A worthy West Coast entry to the US gin scene.
Review Aria Portland Dry Gin
Made in: Portland, Oregon, USA, by Martin Ryan Distillery
Method: Custom Pot Still.
45% alcohol/90 proof
Botanicals (10): Juniper, angelica, coriander, cardamom, grains of paradise, cubeb berry, orris root, cassia bark, lemon peel, orange peel.
Style: London Dry
I ran into this gin when I stopped at a local wine shop to pick up some fresh Maine oysters (ok, that’s a bit of a weird story, but it involves an oyster CSA, that’s a Community Sourced Agriculture (or in this case Aquaculture) collective, that brings fresh Maine oysters from a number of oyster farms to NY once a week). While I waited for my oysters I quite naturally went and perused the gin section as that’s what I tend to do. It was a small but well curated selection, with mostly excellent gins, and one or two which I had not seen before. And that is how I met Aria.
Aria gin is the only product that Martin Ryan Distillery makes. That says something. While other distilleries turn out variations, and other spirits (usually vodka or whiskey), Martin Ryan sticks to one thing, which they are proud to do very well. It’s a Portland take on a London Dry made with all organic and fair trade ingredients.
It’s a gin that was created for mixing, meant to stand out in a cocktail. So the base had to be firm, strong, and mostly familiar to gin drinkers around the world. Hence the traditional London Dry profile, but it also has to be different enough that when you tasted the gin you wouldn’t confuse it with products made by mass gin producers.
The distillers took more than four years to create their formula, and did a good enough job that they’ve won more than a handful of awards including a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. So I was more than a little bit curious as to what I’d find when I opened the bottle.
Aria is pleasant to sip, not terribly hot, but plenty flavorful in a largely classic flavor profile
On the nose this gin has a lovely scent, warm and open with notes of fresh pine and juniper followed by undertones of mint, angelica and herbs.
The flavors of Aria are fairly classic here, juniper clearly leads the way with a sharp spice background with ginger, cardamom, and the cinnamon like flavor of cassia, followed with longer notes of angelica in a lemon base with a lighter hint of orange and pepper in the end.
The palate is fresh, tangy, thin and cool.
With the classic flavor profile this gin seemed primed to be a solid mixer.
It is a nice martini gin, with a touch of Dolin dry vermouth, layered with complex flavors both classic and unexpected. The unique flavors come through clearly here. It’s not quite elite in depth, but it’s not far from it, it’s certainly a big leap beyond the classic bar martini gins. While I can attribute some of the notes of flavor here to the vermouth, it’s undoubtedly the gin that shines through.
Paired with Indian Tree Indian style tonic the gin was actually a bit underwhelming as the juniper just failed to stand up, The bitter lemon citrus was plenty evident as were elements of the spice mix, notably coriander, ginger, and pepper. That said while it was a good gin and tonic, it was lacking a touch of the crispness I would have liked to see.
While this gin was quite solid in more complex mixed drinks, its backbone flavors were buried in a number of the cocktails I tried it in, so much so that in some drinks, I could not at a sip say definitively that this was a “gin” cocktail, the juniper was just that subdued by the other ingredients. I found that to be especially true in a fresh lime gimlet. It was far better in a Negroni, but again the “gin” didn’t quite pop through with any authority although notes of caramelized sugar, and vanilla certainly made up for that by filling in some blanks.
While I really liked this gin straight, with ice, in martini’s and gin and tonics, I found it more workmanlike in many of the cocktails I tried it in. For that reason alone I won’t call it elite, but it’s still a very good gin - especially at it’s price point ($24-29).
I would definitely buy another bottle for martinis and gin and tonics, and I’d use it as a mixing gin if making complex cocktails for groups that included both gin lovers, and those who tell me they “don’t like gin”.
Rating (Sipping): 89 - A good sipping gin that highlights rather than hides it’s mostly classical origin.
Rating (Mixing) 81 - quite good in more simple drinks, but the “gin” flavor can be lost in some more complex cocktails.
Overall rating: 85 - Worthy of a place on the shelf, a good all around gin.
What you need to know about reviews: All my reviews are my honest opinions based upon my own personal tasting. I am NOT a paid reviewer, and no compensation was given, or expected. I may from time to time choose to do a second review and amend my opinion of a product, should I feel like it and find my review criteria has evolved, or that I’ve found it different at a later date. That said, as I’m unlikely to repurchase anything I thought was less than very good to excellent, it would be by chance or at the request of a distiller who thought I rated them very unfairly - BUT even then, whatever you get will always be my honest opinion.