BvsB 8: Arizona Distilling Co. Commerce Gin vs. Caskwerks Gin – French 75

We don’t have people over for dinner often (we go out to eat way too much), but when we do, I like to be as crowd-pleasing as possible. Pick a dinner and dessert everyone will like and find a cocktail catered to the guest. And drink lots of them.

I ran through options in my head – something citrusy with gin or vodka, and not painfully sweet. They asked if they could bring something, so I ran through some options. Maybe something with vermouth? Mmm. Maybe caipirinhas? Maybe? Champagne! French 75s! Person 2 (I don’t think he wants to be named in a drinking blog?) ordered a champagne cocktail once at Clever Koi, so I knew it’d be perfect.

So let’s see. Cocktail? Check. People? Check. All I needed was a dueling gin, so I continued my local booze quest and found some Caskwerks Gin. Looks like we have a BvsB ready to go.

The contenders

In the blue corner, we have Arizona Distilling Co. Commerce Gin. I’ll just copy over what I’ve written about it before: “It’s 85 proof, is made from eight botanicals sourced from Northern Arizona (think tall Ponderosa pines, snowy winters, and big canyons), and is so new to the market that my bottle says “small batch no. 2.””

To recap BvsB 7, Commerce Gin tied Tanqueray 10 in a martini showdown, acting as the salty alternative to the luscious Tanq. On the one hand, I thought the Commerce would go well with the dry champagne used in a French 75, but I wondered how it’d pair with the lemon.

In the red corner, we have Caskwerks Gin, described on the bottle as being 90 proof, using Portuguese juniper (it’s apparently more mellow than the usual stuff), orange and lemon peel, coriander, cinnamon, and hibiscus for a smooth, refreshing flavor. My only exposure to Caskwerks is through their Apple Pie Liqueur, which is pretty delicious, although I haven’t nailed down a cocktail it works in. We’ll say middling expectations, although the brand has a certain amount of excitement around Phoenix.

The ingredients

2 oz gin
1 tsp superfine sugar
1/2 oz lemon juice
Topped with Michelle Brut

Notes: Shake the gin, lemon juice, and sugar together with ice. Add it to a champagne flute, then top with champagne. The champagne will be a bit fizzier than normal, so be prepared for that. Add a lemon twist if you want to be fancy.

The decision

So dinner was good, the dessert pie was kind of amazing (it was the “European specialty” pie from The Great Gadsby Bakery in Gilbert), and I’m happy to say the French 75s came out well. Which one was better though? …hmm.

Person 2 is the kind of guy who likes a good drink but is plenty happy with something simple. Not wanting these drinks to be boring, I added some lemon twists to the top of the champagne flutes, which probably distracted from the real task – to find the better gin. Fortunately, the drinks were entirely different, and one, at least to me, was clearly better for the cocktail.

I tried the Commerce Gin first and found it to be nice and tasty. You get mostly champagne all the way down, but the lemon and botanicals make it seem better than a Brut on its own, and the sugar gives it a little warmth. It’s a very dry drink, but complex enough to be enjoyable. If I got a Commerce French 75 at a restaurant, I’d be plenty happy.

The Caskwerks Gin though was on another level. Instead of the champagne dominating the flavor, the Caskwerks brought the lemon in the cocktail way forward – but it came through as a perfect mix of sweet and sour. And instead of the general dryness of the Commerce French 75, this one felt more balanced, was more mouthy, and lingered longer in my mouth.

Person 2 agreed, although he was perfectly fine drinking either. And to be fair, they were both delicious. But one was definitely better.

The winner

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I still stand by Commerce Gin being the perfect gin for a dirty martini (although I haven’t tried one yet), but in this most fancy of cocktails, we preferred the Caskwerks Gin French 75. It’s lemony, tart, sweet, refreshing – all the things you want in a champagne cocktail.

Also, if you’ve never had a French 75, you need to make one happen. Do yourself a favor and ask your next dinner guest to bring champagne instead of wine.

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