It’s pronounced “ka-roon“. Caorunn is a new gin from that hot bed of white liquor production… Scotland? Produced at the Balmenach whisky distillery in the Speyside region, Caorunn is a small-batch gin with a uniquely Scottish character, a gorgeous bottle, and fascinating flavors. Given the nature of this blog and my own significantly Scot heritage, I am compelled at this point to ask Mike Myers for his opinion on Scottish gin:
Caorunn does not distill its base grain neutral spirit at Balmenach, since pot-distilled barley is not exactly a great base for gin. The Scot element comes from the water (of course) and the unique blend of botanicals, including five unusual ones which they identify as “Celtic botanicals“. Heather, Dandelion, and Bog Myrtle all are sharply evocative of Highland landscapes. Coul Blush Apples are an early 19th century hybrid, recently rediscovered. The final element is Rowan Berry, which the maker describes as “the very soul of Caorunn.” Rowan berries are traditionally used in a variety of Celtic herbal medicines, and seen as a powerful source of mystical good fortune. Also, they are popular eating and commonly used to make or flavor brandies, though I’ve never seen such here in the US.
The traditional botanicals are juniper, coriander, angelica, cassia, and lemon and orange peels.
The infusion of the alcohol into gin is what is performed at Balmenach and is performed in the above pictured 1920′s made copper berry chamber. The botanicals are spread out on the wide trays you see, then the chamber is filled with the alcohol vapor over a long period to infuse them into the gin. This contraption was originally designed for extracting essential oils used in the manufacture of perfume. It is a pretty uncommon device for distilling gin.
The spirit resulting from these unique as the processes and ingredients is pretty special in its own right. Caorunn is bright and very clean in flavor, and has for me the rather odd effect of smelling lightly sweet while tasting fairly dry. The apple in particular seems evident in the nose and less so in the mouth. It is certainly no Tanqueray, but I think it is closer in character to a London Dry than it is to the hard to define “New American” gins.
I like this gin. A lot. But it is not a gin you can deploy indiscriminately in all cocktails. Its real strength is in combination with other herbal flavors. To that end it is a simply magnificent Martini gin. It is difficult to describe why this gin goes so very, very well with vermouth, but it does. I don’t go with the whole olive thing, so I cannot attest to how things will go if you like to dirty up the waters. On their extensive and beautifully illustrated recipe page, they recommend garnishing a martini with a slice of apple, which I have not tried, but will next time I get my hands on some really good ones.
I’m into my second bottle of Caorunn, largely because it’s about the only thing I’m making Martinis with any more. When I find a particular brand that seems perfect in a particular drink I make regularly, I tend to just dedicate it to that particular purpose. But of course, as with all gins I had to try Caorunn in the Greatest Cocktail Ever Mixed™. I actually tried this first, and it almost made me give up on Caorunn from the start. I think the product has a Kryptonite, and it is indeed green: The Lime. There is some chemical interaction happening between the two that triggers a very slight but notable acridity in the mix. If you peruse the brand’s recipe page, you won’t see lime listed at all in the excellent Search by Ingredient feature.
So, no Pegus, no Rickeys, no lime with your Caorunn. It seems to go quite nicely with other citruses, however, and some whose taste I trust say it works particularly well with grapefruit. Rather than get frustrated with this weirdness, I just chalk it up to the marvelous opportunity for experimentation cocktails offer.
Caorunn is not yet available all over the US, so I am happy indeed that Ohio is among the first states where it is distributed. I’m guessing that it will be appearing in lots more markets before too long, so if it isn’t in your local store right now, keep looking. In the meantime, it is available from several online retailers such as DrinkupNY.