Beefeater recently launched Beefeater Winter Edition, the latest brand extension from Pernod Ricard with a party at New York's Lambs Club. Of course, Beefeater London Dry has been around for a long time, and Beefeater entered the super-premium gin market last spring with Beefeater 24 (see my review and report from the launch party). This summer came the limited-edition Beefeater Summer Edition, with elderflower, hibiscus, and blackcurrant botanicals. (I also just got my hands on a bottle of this, so a review will be forthcoming.) And so this newest limited edition has arrived: Beefeater Winter's botanicals highlight cinnamon, nutmeg, Seville orange, and pine.
These are interesting botanicals, and they really do convey a wintry feel to the gin. Normally I think of the white spirits as spring and summer beverages and the brown liquors as being appropriate for cooler climes, but I'm not really sure why I think that way -- after all, a whiskey sour is refreshing on a hot day, and I make my share of gin cocktails during the winter. And, gin's clarity and juniper do make it well-suited for that snow-on-the-evergreens feel. This gin adds the "Christmas spices" of cinnamon and nutmeg, so well-conveyed in Angostura bitters, and the noticeable orange flavors contribute to a winter taste profile as well. I didn't notice the pine right off the bat, or rather I had difficulty distinguishing between the juniper and the pine botanicals. (I'll try some more, and compare it with the regular Beefeater London Dry. The sacrifices we cocktail bloggers make...) But, the pine is there. Master distiller Desmond Payne told me that "the pine is treated in exactly the same way as all the other botanicals, that is: all the botanicals in the Winter recipe, including the pine shoots, are steeped in the gin still for 24 hours with the neutral spirit. On the second day the distillation takes place in the usual way. For London gin no flavors can be added after distillation." (This approach is similar to how Clear Creek makes their wonderful Douglas Fir Eau de Vie -- they macerate just-picked Douglas fir buds in neutral grape brandy before distilling.) Brand Ambassador Nick van Tiel let me sample the gin neat, and it was more appealing than any other gin I'd tasted in this way: its slightly oily, viscous texture and sweet warm notes were quite pleasant. (Most gins, including some of my very favorites, tend to do better when cooled, diluted slightly, or otherwise mixed.)
At the party, they had a few different cocktails available. The first was a "Hot Apple Gin" -- basically heated cider with the gin added. I couldn't really taste the gin in this, but it was warming and certainly welcome -- to come in from the very cold outdoors and have this thrust into one's paw upon arrival was a pleasant way to warm up.
They also offered the "New Year In Lambeth": the Beefeater Winter Edition, some Plymouth Sloe Gin, apple juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Champagne. This was sweet and went down easily, but I think it had a few too many moving parts for my taste, and there were an awful lot of sweet ingredients. Tasty, though -- I might try to adopt a similar approach, but maybe paring down the sloe gin and ditching the apple juice. (By this point, my notes were getting a little sozzled, or at least I was: my phone's speech-recognition feature records my impressions of this cocktail as "apple gymboree reminiscent of amstel intercom the new year and lambert tube.")
I also tried the "Fashionably Ginger", which I liked the best of the three on offer: Beefeater Winter Edition, of course, with the addition of creme de cacao, Monin gingerbread syrup, and Regans' Orange Bitters. This was the most balanced and was quite refreshing.
However, what I most wanted to try, after tasting the gin neat, was to accentuate the cinnamon-nutmeg botanicals with Angostura bitters in a Pink Gin. (That fusty, redoubtable relic of the British Empire and most specifically the Royal Navy -- no, they didn't drink just rum -- tends to be undrinkable to my palate unless made with Plymouth, which is not a London Dry gin but rather its own unique style.) The resulting Beefeater Winter Pink Gin was staggeringly lovely, balanced, and dangerously smooth and sippable. I think this one is definitely going into the repertoire, for real gin aficionados.
Incidentally, if you want to pick up some of the Beefeater Winter, you'll have to move fast: it's truly limited-edition, with just 300 cases hitting the US (split between New York and San Francisco.) It's also got a relatively low price point of $18.99, which puts it much closer to normal gin pricing than the super-premium market (such as the higher price point enjoyed by Beefeater 24 and Tanqueray Ten, for instance.) It should be available in bars and at your more comprehensive liquor stores.
(You can see a few more pictures of the event here.)