- Jonathan Winters
Barr Hill Tom Cat Reserve Gin Review
Barr Hill takes it to the next level.
Review Barr Hill Tom Cat Reserve Gin
Made in: Montpelier, Vermont, USA by Caledonia Spirits Inc
Method: Extraction still.
45% alcohol/90 proof
Botanicals 2 : Juniper, raw honey,
Style: Old Tom, barrel aged.
This review is for batch 4/21
A few weeks ago I sat down, virtually, with Joe Noto from the Gin Reviews from South Florida (who has his channel over on youtube) and we sipped some gin and discussed the fun inherent in finding and tasting a new gin. Now while Joe makes a few funny faces while doing his gin reviews, I have great respect for his palate and his love of gin. It wasn’t that hard for us to find a gin we had in common that just hadn’t yet been reviewed on both of our sites. We decided that Barr Hill’s Tom Cat Reserve was what we’d taste and review a bit together.
I’ve written about Barr Hill before, for their regular old tom gin, one of the simplest gins, and yet most complex gins on the market. The total botanical list is two ingredients. Juniper and raw honey. But it takes on it’s flavors rather seasonally based on that the bees happen to be sipping on during that particular season. This gin, the Reserve Tom Cat gin, however takes that gin to a new level by barrel aging it for 4-6 months in American oak casks.
Most gins today are made, and bottled very soon after distillation, but as more and more gins come to the market, we are seeing more and more distillers trying to make a product that stands out. They are experimenting with new styles, or in this case old styles. Barrel aging gin was a style most common before 1850.
Barrel aged gins have no official designation, but most people use them in recipes that call for old tom style gins, or as substitutes for whiskey in cocktails that call for a brown spirit. That is because these gins are dark, and more whiskey-like - with flavors imparted not just from the botanical list, but from the flavor the barrel itself imparts.
Tom Cat Reserve is an excellent example of barrel aged gin with a depth of flavor far deeper, than in the Barr Hill Reserve. That said, it’s such a different gin, that it may appeal to a totally different palate.
So what’s in the bottle? Let’s find out.
Like a good quality single malt, barrel aged gins are meant for sipping, and Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat is no exception. It’s beautifully smooth, and the oak comes through clearly. I liked it best deeply chilled, or over ice, which adds a level of viscosity to the gin.
The scent here is very unlike that of a whiskey, but deep resinous pine, with hints of eucalyptus, cedar, oak, and hickory.. In fact I would say you can find scents of a whole lumberyard in the background here, once you get past the deep resinous spruce.
Flavorwise this big kick of this gin is reminiscent of fresh pine sap off the tree, resinous and strong. Then you taste a modicum of honey, sourwood, and maybe even buckwheat in flavor.. Following that are trace notes of oak, black pepper, caramel, orange, and vanilla with a pleasant wisp of campfire smoke.
Viscous, slightly syrupy, and sharp on the palate.
This gin is a rough one to mix with. It is meant to be sipped, and ti can be used as a mixing gin, but only in those drink that call for strong flavors, or in some cocktails as a replacement for rye or bourbon. That is NOT to say it tastes as much like whiskey as some other barrel aged gins, like Rabbit Hole or even That Old Devil's Bathtub.
I find one of the biggest failings of this gin is in a G&T. It is very, very far from classic. That isn’t to say that it is not good. But the sweetness inherent in the gin can be a bit off putting in the drink unless you use a particularly bitter tonic (else it comes off a bit of ginger ale type taste). That said, it’s a very interesting gin and tonic, slightly mulish in the flavor profile, but with an added kick of pineness.
If you are a martini person, you’ll find this does not in any way make anything that resembles a traditional martini. Here the honey in the gin, and the deep resinous juniper in the ice cold spirit transform this into a sweet, aromatic and flavored martini. When one of my guests suggested it reminded them of honey flavored cough drops, I had to agree. That said I found that I liked it a fair bit that way.
While I love this gin as a mixer, I think most people won’t - the sweetness is off putting in sweet cocktails, and the pine/spruce resin flavor is just so strong that it can overwhelm delicate drinks, That said it should work well in heavy flavored drinks or drinks where an extra kick of pine, like a Corpse Reviver #2, or things like a Collins. That said while I tried it in a number of drinks I have to admit my favorite for it was in a gin Old Fashioned. The notes of the gin really came through here and made this into something special.
This is an elite sipping gin. One of the best in this category, but it doesn’t always play nicely with other ingredients. So much so that I’d hesitate to suggest mixing it, but saving it for special things like gin Old Fashioned, and sipping neat. Those looking for stronger flavors might well enjoy it too, but a certain percent will call the resinous backbone too medicinal for their tastes.
Rating (Sipping): 98 - While not for everyone this is an excellent sipping gin.
Rating (Mixing) 84 - If you are making gin old fashioneds you can add 13 points to this rating, but this is gin with a very limited mixing range and really should be left only for those with adventurous souls when it comes to making cocktails. In the hand of the right mixologist however I believe there’s magic in the bottle.
Overall rating: 92 - Buy it, but know it’s limitations.
What you need to know about my 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.