A very disappointing Spanish gin.
Review: 1890 Exotica Gin, by James Garcia Avila
Made in: Seville, Spain
37.5% alcohol/75 proof
Botanicals (4?): juniper, anise, blackberries, cinnamon,
Style: Modern Gin
A recent trip to Spain, again brought me to one of the great hotbeds of gin in the modern world. Most of what I saw in the markets and bars I had seen regularly in Spain, the various Larios products , the Puerto de Indias line, Nordes, etc. But the one gin I saw repeatedly that I knew nothing about was 1890 Exotica. So of course, I got a bottle and decided to taste it over the course of the week I was spending in Andalucía.
In trying to research this gin there is not much information, even on their website, and nothing approaching a botanical list save for the four ingredients mentioned above. That said, the handful of reviews I could find on it were positive, so I looked forward to enjoying it during my trip.
So, I cracked the bottle and put it to the test.
The first taste of this gin neat is a slap in the face, and like most slaps to the face, that is not a good thing. It is a blast of sugar, far sweeter than what you’d expect in a sugary soda, and more akin to simple syrup, with a blackberry flavor, dimly followed by some sharp notes of what I can only assume were juniper and cinnamon - my taste buds were so overwhelmed by the sweetness that only an astringent sharpness really came through. This is NOT a sipping gin for anyone who doesn’t enjoy extreme sweetness.
Don’t expect much of a nose here - there are some notes of mint, and herbaceous notes, but not a lot of juniper in the mix.
When I tasted this I really couldn’t get past the amount of sweetness that hits you in a sip. It overwhelms much of the actual flavors of the gin, which is a bit of a shame, because the notes of blackberry and cinnamon behind the sweetness have a certain charm. That said, I couldn’t taste much behind them, save for a core astringency as my palate was crushed by the cloying nature of the gin. That said I suspect there is also mint, orris root, and maybe a touch of coriander.
My favorite part of this gin was actually the mouthfeel, it’s viscous, creamy, and cool and leaves a lovely coat on the tongue. Based upon this I’d assume the base to be made from something like sugarcane, maple syrup, or molasses.
Nothing about this gin is classic, in fact if the product wasn’t labeled as gin under European law, I think I would have been unsure if this was anything other than a cane spirit. That said, European law requires that juniper be a key ingredient in anything labeled as gin, so I’ll just have to assume it’s there.
As I firmly believe the martini to be the key gin cocktail, I do find this is the drink I most strongly judge gin in (aside from perhaps on the rocks). As local Spanish vermouths, even dry ones, tend to be sweet down here, I used an imported Vermouth, Dolin dry (at a 4:1 ratio to help counter some of the sweetness of the gin) and honestly found it lacking. While I loved the mouthfeel, I don’t feel that the flavor profile, such as it is, really came through. While there was plenty of blackberry flavor, some hints of cinnamon, even a whiff of juniper, the sweetness is what mostly came though. There is nothing martini-like about it, it reminded me more of a really bad Cosmopolitan than anything else.
Next on my list is of course the other classic gin drink, - a gin and tonic, which I think is a far more accessible gin cocktail for most people.
Spain and the UK are some of the best places to find tonic waters, so I bought four to see if I could find one that would elevate this gin and help create an incredible gin and tonic. The results were fairly disappointing, but a good bitter tonic certainly made it more tolerable. That said, it’s just too sweet for my palate, and probably for those who enjoy a more classic gin.
Trying it in something more complex was next in the line, and for that, taking advantage of the sweetness was the only thing to do. You can cut back, or even exclude simple syrup and use this in a Collins, or Southside, and it might even do well in an Aviation. My feeling was that while it could substitute for Nordes or Brockman’s in terms of berry flavor it is too overwhelming to really do much well.
Spain, and much of the world have been getting into sweetened, flavored gins, and while it’s not my usual cup of tea, I tried hard to give this gin a fair shake- it seemed to me that the sweetness was just there to cover up the flaws in the flavor profile. While there were some things I really liked - viscosity, mouthfeel, and the berry notes, but I think it lacks the elegance and depth of flavors that other sweetened gins possess. For those who like very sweet gin this might be ok, but I could not get past it.
The one place this might work well would be as a dessert drink. I could see it being used like ice wine or a white port. It might find some homes in other cocktails, but not in gin cocktails - as it’s more simple syrup than a juniper based spirit. In the end I disliked it so much that it became only the second craft gin I’ve ever poured down the drain.
spice: 1 of 5
Herbal: 1 of 5
Juniper: 0 of 5
Floral: 3 of 5
Citrus: 0 of 5
Heat: 3 of 5
Rating (Sipping): 35 - It is dreadful as a sipping gin. However if you want to use it as an after dinner drink it could be fairly enjoyable.
Rating (Mixing): 65 - If you like classic gin, or even the taste of juniper, run away. This is a sub-par sweetened spirit which I don’t think should even be classified as gin. It’s sickly sweet.
Overall rating: 52.5. - Maybe you can add 10-20 points if you like extremely sweetened gins, but this is in my opinion far below average.
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.