Self-proclaimed as the first truly pan-Asian craft spirits company, The Orientalist Spirits prides itself in producing alcohol with strong Asian characteristics. They tend to disassociate their products from typical Western ideals, and in the process, create something new, something that is meant to encapsulate what Asia might taste like in a bottle. To that end, one of their flagship products, the Orientalist Gunpowder Gin, has done a fine job. But if seen in a vacuum, graded based on merit alone, is it able to stand on its own two feet as a quality gin?
What the producers say
“The Orientalist Gunpowder Gin is a small batch handcrafted gin infused with uniquely Asian botanicals before being proofed with soft Japanese spring water from Kagoshima Japan.
We focused on flavor extraction using a hybrid of traditional distillation as well as low temperature vacuum distillation from botanicals that are indigenous to the region including Taiwanese gunpowder tea, Siberian ginseng, Kampot peppercorns, Korean omija (Five Flavour Berries), Chinese goji berries, Japanese shiso flowers, Chinese osmanthus and more. This amounts to a veritable cornucopia of the most intense flavors from the Orient. Oh, and all ingredients are sourced directly and ethically.”
What we like about it
If you’re used to the juniper-forward London Dry style or more modern, herbaceous styles as seen in Hendrick’s, you’ll find the Gunpowder Gin to be nothing like those. But we’re not here to judge it based on what we know gin to be. Rather, we’re going to judge it on the things that matter most: flavor and enjoyment. And in that regard, it should be praised.
Upon nosing, you’ll immediately find whiffs that come at you less aggressively than you’d expect (especially given the explosive name of the gin). It’s elegant and pronounced, and the various ingredients used are balanced enough such that none come out distinctly at you. Upon tasting however, is when the individual flavors start coming up.
For us, a dried tea fragrance and bitterness is discernible at the start, giving way to more familiar gin juniper notes shortly after. But it’s in the finish that you’ll really find the surprise. Lingering faintly, but proudly after you’ve swallowed, is a peppery heat at the back of your throat. It’s the Kompot peppercorns showing up and showing off its character. Like a nicely bound ribbon on a present, we love that welcome touch at the end that just rounds out the whole experience.
What we dislike
We’re not sure if it’s the softness of the mouthfeel affecting our perception, but the flavor profile of the gin can be too muted for our liking. It doesn’t pop like most gins do, but perhaps that’s also how it differs. Especially in cocktails like a Negroni, the strong Campari notes can easily and quickly overwhelm all other flavors.
The Orientalist Gunpowder Gin is perhaps better used in concoctions like Martinis and Vespers, and in recipe proportions that call for lesser vermouth. Or in Gin & Tonics using equally soft tonics like Double Dutch Skinny and London Essence Original Indian. This gives the Gunpowder Gin more presence, allowing its subtle flavors to surface better.
Being more subtle, yet with a very pronounced finish, is what sets the Orientalist Gunpowder Gin apart from all other gins. It’s elegant and tame, but surprises you at the end. At SGD$118 for a 700ml bottle, it’s definitely on the pricier side of things. But we’ll say this. Buy it if you’re looking for an Asian take on gin (which is the promise they delivered), but not if you’re just stocking up the home bar for easy drinking. It’s not an easy gin to appreciate. With its beautiful label design though, it is also great for gin collectors looking to expand their repertoire with lesser-known bottles.
Top photo credit: The Orientalist Spirits
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