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Citadelle Gin

Review: Citadelle Gin  88.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on March 10, 2013

Citadelle Gin has a history which stretches back to 1775 when King Louis XVI authorized two Frenchmen, Carpeau and Stival, to open a genievre distillery at the Citadelle in Dunkirk, which would serve as the Royal Distillery with an exclusive 20 year privilege. The Citadelle Distillery produced about 1000 litres of genievre per day which was predominantly shipped in small casks for sale in England, where gin was very popular.

About 200 years later in 1989,  Alexandre Gabriel of Cognac Ferrand, recognized that in France, gin had become more of an industrial spirit with much of the heritage and refinement lessened by time. He decided to create a handcrafted gin using small copper pots in the style and tradition of the Citadelle Distillery of old. Fortunately records existed of the old gin making techniques at the Citadelle Distillery, and after several years of research Alexandre was successful in distilling an old style handcrafted gin under the Citadelle name at the Cognac Ferrand facilities in Cognac, France. According to Mr. Gabriel,

” We have 12 beautiful small copper pot stills working on an open flame. We use them for Cognac distillation from October till March. Cognac distillation is only legal till the end of March so the wine that is distilled is very fresh. So we use the other months to make great gin. In fact, it’s the only gin that I know off that is distilled on an open flame, like it was in the old days, in a Cognac pot still. “

SAM_0635 CitadelleIn the Bottle 4.5/5

The Citadelle Gin arrives in the tall slender blue bottle pictured to the left. The label is printed right upon the glass, and in addition to pictures of old sailing vessels (presumably carrying Citadelle gin from France to England), it also incorporates a sort of periodic table of 19 botanicals which are pictured forming a ring near the bottom of the bottle. Using a bit of a magnifying glass, I can identify all of the botanicals: juniper, violet root, coriander, almond, lemon rind, orange peel, angelica, cardamom, cassia bark, cinnamon, liquorice, grains of paradise, cubeb, cumin, savory, star anise, nutmeg, fennel and orris root. It is kind of geeky; but I like knowing all the ingredients.

The only quibble I have with the bottle is with the metallic screw cap topper, a plastic topper or synthetic cork would have garnered a perfect score. (I should note that the label tells me that the Citadelle Gin is bottled at 44 % alcohol by volume.)

In the Glass 9/10

The gin is free of colour, and when I tilt the spirit and twirl my glass I see it leaves a light sheen on the inside, with a crown that dangles tons of tiny legs down. These legs do not crawl down the inside of the glass, rather they just hang there reminding me of children’s legs dangling off the end of a pier. The initial scents from the glass reveal a fair amount of juniper with hints of the other botanicals reaching my nostrils. Over time, the lightly spicy scent of cardamom appears giving the glass a light effervescent character. The juniper and cardamom are then joined by floral accents (mainly lilac) and a light lemony citrus. There is much more, but the botanicals appear mainly as wisps of aroma, and although I seem to detect some cinnamon and anise in particular, I can say with all honesty that perhaps I would not have noticed them had I not deciphered the ingredient list on the bottle. What is striking to me is how well-balanced this appears on the nose. It is very easy to sit and just enjoy the breezes above the glass regardless of whether or not I can dissect that aroma accurately.

In the Mouth 53/60

Whereas the nose implied an a bit of floral character underlying the Citadelle Gin, the initial flavour seems to take another path. I taste juniper and cardamom as the dominant elements within the gin; however a spicy triumvirate of coriander, cumin, and citrus peel are steadfastly following along. The result is a gin which tastes both spicy and bitter in equal proportion (the bitterness seems most closely tied to the juniper). It is only after I take a few more sips that I notice that the floral impressions of lavender and violet have been lying in the background tainting the juniper and spices with their presence. I also seem to taste lemon balsam and light impressions of orange liqueur weaving in and out. Even with these welcome flavours, the Citadelle Gin is still a little too aggressive with the bitter and the spice for me to sip the spirit comfortably.

At this point in my tasting regimen, I am quite undecided as to how things will turn out. I am having trouble enjoying the gin neat; but this is not really a criticism as gin is not generally consumed in that format. Gin is a cocktail spirit, and I am required to pour a few mixed drinks in order to render any sort of judgement.

And so I begin with a Gin Gimlet  (made with fresh lime) and follow that with a Gin and Tonic. I must say, that the results are very surprising. The bitter flavour and the spiciness which made the gin unsuitable for sipping carried through into the cocktails; but rather than spoiling them, I believe these features elevated both cocktails which were noticeably more complex and refreshing than I was expecting. I was inspired to go even further designing a more complex recipe (see below), and I was just as pleased at how the gin continues to push the envelope of the cocktail experience, enhancing my enjoyment.

In the Throat 13/15

When sipped neat, the Citadelle Gin finishes with a rush of bitter juniper and spicy cardamom which puckers the mouth and tickles the tonsils just a little too firmly. There is some warmth in the throat followed by a fade of juniper, lemon peel, balsam and lilac. These characteristics are uncomfortable when encountered in the undiluted gin; but, when the gin is added to the cocktail, they most definitely enhance the experience. (In a quality gin, it is the cocktail experience that really counts.)

The Afterburn 9/10

If you are a cocktail enthusiast, and you have not found your go to gin, I am going to suggest that you give Citadelle a serious look. The combination of bitter and spice which the Citadelle brings to the mixed drink adds a wonderful complexity which is most enjoyable. I am looking forward to a few more cocktail experiments with the rest of my sample bottle.

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


Suggested Recipe:

Based loosely upon the Red Lion Cocktail, my March Lion Cocktail omits the grenadine in favour of sugar syrup, and reverses the proportions of Gin and Curacao resulting in a much nicer bar drink.

SAM_0645The March Lion Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Citadelle Gin
3/4 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Orange Juice
1/2 oz Sugar Syrup
Orange slice for garnish

Add the first four Ingredients into a cocktail Shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with an orange slice

Note: The photo was taken on March the 2nd, as you can see, March came in like a Lion!


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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