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Back in the early 80’s two unlikely, but highly talented, and even some might say eccentric, fellows hooked up in Northern California, in of all places, a tiny town called Ukiah. Hubert Germain-Robin of the Jules Robin family, cognac producers since 1782, brought over a 13 HL hand-hammered, heavy copper cognac pot still forged back in 1937 and left unused since 1951. It was then he partnered with Ainsley Coale to found Germain-Robin Distillery. Ansley’s claims to fame include: performing Argentine tango, founding Craft Distillers, walking 4 times from Oaxaca to Juquila, and teaching a graduate seminar on Tacitus’ Histories and Roman Numismatics at UC Berkley. Eccentric pretty much sums it up!

In the late 80’s, Crispin Cain (with a lengthy bio in the world of wine and spirits) joined Hubert and Ainsley up in Mendocino County and started to share their old cognac still and produce other spirits like Whiskey and Gin under his Tamar Distillery brand. Well, I have tasted numerous brandies from Germain-Robin and must agree with many others that theirs are some of the best brandies in the world; those guys really know their stuff. Now, let’s see where Crispin’s spirits rate.

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The Low Gap California Rye Whiskey is aged for 2 years in new and used bourbon and cognac barrels and just one whiff of the nose will verify that statement. The nose is a combination of sweet rye, cognac and bourbon, with just a hint of citrus and vanilla, followed up by a slightly smoky, oaky aroma. On the palate, this rye is a gentle combination of all of the before mentioned aromas; it starts off with the rye and then the bourbon with the cognac flavor taking the back seat, followed by the vanilla and even less citrus but still present. It is a clean smoky taste with just enough oak to make it interesting. This rye has a very nice flavor profile and depth but is not overly complicated. The finish is very smooth and medium in length and intensity and develops a caramel flavor that tops all the other flavors. This is a very nice California Rye that could become one of my favorites.

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Next up is the Low Gap Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey. This whiskey is made from 100% malted Bavarian hard wheat and then aged for a total of 2 years in American oak barrels, used bourbon barrels obtained from the legendary Pappy Van Winkle, and then used 350 liter limousine oak barrels formerly used for Germain Robin brandy. This whiskey has one of the most gentle noses I have ever encountered, and by that I don’t mean weak, just very laid back. I first get wheat whiskey up front followed by brandy and bourbon and a touch of oakiness but not much smoke or char. The palate profile is also gentle and smooth, yet sweet, and has depth that starts with the wheat flavor followed by woody notes of cognac and bourbon and again a very low profile when it comes to the oak and smoke and just enough sweetness to make it interesting. The finish is sweet and woody and smooth and lasts a short time. This really redefines whiskey as such because it is not over powering or harsh and does not make you wince when you drink it, and even though its flavors are subdued, they are not weak or washed out – they are just about where they should be. None of these whiskeys are cheap at $65.00 – $75.00 per bottle but I do believe their flavors justify the price.

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Last, but not least, is the Low Gap Blended Whiskey made of malted corn and malted barley and aged for 2 years in used Van Winkle and new Missouri oak bourbon barrels. I do believe that barley should bring a bit of a Scotch like flavor to this whiskey; let’s see if I’m right. The nose is the most laid back of the three with the slightest hints of barley, corn, new oak and the smallest touch of sugary sweetness. The palate cranks up the flavor with a vanilla like sweetness coming to the front followed by the new oak with no smoke and no char. I was wrong, even with the inclusion of barley, this whiskey does not taste anything like scotch; it tastes like layered whiskey that is both smooth and sweet without being citrusy. The finish is tangy but smooth with oaky highlights.

All three of these whiskeys are extraordinarily smooth and deeply layered with flavor so much so that you can actually taste all the different ingredients and processes that were utilized. Those folks are producing some mighty fine spirits in the heart of Mendocino county, Northern California, in the tiny town of Ukiah. Go get you some. Try it, and let me know if you agree with me that they are worth the price.

The Low Gap Rye weighs in at 42.2% ABV and costs $65.00 per 750 ML bottle, while the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey which weighs in at 44% – 50% ABV is $75.00 per 750 ML bottle, leaving the Blended Whiskey weighing in at 46% ABV and costing $65.00 per 750 ML bottle.

By George Brozowski