“Molecular” always scares me when I see it on a spirits product, as it usually implies “chemicals” instead of actual craftsmanship. With Linden Leaf, “molecular” appears to mean something a bit different, as the company was founded by three Cambridge, UK-based scientists who are creating “spirits on a molecular level, actually using their science background to break down each flavor molecule to create a perfectly balanced gin and exceptionally smooth vodka.”
This backstory doesn’t explain everything, but it’s a start:
Linden Leaf’s founders, two of whom have science PhDs from Cambridge University, have a near-obsessive passion for food, regularly traveling the world to seek out new culinary and flavor experiences. Immersed in many of the world’s most unique flavors, their natural curiosity got them wondering: what made their favorite foods and drinks taste the way they did? For example, could they determine what makes a fresh, ripe orange taste really “orangey” (Hint: it’s the thinnest 2 mm of the outer layer of the peel, not the juicy pulp) and, conversely, are there components in that orange that actually make it taste less orangey. Not to mention which of the over 400 varieties of orange deliver the best taste experience? (It’s one grown in Spain). And, how do other properties, like mouthfeel, affect flavor?
After experimenting with countless botanicals – all organic and GMO-free – and scientific techniques to extract specific molecules (and rallying hundreds of friends and family as flavor & aroma testers), Linden Leaf’s founders developed a way to identify the exact molecules in each ingredient: for instance, which molecule delivered the limiest lime or the ‘yuzuist’ yuzu fresh-off-the-tree flavor. In the process, they also discovered which of these different botanical molecules worked in perfect harmony with each other and which clearly did not, including which worked best with juniper. They call this “Molecular Craftmanship,” which is the key to Linden Leaf’s unique, perfectly balanced flavor experience.
“Admittedly, we opened up a scientific Pandora’s box when we started chasing exactly which molecules made our favorite food and drink taste the way they do,” said Matthew Webster, one of Linden Leaf’s founding members, along with Mukund Unavane and Paul Bennett. “But countless experiments and testing have led us to a Molecular Flavor Atlas, which we use to create what I believe are the most harmonious, flavorful spirits possible.”
Linden Leaf currently markets two spirits, a vodka and a gin. We sampled both, and thoughts follow.
Linden Leaf Organic Molecular Vodka – Made from a blend of organic/non-GMO modern grains like wheat, barley, and rye and ancient grains like spelt, distilled five times. Clean and medicinal on the nose, and touched with just a bit of black pepper. On the palate, despite all the talk of softness, the vodka is surprisingly sharp — spicy almost — with a punchy peppery quality and hints of lime leaf that grip the back of the tongue. Very gently grainy — just barely. The vodka doesn’t particularly find a classic “burn,” but it certainly feels hot — and it makes an impression both straight or in a cocktail. The finish is cleansing with again a touch of lime leaf on the back end. Versatile, certainly, but less innocuous than Linden Leaf might have you believe. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. B+ / $29
Linden Leaf 88 Organic Molecular Gin – This was Linden Leaf’s first product, named 88 because its creators infused it with 88 separate flavor molecule notes from 28 different botanicals. Only a few of these are revealed, but the company says: “Seventy percent of the citrus used is fresh and, overall, more than 20% of the total botanicals used in Linden Leaf gins are fresh, including hard-to-source ingredients from organic farmers around the world. Gin 88 botanicals include: yuzu, calamansi, grains of paradise and Aztec sweet herb, all built around a core of subtle, organic juniper.” It is indeed a complex but well-balanced gin, featuring a nose that’s piney and peppery, slightly medicinal, with earth tones and ample citrus — heavy on bitter peel over sweeter, juice-driven notes. The palate brightens up a bit, with notes of lime, orangey yuzu, and mint, then piney juniper further down the road. Earthiness plays heavier on the finish, though some berry-driven sweet-and-sour notes linger here. There’s a surprise late in the game: A hefty green herb character that lingers for minutes (maybe hours) after your glass is empty. I’m still belching what tastes/smells like thyme. Is that a bad thing? You make the call. The gin is complex to be sure, though all 88 flavors may have eluded me. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $39