted this year by Fratelli Branca which uses less sugar in the recipe, thereby making it taste drier.  Carpano Bianco was introduced in the 1950’s and is classified as a medium-sweet style.

Carpano Dry (18% abv)
Visual: Very pale gold.
Nose: Lightly fruity with a fresh herbality.  I’m reminded of a fine spring rain in a garden.
Taste: Slightly sweet, but leaning more towards a brut style.  The herb blend is perfectly balanced and works well to frame the wine itself.
Finish: Medium with the fade being soft and satisfying.  There is no bitterness or overarching bitter wormwood.
Overall: This is a well-designed vermouth for cocktails including the gin Martini, the Obituary, the Bamboo and other cocktails that call for a decent pour of white vermouth.  Or, you can enjoy it on ice with a slice of lemon.
GSN Rating: A

29940_hr-800Carpano Bianco (14.9% abv)
Visual: Very pale gold.
Nose: Licorice is the most present character with a backbone of wine.  Extremely subtle hints of other herbs lie at the far end of the spectrum.
Taste: More of the licorice, but balanced with a decent dose of bitterness.  Fairly sweet and with a richer mouthfeel than Carpano Dry.  Fruity and refreshing.
Finish: The bitterness tempers a higher sugar content and bears a striking resemblance to some sweet vermouths I’ve had minus the burnt edge.  Perfect on its own or in a fruit based cocktail.
Overall: A little too sweet for my taste, but still one of the standard bearers in Italian white vermouth.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Carpano


I don’t know about you, but when I think of Canadian breezes I get chills.  Sure, they have beautiful weather for a few months of the year, but in the winter it gets so cold that even the St. Lawrence river freezes over.  So, let’s try to focus on a pleasant wind that refreshes.

Most Canadian whisky is blended and goes down smooth.  It’s a bit unusual to have so many other fruity ingredients added, so I opted for Black Velvet Reserve in this one, and it definitely paid off.  The whisky flavor was present and not buried. Overall, I was reminded of a Singapore Sling in some ways.  It’s that cherry/pineapple mix.

You’ll notice I left the garnish off.  Only reason being that I didn’t have any fresh pineapple on hand, and truth be told, the drink doesn’t need it.

Canadian Breeze
1.5oz canadian whisky
0.75oz pineapple juice
0.5oz lemon juice
0.25oz maraschino liqueur
garnish: pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry

Shake with ice. Strain into ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with pineapple and cherry.


GSN is pleased to present the final review of the Facundo rum portfolio. We’ve previously discussed the Neo, Eximo, and Exquisito rums.  We recently received a sample of the epitome of the Bacardi lineup.

Paraiso means paradise, and I’m sure is a slight nod to the angel’s share of spirit lost each year during aging, as the rum in this blend is 16 to 23 years old.  Aged in ex-Cognac XO French Oak barrels for about a month, the finish is unique.

Facundo Paraiso Rum (80 proof)
Visual: Dark copper.
Nose: Almost effervescent quality, with hints of mint, coconut, almond paste, and high notes of bright wine.  A most unusual olfactory palate for rum.
Taste: Initially thin and very smooth, after a few seconds a load of caramel and butterscotch kicks in, followed by some light spices.  The cognac from the barrel adds a touch of crisp intensity that makes for a knife-edge top note.  There is not a hint of aggressiveness or over-aging here, only a peaceful warmth and mellowness.
Finish: Medium long with more of the rum itself speaking than the cognac patina.
Overall: Definitely a rum that makes you think.  It’s not what it appears to be at first, but something much more subtle and mysterious.  This is the kind of rum to pull out once a year on a special day, pour two snifters and share with someone special over a relaxing evening.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Facundo Rum



Mess Hall Cocktail Cherries –  Go to virtually any bar in the world and along with a supply of spirits, you will find cocktail cherries.  You may not find bitters, but you’ll always see cherries.  Unfortunately, they are often bright neon colored versions that neither taste like nor have the texture of real cherries.  No surprise as they are made using a method that does not sound appetizing in the least.

“In their modern form, the cherries are first preserved in a brine solution usually containing sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride to bleach the fruit, then soaked in a suspension of food coloring (common red food dye, FD&C Red 40), sugar syrup, and other components.” – Wikipedia

Fast forward to 2010.  Marianne and Hans Sundquist of Chicago, Illinois decided to try their hand at making real cocktail cherries.  Using locally grown Balaton cherries, they gently press them to release some juice, then add a blend of black peppercorn, star anise, cassia bark and rose, along with Demerara sugar and bourbon.  The end result is a tart cherry with a slight chew that has elements of vanilla and a hint of spice.  The liquid is more of a juice than a syrup; quite different from European preserved cherries.  An interesting change of pace and a very flavorful garnish.

GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Messhall Cocktail


Take a look at the photo of this cocktail. You see what I did there?  A visual pun.  The garnish is in the shape of a “C” for Camino, and the glass is decorated with rays.

Anyway, this is an amazing drink courtesy of Ted Henwood.  The ingredients are so disparate, that it looks like a Frankenstein’s monster.  And yet…  An aged tequila works beautifully with a dry sherry.  If you think of this drink in basic terms, it has all the requirements: base spirit, wine based modifier, sweetener and bitters.

Lovely, and each ingredient enhances the other.  Great job, Ted!

Camino Del Ray
1.75oz anejo tequila
1oz oloroso sherry
0.5oz drambuie
1 dash rhubarb bitters
garnish: lemon twist

Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add lemon twist.

%d bloggers like this: