Review: Joseph Magnus Vigilant District Dry Gin and Navy Strength Gin
Washington, D.C.-based Jos. A Magnus Distillery is best known for its whiskey. We’ve reviewed most of its offerings (see here and here), and even helped pick a private barrel for our friends at Bourbon Pursuit. But like most craft distilleries, there’s almost always a few clear spirits in the portfolio. We recently received samples of Magnus’s gins, both the standard Vigilant District Dry and the Vigilant Navy Strength. Both are the creation of Magnus distiller Nicole Hassoun, and each is made from a base distillate of 100% corn although the particular botanicals and proof differ in each. Let’s dig in!
Joseph Magnus Vigilant District Dry Gin– This gin is steeped in and distilled with a pretty unique blend of botanicals including sesame, sumac, tarragon, marionberry, and cubeb (a tropical shrub also used to flavor cigarettes). From those ingredients, it’s no wonder the nose shows plenty of berry and herbs. It’s a bit weird but intriguing, like savory blackberry pie filling with a piney crust. On the palate, more classic citrus and juniper notes are initially noticeable, alongside a gently warming heat. But that changes on the mid-palate when a bit of Italian seasoning and sweet haliva arrive. Somehow these things work together, creating a gin that is borderline amari. Tonic changes the profile considerably, elevating the grapefruit and bergamot orange in the recipe and subduing some of the more unique elements. For full effect, I’d drink this in a martini. 84 proof. A- / $32
Joseph Magnus Vigilant Navy Strength Gin – Instead of just kicking up the proof for the Navy Strength offering, Magnus changed the recipe entirely with an equally unique combination of botanicals including harissa, figs, hops, and hibiscus. Like the District Dry, the juniper is somewhat hard to find on the nose. Instead, there’s raisin, licorice, wildflowers and fresh lemon zest. Only after some digging does a bit of pine forest emerge, but it’s sweet and subdued. While the nose is good, the palate is simply remarkable. I never knew a gin could be rich in texture, but this is definitely a rich gin with a big, creamy body full of candied lemon peel, tropical fruits, tangy red pepper, and Fig Newtons. The juniper, which was hand foraged in Oregon, is beautifully balanced with no bite but plenty of sappy, earthy sweetness. The finish lingers like a fine whisky with notes of black licorice and shortbread cookies. It almost seems a shame to put this in a cocktail, but at this proof, it can easily stand up in one. 114 proof. A / $37