The Devil’s Drink. Poison Water. The juniper-flavored spirit gin has other not-so-nice nicknames like “kill-grief,” “mother’s ruin” and “tarantula’s juice.” The list goes on. It’s enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth. (And for some people, it actually does.) As experienced, alcohol-drinking adults we all know that one unfortunate experience with a certain liquor can create a lifelong aversion. If you can’t stand the flavors of the pine needle-tasting spirit or have experienced a “gincident” (a bad gin incident), fortunately there is hope for you.
A handful of craft distillers are taking it upon themselves to put gin back in limelight, making it an approachable and friendly spirit for the palate, shying away from the typical harshness of the commercially produced gin that you’ll find on your liquor store shelf.
“Gin is an acquired taste and it’s something that needs a lot of responsibility behind it,” says Chris Weld, of Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Massachusetts. “But it’s also something that should be enjoyed and revered.”
Here are three American craft distillers that will turn your taste buds onto gin. Read along, try out some of their cocktail recipes and let us know what you think. Maybe you’ll be ordering a Pimm’s Cup or Tom Collins the next time you sidle up to the bar.
Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Gin, Vermont
45 percent ABV / 90 proof
Flavor profile: raw honey, juniper
Hailing from a long lineage of liqueur distillers with whiskey-making roots in Edinburgh, Scotland, Todd Hardie is carrying on the family spirit with his liquor operation in the farming community of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The Scottish side of Hardie’s family has been making aged scotch at J & W Hardie for 120 years, and his stateside business, Caledonia Spirits, has a honey-flavored gin that’s been on the market for three years now.
Hardie’s Barr Hill Gin, made from corn and distilled with juniper berry, is unlike your traditional gin because of the raw honey Hardie adds after the distillation process. “Honey is a sweetener and a medicine,” Hardie says. “It makes everything more wonderful.” A beekeeper for 49 years, Hardie made a natural transition from raw honey and honey-based medicine to mead production and now spirits. “Finishing off the gin with truly raw organic honey is what makes it so good,” he adds. The honey softens the sharpness of the juniper, giving Barr Hill Gin a sweeter, more palatable taste.
According to Hardie, the flavor of Barr Hill Gin will change seasonally because of the change of honey from field to field and year to year. “So, every season Caledonia Spirits’ Gin will taste a little different with the honey’s subtle changes,” he says. “What changes is the flowers that make up the honey. Every season is going to be a little different.”
Coming from a family deeply rooted in the agriculture industry, Hardie maintains a philosophy of supporting family businesses, small producers and farmers — and he hopes others will follow suit. “What you are seeing in our area of the spirits industry is lifting up and changing to family farms and better grain,” Hardie says. “It’s a shift from conventional to organic. It’s fun to see that happen and be a part of it.” And, according to the a global market research company IPSOS, the spirit industry as a whole is moving in a direction where consumers are looking to spend more to purchase something with more value. This is driving the growth of the craft spirit sector.
Sip On This
The William Cowper (by Justin Gellert)
1 1/2 ounces of Barr Hill gin
1/3 ounce of Sumptuous Syrups Lemon and Basil
Few drops of The Bitter End Thai Bitters
Fever Tree Lemon Tonic
Fresh basil, for garnish
1. Pour Barr Hill Gin and Sumptuous Syrups Lemon and Basil into a shaker filled with ice. 2. Shake vigorously and strain into rocks glass with ice. 3. Top with Fever Tree Lemon tonic and garnish with fresh basil.
Leopold Bros. American Small Batch Gin, Colorado
40 percent ABV / 80 proof
Flavor profile: Juniper, coriander, cardamom, pummelos, Valencia oranges and orris root
Brothers Todd and Scott Leopold were part of the first wave of craft distillers over a decade ago, starting with a brewpub in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and now, a full-fledged distillery with seven stills on the east side of Denver. Their distillery, Leopold Bros., is a well-oiled machine, thanks in part to their professional backgrounds—Scott, an environmental engineer, and Todd, a trained American and German beer brewer who also has a distilling degree.
Big commercial producers like Beefeater use a maceration process—combining all the botanicals with the grain spirit and letting it soak overnight to digest alcohol. Leopold Bros., on the other hand, take a novel approach to create their American Small Batch Gin. Instead of using the British method and distilling the ingredients all together to create a London dry gin, the Leopold Bros. have created their own distilling method called “fractional distillation” where they distill each botanical separately.
“I’ll put the spirit in the still and put the juniper in the still and bring it to a boil to get exactly the flavors and aromas that I want,” Todd Leopold says. “When it gets resinous I stop collecting, so the juniper is rounder in flavor and not dry. And then I’ll do the same thing with cardamom and oranges to get the best of the botanicals together.”
The end result is an earthy orris root foundation with pops of juniper, coriander, cardamom, and light citrus flavors from pummelos and Valencia oranges. “We are looking to highlight the flavors of all the raw materials we are using,” Leopold says.
“People are moving toward something a little more adventurous,” Leopold says. “It wasn’t like that a few years ago. When we first started distilling, all [distributors] wanted was vodka. A lot of people were turning us down because they didn’t think gin would sell.”
From 2006 to 2011 super-premium gin sales have grown 18 percent, according to IPSOS. And as the food and spirit industry trends have evolved over the past few years, Leopold Bros. has found success with their gin in the marketplace.
Sip On This
Rocky Mountain Gin and Tonic (by Randy Layman)
1 1/4 ounce of Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin
3/4 ounce of Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain Blackberry Liqueur
3 ounces of tonic
1. Pour the Rocky Mountain Blackberry Liqueur into an ice-filled low-ball glass. 2. Add Leopold’s Gin and top with tonic.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Greylock Gin, Massachusetts
40 percent ABV / 80 proof
Flavor profile: juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, orange, cinnamon and liquorice
Chris Weld’s mom-and-pop distillery is nestled in the southwestern range of the Berkshire Mountains on an apple orchard with a historic spring that Native Americans claimed had therapeutic qualities. “Water is the cornerstone of spirits,” Weld says, and he credits the magical spring for his gin’s strong foundation.
“We have a very different approach than other people,” Weld says of his three gins. “My approach is to make it interesting but not offensive.” Greylock Gin, their flagship gin that has been on shelves for six years now, is brewed with seven botanicals (juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, orange, cinnamon and liquorice). Greylock has won multiple gold medals, was named “Best Craft Gin” by The New York Times, and Sante, the magazine for restaurant pros, just named it “Spirit of Choice.” “The chemistry is spot on and it’s approachable,” Weld says of his London dry style gin.
“We have cleaner product at the get go. It’s much more palatable and not offensive,” Weld says. “It doesn’t get you too hungover. I’m talking to people who have had that gincident, and they are like, ‘Wow, I can drink your gin!’”
With nearly 70 craft gin distillers across the United States currently, an increase from the small handful a decade ago, American drinkers are recognizing that not only is the craft sector worthy of some attention, but that gin is their spirit of choice. “What we are holding out for is the consumer base to realize there is good craft stuff out there, and they need to support it and drink it,” Weld says.
Greylock’s sister gins: Berkshire Mountain’s Ethereal Gin, unlike Greylock, contains “a lot of botanicals” and its recipe changes with the season. “I might add a ground spice or spicy clove for winter and then in the summer I might have something a little more light and citrusy.” Berkshire Mountain’s third gin, a barrel-aged gin, is their Ethereal put in a barrel for at least a year.
Sip On This
2 ounces of Greylock Gin
1 ounce of fresh lemon juice?
1 teaspoon of maple syrup?
2 dashes of grapefruit bitters?
1. Pour ingredients into a mixing glass and add ice. 2. Shake well for up to 10 seconds. 3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange twist.