Inspired by French smugglers crossing the channel, these barrel-aged gins offer a glimpse of what gin might have tasted like after being transported in oak.
Gin’s resurgence since 2005 has brought with it many new brands, styles and finishes to gin, often looking to historical references as starting points for modern adaptations. Citadelle Gin were one of the fore runners to do this, launching their regular offering back in 1995 and can be considered one of the early pioneers in gin’s resurgence. Citadelle Gin did a lot to help the craft distilling movement move forward in France.
Over a decade later, with his adventurous spirit searching for a new challenge, distiller and Citadelle Gin creator Alexandre Gabriel decided to age Citadelle Gin in oak barrels. In doing so, he was nodding towards the origins of gin when much of it was transported in wood, not glass, plastic or stainless steel. He was also giving a nod to Cognac in which the Cognac Ferrand name is highly regarded and where the Citadelle distillery is based.
As we outlined in our other post about Citadelle Gin, the producers, Cognac Ferrand, got the name “Citadelle” and recipe from an old distillery set up in a citadel in Dunkirk in 1771, which at the time was an important port for the spice trade. However and rather interestingly for this concept of ageing gin – or recreating a gin that would resemble something that had been transported – Gabriel’s research into the Citadelle Gin’s archives unearthed documents that showed that in 1775 some of the distillery’s genievre production was being smuggled from France to England in small oak barrels, by royal decree of the French King Louis XVI.
Thankfully for gin fans today, there’s no smuggling required to get your hands on French Gin. The current distillation and ageing occurs in Château de Bonbonnet in Cognac, France and Citadelle Reserve is sold in specialist shops throughout the UK.
The first aged Citadelle Gin Reserve was born in 2008 when Gabriel and cellar master Frederic Gilbert began to experiment with ageing gin. They placed Citadelle Gin in used oak casks that had a strong char for six months. The result was good enough for them to test the market and they decided to bottle and sell it in extremely small quantities as a way of testing the market and to see if there was an audience for such a product. In 2009, they wanted less wood flavour and more of the finesse that ageing in wood can provide, so they placed Citadelle Gin in oak casks that had a medium char for five months. This produced more subtle flavours and although only 8,000 bottles were released (more than the first year but still minute amounts) it caused quite a stir – gaining critics choice awards and crucial word of mouth.
The production of Citadelle Reserve 2010, the third vintage aged gin from the company (bottled at 44% ABV) was limited to less than 12,000 units. Whilst it was the third year that Citadelle Gin Reserve had been created, this is the first time that the cellar master had changed the actual recipe for the gin itself with a specific combination of botanicals intentionally designed for oak ageing.
Gabriel and Gilbert decided to develop more floral and spiced notes during the distillation of the “special” Citadelle Gin, emphasising notes of violet and iris for the flower aromatics and grains of paradise for spice. They believed that the emphasis on these botanicals would create a gin with a better harmony and elegance. The gin was aged for 6 months in used 12-year old oak casks that had a light char.
Citadelle Reserve to taste…
The result is a pale gold gin that retains the aromatic palette of the original Citadelle Gin, although the citrus and cinnamon notes are less prominent. The ageing has clearly enriched the gin with a soft fullness, with vanilla notes seeping through. As with the original Citadelle Gin, the juniper presence is mild but present nonetheless, however the Reserve has a fuller spicier nose. The gin is not necessarily one for the purists but worth a try – particularly if you are fond of genever style spirits and are keen to have a look at what gin might have been like in yesteryear.
“Ageing in oak gives more roundness to our gin and we felt that using older casks would impart a level of elegance and finesse that we were looking for. This is truly a gin of another era.” Alexandre Gabriel
Once again, Gabriel and his team didn’t quite receive the plaudits they deserved, perhaps as the idea was ahead of its time. Since 2012, there have been numerous barrel-aged gins released and barrel-aged cocktails washed over the bar scene (and seemingly washed away at the same pace) like a trend in the fashion industry. Citadelle Reserve was one of the very first on the market and whilst there are arguably better barrel-aged gins available, it is a good example of just how pioneering this team truly are.
There are plans to release a new vintage each year, focusing on different botanicals and playing with different characteristics in both the gin and the wood so keep a look out for it on the shelves, quite literally, as you don’t know what you are going to get. Although, knowing the quality they attach to their spirit it will be, without doubt, a gin worth trying.
For more information about Citadelle Gin, visit their website: www.citadellegin.com
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