The spirits (#1)

Given our rapid approach to the annual celebration of ghosts and goblins, you are probably expecting a post entitled The spirits to have something to do with Halloween.

Wrong. (Haven’t you figured out by now that I cannot resist a pun?)

Exploiting a timely title, this post will be about spirits of a less metaphysical variety — those of the distilled beverage kind and, in particular, gin. (Because I also cannot resist a series, this will kick off a mini-series about US-made spirits.)

Just so we all start on the same page, gin is a neutral spirit usually made of cereal grains (wheat, rye, corn, etc – not Frosted Flakes and Special K – I was disappointed too) that derives its flavor from the addition of any variety of botanicals, chief among them juniper. Thought of another way, gin is a juniper berry flavored vodka.

Because I know you were wondering, it was Dr. Franciscus de La Boie, aka Dr. Sylvius (no, I do no know why he is known by 2 so distinctly different names) in 17th century Holland who is credited with the invention of gin. He was looking for an inexpensive diuretic to treat kidney disorders and so mixed juniper berries with unaged, grain alcohol. What he got soon became an inexpensive (he got that part right!) and popular libation in Holland then England, Her colonies and, before long, the world.

Today there are several styles of gin. The one that most closely approximates Dr. La Boie’s is the Genever style, a heavy-bodied and strongly flavored gin with a pronounced malty taste and aroma. However, the most common and the one most people associate with the term gin is dry gin which has a predominant juniper content and flavor (think Bombay, Beefeater, etc. – but try not to buy them because they aren’t made in the US and as you’ll see there are plenty of American alternatives!). And the newest type of gin to emerge in the US is New American (or modern) gin which relies less on juniper and more thoroughly explores the flavor of the other infused botanicals.

As I hope you will see in the post below there is an exciting US distillery community growing up from coast to coast. With a little American ingenuity and hard work and lots of trial and error, the distillers below are showing the world that Americans can make (and drink) more than bourbon.

If you are old enough and so inclined, please support these great American distilleries! (Responsibly, of course.)

(Please note: The tasting notes below are not mine. They belong to Drink Spirits (DS), Spirits Review (SR), Tasting Table (TT) the distillery itself (D) and Blog Seattle PI (BSP). If you agree, thank them, if you don’t . . . well you get the idea.)

Aviation Gin – Made in Portland, Oregon

You Ought to Know: Aviation Gin takes its name from the Aviation Cocktail, most likely invented by Hugo Ensslin, barman at New York’s Hotel Wallick, sometime in the early 20th century. It was the introduction to this cocktail that solidified Aviation Co-Founder Ryan Magarian’s passion for gin. (Here – I know you want the recipe!)

Style: batch-distilled, New American

Ingredients: rye, elletaria cardamom, lavender, indian sarsaparilla, coriander, anise seed, dried sweet orange peel, and juniper

Tasting Notes: entry is very soft and elegant, delivering a beautiful wide botanical medley of flavors – with the pine you also get cardamom, caraway, anise and just a hint of pepper – finish is soft and easy without much heat (DS)

DistilleryHouse Spirits Distillery

Price: $30/750ml

Other Products: Krogstad Aquavit, Limited Release Line, Oregon Whiskey

BAINBRIDGE HERITAGE ORGANIC GIN - Bainbridge Island, Washington

You Ought to Know: Bainbridge Distillers is Washington State’s first distillery to produce USDA certified organic spirits. And they take that very seriously. As a family owned and operated business, you will find either father or son (maybe even both!) in the hands on management of every aspect of production from working with local farmers to purchase the highest quality local organic ingredients to the final stage of distillation.

Style: small-batch, dry gin

Ingredients: include organic Washington soft white wheat, organic juniper berries, organic douglas fir boughs from northeast Washington State, citrus peel and a proprietary selection of other organic botanicals

Tasting Notes: expressive and classic dry – unique palate and bouquet (D)

DistilleryBainbridge Organic Distillers

Price: (not found – distribution is still local)

Other Products: Legacy Organic Vodka, Battle Point Whiskey

Breuckelen Gin – Made in Brooklyn, New York

You Ought to Know: Breucklen is an organic wheat-based gin. All of the wheat it uses comes from upstate NY farms and is ground in-house just before production.

Style: small-batch, modern

Ingredients: organic whole wheat, rosemary, ginger, grapefruit peel, lemon peel and juniper

Tasting Notes: silky, very aromatic blend of (mostly) citrus, spice, and a lovely grainy/bran taste – deep and complex (SR)

Distillery: Breuckelen Distilling Company Inc.

Price: $33/750ml

Other products: A relative newcomer to the spirits marketplace (2008). For the time being, they are concentrating on doing one thing well. Click here for photos of their process.

DID YOU KNOW? Gin most likely derives its name from the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever both meaning “juniper.”

Death’s Door Gin – Made in Middleton, Wisconsin

You ought to know: Death’s Door donates 1% of its annual revenue to Alliance for the Great Lakes – an organization committed to protecting and restoring the world’s largest natural freshwater resource.

Style: small-batch, traditional dry

Ingredients: 60/40 mix of organic Washington Island wheat/organic malted barley from Chilton, Wisconsin, coriander and fennel from Wisconsin and wild Washington Island juniper berries

Tasting Notes: bright, distinctive – in particular, the wild juniper is aromatic and citrusy, the coriander gives a very spicy dryness and the fennel provides a slightly oily body and a lot of spice aroma (SR)

Distillery: Death’s Door Spirits

Price: $32/750ml

Other products: Death’s Door Vodka, Death’s Door White Whisky

Dry Fly Gin – Made in Spokane, Washington

You ought to know: Owners/Operators, Don Poffenroth and Kent Fleischman, operate a school for aspiring distillers. Choose from a 2-day basic distilling operations or week-long distillery operations course.

Style: craft-distilled, New American

Ingredients:  all locally grown – winter wheat, juniper, mint, dried Washington apples, and hops

Tasting Notes: apple, pepper, peach, vanilla, wheat, nectarine and lime peel – finish is pretty quick and leaves your mouth very cool and clean (DS)

DistilleryDry Fly Distilling, Inc.

Price: $30/750ml

Other products: Dry Fly Vodka, Dry Fly Whisky (Single Malt) and just released Dry Fly Bourbon (no link yet – its that new).

Junipero Gin - Made in San Francisco, California

You ought to know: In addition to amazing spirits, Anchor offers the first modern edition of Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender. This classic, originally published in 1891 and featuring the recipes of celebrated barman William T. “Cocktail” Boothby, was made nearly extinct by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Anchor’s edition has won 2 National Book Awards and features a foreword by Anchor Distilling’s Fritz Maytag (winner of the 2008 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award), Cocktail Bill’s 10 commandments for the bartender, and hundreds of his original creations.

Style: small-batch, New American

Ingredients: over a dozen botanicals

Tasting Notes: very strong juniper accompanied by clove and black pepper notes – underneath there are some subtle lemon peel notes – medium finish that ends with lemon and pine notes and is slightly cooling (DS)

Distillery: Anchor Distilling/Anchor Brewing

Price: $30/750ml

Other productsGenevieve Genever style gin, Old Potrero Single Malt Hotaling’s Whiskey, Old Potrero 18th Century Style Single Malt WhiskeyOld Potrero 19th Century Style Straight Rye Whiskey, and Anchor Brewing Company’s full line of beer.

DID YOU KNOW? The juniper berry is actually a female seed cone that only resembles a berry.

Leopold’s Gin – Made in Denver, Colorado

You ought to know: Many gin distillers introduce all of their botanicals at the same time in the distillation process. But not the Leopold brothers. Because each botanical has a different boiling point and over-boiling creates tannin-like flavors, Scott and Todd add each botanical at the correct temperature thereby extracting the optimum flavor profile. Not picky enough for you? Each batch of gin is crafted by hand, bottled by hand, labeled by hand and numbered by hand.

Style: small-batch, New American

Ingredients: juniper, orris root, hand-zested Valencia oranges, cardamom, coriander, and hand-zested Pumellos

Tasting Notes: unfolds on the palate with a wide dimension of flavor including pine, light evergreen, lime peel, cedar, soft black pepper and wet cement –  finish is a solid mix of pine and citrus with a some nice cooling in the mouth (DS)

Distillery: Leopold Bros. Distillery

Price: $36/750ml

Other products: Silver Tree Vodka, Whiskies, LiqueursAbsinthe Verte

Old Grove Gin – Made in San Diego, California

You ought to know: The Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Co. began as one man’s adventures in home brewing beer in his backyard. It was not long before Jack White had become quite adept at his hobby and opened Home Brew Mart to fill his own and other’s needs for home-brew gear. Before long a brewery was opened in the backroom of the store and the rest is as they say . . . inspiring.

Style: traditional dry

Ingredients: juniper, coriander, rose petals

Tasting Notes: juniper backbone, but with subtle hints of rose, peppery grains of paradise, and locally grown coriander (TT)

Distillery: Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Co.

Price: $33/750ml

Other products: Three Sheets Rum, Barrel Aged Three Sheets Rum, Devil’s Share Whiskey (coming soon) and Ballast Point’s full line of beer.

Ransom Old Tom Gin – Made in Sheridan Oregon

You ought to know: Ransom consulted author, historian and mixologist David Wondric in the formulation of this golden age classic. Old Tom is a historically accurate revival of pre-prohibition gin.

Style: small-batch, Genevere

Ingredients: malted barley, corn

Tasting Notes: lots of malt, fruit, spices, leather and a touch of tobacco (DS)

Distillery: Ransom Wines & Spirits

Price: $37/750ml

Other products: Small’s GinGewürztraminer Grappa, The Vodka by Ransom, Whippersnapper (Whiskey), 2008 Ransom Selection Pinot Noir2008 Ransom Cattrall Vineyard Pinot Noir2008 Ransom Cabernet Franc2009 Ransom Selection Pinot Gris, and 2008 Jigsaw Pinot Noir

DID YOU KNOW? That gin rose to the height of popularity during prohibition because it did not have to be aged (like whiskey) and was relatively easy to mix in large container like a bathtub – hence “bathtub gin.” Gin remained the preferred white spirit in the US until the rise of vodka in the 1960s.

Rehorst Gin – Made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

You ought to know: Rehorst gin contains 2 botanicals not found in any other gin — sweet basil and Wisconsin ginseng. The sweet basil gives Rehorst a unique floral quality and the Wisconsin ginseng adds an earthiness. Did you know that Wisconsin ginseng is regarded as the world’s finest quality ginseng and as a result most of the crop is exported to Asia where it is prized by herbalists? Now you do.

Style: small-batch, modern

Ingredients: coriander, Saigon cassia, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, anise, sweet basil, Wisconsin ginseng and juniper

Tasting Notes: very aromatic blend of spices and citrus scents,with the basil and ginseng balancing the mix (SR)

DistilleryGreat Lakes Distillery

Price: $30/750ml

Other products: Rehorst Vodka, Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Citrus & Honey VodkaAmerique 1912 Absinthe, Artisan Series Brandies, Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit, Roaring Dan’s RumKinnickinnic Whiskey

Seneca Drums Gin – Made in Burdett, New York

You ought to know: Seneca Drums Gin is made of a 75% grape and 25% grain base.

Style: small-batch, traditional dry

Ingredients:  11 botanicals including – citrus peel, coriander, cardamom, fresh cucumber, black pepper and juniper

Tasting Notes: pleasantly heavy or weighty mouth feel from the grape base and cucumber influence rounds out the gin, giving it a almost fatty mouthfeel – much more savory and citrus feel – juniper is there but so are a lot of other citrus, spice, and aromatic herbs (SR)

Distillery: Finger Lakes Distilling, LLC

Price: $30/750ml

Other productsMcKenzie Bourbon WhiskeyMcKenzie Rye WhiskeyVintner’s VodkaVintner’s Wild Berry VodkaPear BrandyFinger Lakes Distilling GrappaGlen Thunder, Liqueurs – Maplejack, Cassis, Raspberry, Cherry, Blueberry

Spring 44 Gin – Made in Denver, Colorado

You ought to know: Spring44 takes its name from a spring on property owned by co-founder Jeff’s father in northern Colorado. The spring is at 9044′ above sea level surrounded by the Roosevelt National Forest. Its purity and vitality was the inspiration for the spirits company and now is its most important ingredient.

Style: New American

Ingredients: rye, corn, wheat and 12 botanicals

Tasting Notes: jubilantly complex, jazzy, spicy, showing shockingly accurate and intense juniper but with a whole grocery list of grace notes like sage, pepper, berries, lemon, almond, anise, toast, lime (BSP)

Distillery: Spring 44 Distilling, Inc.

Price: $25/750ml

Other products: Spring 44 Vodka, Spring 44 Honey Vodka

DID YOU KNOW? The martini remains the most popular gin cocktail. Its origins are disputed (of course!) but its believed to either be an evolution of the late-19th century Martinez cocktail which was made of Old Tom-style gin and sweet vermouth or to have been created at New York’s Hotel Knickerbocker at the beginning of the 20th century. Most can agree that the ratio of gin to white vermouth started out at 2 to 1 and has been getting drier since inception.

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You will want to check out these websites. Many have great recipes for signature cocktails, as well as production videos and lots of other great stuff!

If you are having trouble finding any of these brands in your local stores, there are online stores that carry most of these products. (Most of the distilleries above have links to web-based stores that carry their products. If they don’t, give them a call and ask how you can get your hands on their gin!)

Also if you happen to live or are traveling in the vicinity of any of these distilleries, look them up. Most offer tours and/or tasting rooms.

Have you tried any of these gins?  If so, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

These are not all of the American-made gins. Feel free to share the names or reviews of others, as well.

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The next spirits installment will feature vodkas.  Any suggestions?

As always, thanks for reading!

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