Cobra-heart wine notwithstanding, gin is easily the most polarizing spirit. People either profess their love for it or claim to hate it based on some bad gin experience in the past. I always tell the latter group to give it another chance, only this time with a higher quality gin, and not drink too much of it. But if they still balk at juniper juice, there is one final recourse: get them to taste the best gin in the world. That's what I got to do last night at the Rose Club in the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, when I met with Carl Nolet Jr. to sample the recently-released Nolet's Reserve Dry Gin. At $700 a bottle, it's a pricey pour, but you really can't put a monetary value on the experience. And let me tell you, if you don't like Nolet's Reserve, you definitely don't like gin. No further tasting is required.
Not surprisingly, I thought it was amazing, as I tend to feel about most über-premium spirits. As Nolet explained to me, Nolet's Reserve is the work of his dad, Carolus Nolet Sr., who devoted a good chunk of his life to crafting the finest gin around. It's a blend of botanicals, including saffron and verbena (the rest are secret), and it's bottled in extremely limited quantities. But fortunately, one of the fewer than 700 bottles was sitting on the bar before us, and I was able to sample it. Lucky me indeed.
We tried it two ways. First, Nolet poured some into tulip-shaped tasting glasses and we sipped it neat, at room temperature. Next, he poured it into large brandy snifters and had the barman add one ice cube to each. In both cases, the aroma was intoxicating yet exhilirating, like breathing pure oxygen. As for the flavor, I know "harmony" and "balance" are overused terms (by me) in spirits coverage, but it's drinks like this that truly define them. Yes, it's definitely gin, but the juniper was just one of an herb's garden worth of flavor notes, none overpowering any other, all working together to create a smooth, complex, slightly sweet spirit that lingers in the cheeks for a dog's age. Seriously, the finish is so long, and so pleasant, that I didn't want to drink any water to wash it away. I was happily tasting it on the subway all the way back to Brooklyn.
As for the serving methods, it's a bit sharper when served neat (the Reserve has a 52.3% alcohol content) but you hardly notice the elevated strength with all the botanicals dancing around on your tongue. With an ice cube, the flavors open up a bit, as with a good scotch, yet the aroma is a bit muted. I loved it both ways but would probably sip it neat next time, because it's definitely smooth enough to stand on its own. Don't even think about adding tonic.
This is where I would normally say that Nolet's Reserve is available at better liquor stores nationwide, but it has an extremely limited release, with only a couple hundred very chic bars carrying it. You've got to ask around. But I do know that the Rose Club has it. It's on the menu at $150 a glass - though for a mere $3 more you can get a "martini measure". It's right there on the menu PDF
, so hold them to it ... and hold the vermouth.