Gins from the Baltics are a rare sight in this part of the world. Given their rarity, we were not sure what to expect of Cross Keys, a gin brand hailing from Latvia. They’ve recently made it onto Singapore’s shores via distributor and retailer Alcools, and we couldn’t wait to give their gins a taste.
Before we get ahead of ourselves however, it is worth mentioning that Cross Keys Gin is produced in Riga, the capital of Latvia. They are proud of the fact that their spirit is made by one of the country’s top master distillers, the same person behind famed traditional Latvian herbal liqueur Riga Black Balsam.
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Inspired by Riga’s historical wealth of alchemical craftsmanship, Cross Keys stays true to its roots by using natural ingredients native to the region – whether they be Baltic summer blossoms or herbal botanicals indeigeneous to the area. It is also worth noting that their spirits all come in clay bottles, which according to them, helps round out the usual sharpness often found in gins.
As for the Cross Keys name, the gin takes cue from the symbol of the crossed keys, which is not only a part of Riga’s heraldry, but also traditionally symbolic of urban hospitality.
Cross Keys Gin Original
By looking at Cross Keys’ flagship Original Gin, we can see how that Latvian identity translates into an actual bottle of gin. In it are a bunch of botanicals, but four are key – camomile, rosemary, linden blossoms, and of course, juniper.
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On the nose, what immediately comes to the fore are dark, earthy tones. It’s almost medicinal and umami, reminding us strangely of herbal soup (in a good way). This is underscored by thick and potent juniper, with floral notes creeping up ever so meekly.
Taking a sip, it tastes familiar. Herbs, spices, and pepper coalesce like a broth, yet the 41% alcohol and juniper kicks in, reminding you that what you’re having is indeed gin. A forward camomile scent balances out the herbaceousness, and a warm bitter note saturates the mid-palate before finishing cleanly.
Cross Keys Blackcurrant Gin
With the original Cross Keys Gin as the base, this blackcurrant-infused version of their OG bottling enhances a few of the base traits, while adding several welcome new flavours that should please those who found the classic leaning too much towards the earthy, herbal spectrum.
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The addition of blackcurrants first gives the gin a juicy freshness and a delicate purple blush not originally present. Meanwhile, the fruit sweetness brings out some of the floral notes more, at the same time suppressing some of the mushroom-like umaminess of the Original.
Bottled at a slightly lower 38% ABV (compared to the Original’s 41%), it seems to allow the dark fruit flavours from the blackcurrants to become more present without becoming too piquant too fast. Overall, the taste of an alpine herbal candy comes to mind.
Though both gins are perfectly drinkable on their own chilled or in a G&T, below, we offer a few suggestions as to how the Cross Keys Gin Original and the Cross Keys Blackcurrant Gin can be best enjoyed in simple twists on classic cocktails.
Cross Keys Gin Original 60ml
Rosso Vermouth 20ml (we recommend Mancino)
1. Add gin, campari and vermouth into a mixing glass
2. Fill mixing glass with ice and stir gently
3. Strain mixture into rocks glass with large ice cube
4. Place rosemary sprig into glass (torch lightly for more aroma)
Cross Keys Blackcurrant Gin 70ml
Dry Vermouth 30ml (we recommend Ferdinand’s)
1. Add gin and vermouth into a mixing glass
2. Fill mixing glass with ice and stir gently
3. Strain mixture into chilled martini glass
4. Express lemon peel, twist and place into glass
‘How to Drink’ is a feature segment on Spill that goes in-depth into specific spirit bottlings to really understand the craft behind their make. More than a review, we delve into their distilling philosophy, understand how it’s different, and offer ways to best enjoy them.
About the Author
Dannon Har is the Managing Editor of Spill. Discovering his innate gift for drinking only at a ripe age, he spares no time trying to find more delicious drops to imbibe during his time on Earth. When he’s not minding every detail at Spill, he spends his time concocting luscious libations and sharing them with folks that visit his home bar.