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Aviation Gin

Review: Aviation Gin 79/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on August 14, 2017

Aviation Gin is produced by House Spirits in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon). According to the company website, Aviation was the result of a collaboration between House Spirits and American Bartender, Ryan Magarian, and many consider this spirit to be the gin which launched the American Gin style.

For those unfamiliar with what is termed American Gin, it is a style which tempers the flavour of the juniper berry (and citrus to some extent) in favour of bringing forward a more floral style of gin. That is not to say that juniper is absent among the botanicals which help to infuse their flavour into the spirit, it is just that the juniper is held in check to allow the other botanicals, (in this case: cardamom, lavender, sarsaparilla, coriander, anise and orange peel) more expression.

When Aviation Gin arrived upon the scene in 2006, it created quite a stir. In fact, (again according to the Aviation Gin Website) the Wine Enthusiast Magazine scored the spirit an amazing 97 points for its outstanding flavour and balance.

Over a decade has passed since the launch of the spirit, and as time passes it is not unusual for things to change and we may have some evidence that Aviation Gin is not necessarily the same spirit it always was. In doing my research, I found two well-known websites (The Gin is In) and (The Gin Foundry) who spoke of the spirit having at its base a neutral spirit made from rye grain. However, when I examined both my bottle of Aviation gin, and the company website I could find no reference to rye spirit. Instead both the bottle and the website state only that the spirit is made from grain spirit. That rye is not mentioned is significant, and this means that my review is perhaps timely.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

Aviation arrives in the medium tall flask style bottle shown to the left. The front label is a simple affair with a black background, and bold white fonts. It is easy to read and is easy to find on my gin shelf. The side label tells me the spirit is distilled from grain, and both the front and side labels tell me the juniper spirit is bottled at 84 proof or 42 % alcohol by volume.

My only real quibble with the bottle presentation is the plastic screw cap closure which has only two threads to seal the bottle. I would prefer a more secure cap to help quell my fear that the lid has not been attached sufficiently tight. Having said that, I see no evidence of anything that is amiss.

In the Glass 8/10

When I poured the Aviation Gin into my glencairn, then tilted and twirled the gin noting that it left only a light sheen on the inside of the glass the crest of which gave up small skinny legs. The piny aroma is not as forceful as a typical London Dry Gin, as juniper lies beside rather than ahead of the coriander and cardamom with lavender pushing through quite clearly as well. There are hints of lemon, licorice (anise) and mint and if you wait for it, orange peel climbs out of the glass to join in the menagerie of scents and smells.

At this point, I am undecided in my appreciation. If balance is defined as an equal thrust between the botanicals then indeed the gin is balanced; however, I find myself wishing the juniper were just a little stronger, and the coriander, cardamom, and lavender were tempered. I will reserve judgement until I have tasted the spirit and tried a few recommended cocktails.

In The Mouth 47.5/60

The flavour of the gin surprised me as now both coriander and cardamom seem to be pulling ahead of the juniper with lavender barely behind. A mild licorice-like flavour (from the anise most probably) gives the spirit a light earthiness which helps to temper the floral effects of the lavender. The citrus impact of orange peel lags well behind. I have the same feelings as I had when I nosed the glass, I want the juniper to be just a little stronger, and I am worried that the spicy coriander and cardamom are going to be too aggressive in my cocktails. As far as sipping neat or over ice is concerned, the spirit does not tempt me strongly.

I mixed a recipe from the Aviation Gin website, (the Improved Chelsea Sidecar) and my concerns were strengthened as the coriander in particular seemed to be featured much too strongly in the mixed drink. I tried a few other cocktails, a Gin and Tonic and a Dry Gin Martini and was similarly disappointed.

So I decided that I should mix the cocktail for which the gin was apparently designed and named for, The Aviation Cocktail (see recipe below) noting however, that a key ingredient for the Aviation Cocktail is Creme de Violette which unfortunately is hard to come by in my locale. I did a bit or research regarding substitutes and decided that my bottle of Paul’s Pies Blueberry Pie Liqueur was as close to the required Creme de Violet as I was going to get.

This time the cocktail tasted fine! The strong mixing flavours of Maraschino Cherry, Lemon Juice, and the aforementioned Blueberry Pie Liqueur melded nicely together with the firm coriander and cardamom spice within the Aviation Gin.

I guess you could say that while I was happy that the Aviation Gin worked so well in my variation of its namesake cocktail, I also felt the gin was limited in its appeal.

In the Throat 11.5/15

In the finish the spiciness of cardamom and coriander are the firmest giving me a real impression of cilantro at the ending. My suggestion is that I would prefer these be held more in check and perhaps a little more citrus from the orange peel be allowed more expression.

The Afterburn 7.5/10

When Aviation Gin was launched it was immediately hailed as a breakthrough gin which gave the spirits enthusiasts a wonderful alternative to the ubiquitous London Dry Gin format. And, as mentioned earlier, according to the Aviation Gin website, the spirit scored an amazing 97 points when rated by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

So you are probably wondering, what gives? Why is the Rum Howler’s score so much lower? The simple answer is that I don’t really worry about what others score a particular spirit, I rate each according to my enjoyment (and the enjoyment the spirit garners within my tasting group). In terms of enjoyment, Aviation Gin just doesn’t stack up.

Having said that, I should point out that there just might be a little more going on. As indicated in the introduction, when I researched Aviation Gin, I found references to a spirit which was constructed upon a base of rye. However when I checked the Aviation Gin website, I could find no reference at all to rye grain. The website (and the label) simply tells us that the spirit is constructed from a base of neutral spirit distilled from grain. If indeed the original spirit (when launched in 2006) was based upon rye, and this is no longer the case, then the spirit has changed in a dramatic way. One might go so far as to speculate that it was the rye base which complemented the American Style so well.

It would be interesting to receive feedback from House Spirits regarding this speculation.

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

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Suggested Recipe

Aviation North

1 1/2 oz  Aviation American Gin
3/4 oz  Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz  Maraschino Cherry Liqueur
1 tsp Paul’s Pies Blueberry Liqueur
1/4 oz  Sugar Syrup
Ice
Brandied Cherry

Add the first five ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
(Use both crushed ice and ice cubes)
Shake until the sides of the metal shaker frost
Double strain into a cocktail glass
Garnish with a Brandied Cherry

Enjoy Responsibly

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!

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My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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