Tasting: 3 Juniper-Rich African Gins from Procera Gin

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Tasting: 3 Juniper-Rich African Gins from Procera Gin

We’ve been diving pretty deeply into the world of gin recently, to the point that I ended up declaring March as “Gin Month” at Paste, but in truth our passion for a great gin cocktail expands far beyond a single month or season. Sure, spring is perhaps the most gin-centric period of the calendar year, but as the same people who sip imperial stout under the heat of the blazing summer sun, it’s not like we’re letting that dictate our decisions. Nor would we ever be so close-minded as to think that gin should hail from only a few tiny regions, such as the U.K. or American craft distillers–like rum, gin is a global spirit, and even more so than sugar cane spirits gin is an opportunity to highlight the terroir of any region where it is made. Such is particularly the case with Procera Gin, distilled in Nairobi, Kenya, a brand that not only revolves around the juniper plant but genuinely venerates it.

The so-called Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) we’re most familiar with grows in the cool, temperate forests of the northern hemisphere, but this is only one species of many kinds of juniper, many of which have historically been used to lend their distinctive flavor to gin. Gin is among the oldest of commercially produced spirits, having once just about destroyed 18th century London, before finding drinkers throughout the world. It makes all the sense in the world that gin should also hail from the cradle of civilization in Africa, where it’s being made with African Juniper, Juniperus procera. What really makes Procera Gin special in the eyes of the brand, though, is the proximity of the spirit’s production to the juniper it is using–so close, in fact, that the juniper berries are picked fresh for distillation and never dried. This focus on the freshest possible juniper is the key element of Procera’s concept and marketing, paired with native botanicals that range from wider throughout Africa, such as acacia honey, coriander, mace, cardamom, pink peppercorn, orris root and pixie oranges.

There are a lot of elements here that are quite unique for the gin market, in terms of both production and presentation. These are super premium gins in terms of price point, occupying an area in the market (MSRPs of $85 and beyond) that are rarely explored. It can be difficult for such a brand to explain what actually might justify or rationalize that kind of price point to the consumer on an unaged spirit, beyond the rarity or uniqueness of botanicals involved. Procera essentially makes their appeal via taking every possible step to offer as handmade and bespoke a product as possible, from the hand-blown bottles to the hand-carved palm wood stoppers, wrapped in leather. Each bottle–unlabeled, with only a colored dot to denote each vintage–likewise comes with “botanical salts” to serve as seasonings on cocktails made with Procera Gin. Would this still be a hard sell for a sizable segment of the gin market, no matter the attention to these details? Absolutely. But at the same time, I can’t deny that Procera has gone out of its way to offer a unique, distinctive product.

So with that said, let’s dive into a tasting of all three Procera Gin expressions.

Procera Gin — Blue Dot VintageMSRP: $85

The “Blue Dot” Procera Gin is effectively the brand’s flagship offering, presented at a bit more modest 44% ABV (88 proof), and featuring a bevy of African botanicals including coriander and orris root from Morocco, Swahili lime and pixie orange from Kenya, cardamom and mace from Zanzibar, and acacia honey from Somalia, among others. The star of the show, however, is doubtlessly the fresh Kenyan juniper berries.

On the nose, this one is quite perfumey, fresh and resinous–really dramatically full of the fresh juniper character you would no doubt expect from the theming, which this delivers upon. I’m getting some distinct coriander, and traces of citrus zest, but the vivaciousness of the juniper is what really stands out–it suggests almost a nuttiness or malty sweetness, along with rose-like florals. On the palate, this is beautifully resinous and floral, with cardamom flashes and quite a bit of peppery spice. A little earthy and woody in terms of juniper character, it’s fairly dry overall and maintains a slight bitterness evocative perhaps of Pacific Northwest hops. It’s a lovely, flavorful juniper showcase, one that I can’t help but think would mix beautifully just about anywhere one would typically be using gin.

Procera Gin — Red Dot VintageMSRP: $100

The “Red Dot” Procera is a beefed up take on the Blue Dot, specifically formulated for cocktail purposes. This one weighs in at a pretty commanding 51% ABV (102 proof), and features a somewhat different botanical lineup that also includes items such as Kenyan elephant pepper and oyster shells, along with Nigerian alligator and selim pepper. Another botanical that I eventually realized was jumping out at me: South African lemon, which is a secondary star here.

On the nose, this one is woody, spicy and rich, with an almost sandalwood like suggestion along with all the pine resin. The palate is just overflowing with rich, subtly sweet and resinous juniper, while more of the berry fruitiness of the plant creeps forward here as well. This stuff is just bombastically, intensely flavorful, with complex notes of bright lemon, savory sage and something like sushi nori giving it a flavor that creeps back and forth between woodsy and coastal. Absolutely bursting with character, I would honestly call this one of the most purely flavorful gins I’ve ever come across. There’s no way that this Red Dot expression could get lost in a cocktail, that’s for sure. Use in applications where you really want the gin to shine through as boldly as possible.

Procera Gin — Green Dot VintageMSRP: $120

The “Green Dot” vintage from Procera is the most quixotic of these expressions, an experiment in attempting to make gin with botanicals exclusively from the juniper tree itself. In addition to the obvious use of the juniper berries, that also includes such ingredients as toasted juniper heartwood and young foliage tips. It’s a fantastic idea for the juniper obsessive, and a dynamic piece of theming, although I’m not sure it works quite as well in practice as it does on the drawing board. This one weighs in at 47% ABV (94 proof).

On the nose, the Green Dot is somewhat lighter and more delicate in nature than the two more traditional Procera gins, fresh and fragrant but more ephemeral and fleeting. On the palate, however, the flavors are bold and a little overwhelming, as an unusual woodiness brings a strong, tannin-like astringency to the palate that is both drying and fairly bitter. This is woodsy for sure, positively bushy, while embodying the same juniper berry fruitiness and resinous tones as the other expressions. The astringency, however, makes it more of a challenging profile for the consumer, and I imagine that this one would likely be an acquired taste appreciated more by consumers with a high tolerance to astringency and bitterness. All in all, I find myself preferring the more dynamic, pan-African flavor profiles of the Blue Dot and Red Dot expressions, which demonstrate the remarkable depth of both the juniper plant and the native flora that surrounds it.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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