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Defender Island Smoked Rosemary Gin

Review: Defender Island Smoked Rosemary Gin 83/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on April 06, 2016

Legends Distilling is a small craft distillery in Naramata B.C. (the heart of Okanagan Wine Country). Owner’s Dawn and Doug Lennie moved there 11 years ago and witnessed the progression of the wine business happening all around them. They were already running their own businesses, but had a dream of working together to build a new company they could share. Dawn and Doug had been watching what was going on with craft distilling in the USA, and they decided that distilled spirits would be a great business to bring to their community as a compliment to all the great wines available around them. Offering something new in the area was key. This included their unique location along the Naramata Bench, as other distilleries were being located in more industrial areas.

According to Dawn:

“We are thrilled with our location…we have access to a bounty of beautiful raw ingredients to create our products from and fabulous scenery and ambiance for our tasting room and lounge.  We want to give customers the opportunity to learn the whole story of our products from ‘farm to glass’ when they visit the distillery.”

Defender Island Smoked Rosemary Gin is made from a wheat based spirit which was produced upon Legend Distillery’s main still (which comprises of a pot and 20 plate column). The gin features juniper, wild Okanagan sage and a host of other botanicals which are vapor infused through their copper still. Following distillation, flame charred locally grown rosemary is added, giving the gin a unique smokey flavour. The spirit is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

Defender Island SAM_2364In the Bottle 4.5/5

My sample for the Defender Island Gin is shown to the left. It is a dark brown medicinal flask style bottle sealed with a plastic cap. At the top of the black label is a small picture of what I imagine is representation of Defender Island as with its location in latitude and longitude.

The bottle design is wrapped up in the Legend of Defender Island as related upon the back label of the bottle:

Kept captive since 1876, Defender Island Gin began it’s life with the early settlers of the west coast of Canada. Known for its rich climate and access to orchards abundant with fresh fruit and gardens stocked with flavourful herbs, it was the perfect place to craft a legendary spirit.

With the intense pressure of widespread prohibition reaching the west coast, a small group of settlers created their finest batch of botanically enriched gin. with few options available to protect their gin, they begrudgingly entered an agreement with some rogue inhabitants on an isolated islet…called Defender Island – located in the northern reaches of Howe Sound, British Columbia.

Eventually the weight of prohibition was lifted, and the settlers went to retrieve their batch of handmade gin – but only a cryptic map and scraped note that simply stated – ‘get lost’.

Years later the rare gin recipe was found but the settler’s stock never was. The Legend of Defender Island lives on in the hearts and cocktail glasses of those dedicated to fine handcrafted spirits.

The flask style bottle is easily hidden or concealed from discovery upon your person as an allusion to the gin which was concealed upon Defender Island. The flask style is also reminiscent of old medicine bottles which link the design to the location of the Distillery which is situated in an old Doctor’s office in Naramata.

In the Glass 8/10

When I pour the gin in my glass, I am greeted with a blush coloured spirit which seems to have a wisp of dark smoke within its rustic hue. The breezes above the glass are appealing. I receive a firm piny juniper scent which is softened by the very apparent aroma of smoked rosemary. Light impressions of poultry seasoning, treacle, orange liqueur, and a light coriander-like spiciness come forward as well.

I like what I have encountered to this point. In particular the savoury impression of smoked rosemary is very interesting.

In the Mouth 50/60

The gin enters the mouth with the juniper and rosemary smoke leading out in front of the other flavours. There is a mild sweetness which reminds me of orange Curacao. Within the savoury smoked rosemary flavour is a complimentary impression of sage, and now that I have more clearly identified it upon the palate, the sage comes through more clearly upon the nose as well. Riding along behind is a squeal of spice which resembles both citrus peel and spicy coriander. Lightly bitter licorice ebbs in the background.

Again, I find myself liking what I have encountered to this point. The gin is almost of sipping quality on its own, and with a few ice-cubes, I am not deterred from finishing my first sample ‘on the rocks’.

I did have trouble finding a suitable cocktail. I tried both a dry Martini and a Dirty Martini without much success. (The Dirty Martini tasted vaguely of bacon which perhaps would appeal to others more than I.) The spirit did not seem to be suited to Gin and Tonics either. I finally settled upon a recipe similar to the one suggested upon the Legend Distilling Website, the Defender Sour (see my version below). I would though, be more inclined to sip the Defender Island over ice than to mix more cocktails.

In the Throat 12.5/15

The finish brings us back to piny juniper and smoked rosemary. There is perhaps a touch of alcohol astringency which is settled with a bit of ice.

The Afterburn 8/10

Defender Island Gin was difficult to review. To aid my scoring, I served the gin to my tasting group and found that the spirit was very polarizing. Some of the members were like me and found it quite interesting, others were less enthusiastic. We all seemed to agree though that it was a spirit which favoured being served over ice rather than in cocktails.

My final score of 83/100 recognizes that I quite liked the interesting smoked rosemary flavour. However it is also true that the spirit is quite limited as a mixer. I suspect however, that a better mixologist than myself might be able to do more with the unique flavour of this gin than I could.

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


Suggested Recipe

Gin Sour SAM_2434Sour Defender

1 1/2 oz Defender Island Smoked Rosemary Gin
1 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 ox Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Legend’s Manitou Orange Liqueur
1/2 oz Sugar syrup
Fresh Rosemary Sprig

Add the ingredients into a cocktail Shaker with ice
Shake until the outside of the shaker begins to frost
Strain into a Cocktail Glass

Garnish with fresh rosemary sprig

Of course, Enjoy!

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!


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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