$45; 41.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points
Hendrick’s seems to be the gin on the aficionado lips lately: it’s a softer, floral, almost fruity thing without overt juniper, best had slightly chilled or on ice with sliced cucumber. It’s delicious, and particularly refreshing in the summer, but it’s usually well above $60, and I find myself emulating it at a discount by simply adding a dash of Bitter Truth Celery Bitters to a shot of Absolut, or any fairly neutral vodka, and serving that with cucumber. As the word gin comes from genever, or juniper, a gin like Hendrick’s, which barely displays any juniper, perhaps deserves emulating. Now the weather’s changing I yearn for a more complex and true gin, something more cutting and bracing, but not as lean as, say, Bombay Sapphire. Plymouth sets the sails nicely. Made pretty much to the original recipe in the Blackfriars Distillery of Plymouth since 1798, it’s driven by the juniper berry which grew all over the heath from Plymouth to London, where the gins are a tad drier, crisper, and more dependent upon that bitter, tannic fruit. The distillery was abused in recent decades by too many disinterested transnational pillagers, but is back on track and as lovely as ever under the current owners, Pernod Ricard. There are seven botanicals instilled in its pure grain spirit, but these are masterfully handled so none is particularly dominant. I see a little citrus peel and coriander beneath the cutting juniper, but overall it’s its own baby: bracing, grainy, and perfect to drink neat on ice. I like it chilled with a slice of lime and a sprinkle of fresh-ground black pepper. It the early days of the martini, few other gins were considered for that monumental cocktail: a martini was usually Plymouth and vermouth. Tellingly, it was also the favourite of Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill, a couple of crunchies I’d give anything to share a bottle with. Plymouth is the only gin distillery with its own appellation. It also continues to produce a Navy Strength Gin at 57% alcohol (96 points). This is all the above, turbocharged, intensified, and wound up to eleven, to assist in the case of engagement. It's perfect with a squeeze of lime and a herring pickled in a mixture of peppers and chillies.
Woodstock McLaren Vale Very Old Fortified
$48 (500ml) at the cellar; 20% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
The late Doug Collett was a great hoarder of fortified wines. That crafty cove was always stashing barrels of excess fruit, fortified, in the corners of many winery sheds and deserted chookhouses. He left his winemaking son Scott great stacks of old tawny port, providing an invaluable blending base, making possible beautiful rarities like this. Made from Grenache and Shiraz of a minimum age of twenty years, it shows the rosy, creamy nature of the former dominant over the meaty Shiraz, in a smooth caramel toffee structure. It’s fluffy of texture, with a line of perfect acidity countering its sweetness and viscosity. At such alcohol, it’s not the sort of port you buy to take fishing, although I’m sure it would work. It’s more along the lines of the after-dinner liqueur: a small glass is all you’ll need with your favourite dark chocolate, and if you’re a cigar smoker, it’s just perfect.