Forgotten in a tidal wave of brown spirits or banished because of its association with grandma’s liquor cabinet, gin is finally getting its proper due. The spirit’s revival owes a debt to today’s foremost mixologists as well as history’s cocktail pioneers. “One of the primary spirits of choice in the golden era of cocktails was gin,” says Chris Patino, national brand ambassador for Pernod Ricard. “And a lot of us sat there and scratched our heads and said ‘Why did we forget this?’” As with beer and whiskey, American craft producers are leading the charge. Because gin offers a wide spectrum of flavors—its only real definition is that it be a spirit primarily flavored by juniper berries—there are nearly infinite ways to interpret it. “What really excites me about gin is its versatility,” says Nicholas Krok, co-owner of boutique liquor store Courage and Craft in downtown LA’s Grand Central Market. “The distillers have so much ability to put a mark on it and make it their own.” From lush and botanical to bone-dry and crisp, there’s guaranteed to be a gin for every drinker, even the skeptical.
Most beers aged in used gin barrels will be draft-only or one-off releases; after all, most gin isn’t aged, so these barrels are a rare prize. Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Co. makes a version of its Pony Pilsner aged in Corsair gin barrels that, before the gin, were used to age rum. Unlike bourbon barrel-aged beers, this beer is in the barrels for only a couple of weeks. “It still has a lot of the core pilsner flavor, but it’s infused with some of the botanical characteristics that you’d find in the gin as well as some sweet, oaky vanilla from the rum. We then blend it with a portion of the unaged pilsner to soften some of the booze character,” says head brewer Matt Young. Likewise, Cincinnati’s MadTree Brewing Co. has found success with Joon, a gin barrel-aged version of its kölsch. “One of the pleasant things about gin is that we could put such a light beer in the barrel,” says co-founder and head of production Jeff Hunt. “Gin doesn’t dominate, it accentuates.” For a more readily available beer, look for Gigantic Brewing Co.’s Pipewrench, an IPA aged in Ransom Old Tom Gin barrels. The Portland, Oregon-based brewery releases it in bottles and on draft every three months.
3 TRENDS FOR 2016
Barrel-aged: Gins that have rested in toasted oak barrels or barrels that previously held another spirit. “It gives a round, smooth character with some of the woody notes that you might want, plus baking spice or vanilla. Those flavors all play really nice with gin’s juniper and cardamom and coriander,” says Pernod-Ricard’s Chris Patino.
Try: Ballast Point Spirits Barrel Rested Old Grove Gin
New Western style: American- and European-made gins that don’t hew to historic styles, instead tinkering with the levels of supporting botanicals to create new, unique flavors. “Distillers are starting to use ingredients that come from their immediate area, even hiking in the hills behind their distillery to find their botanicals,” says Courage and Craft’s Nicholas Krok. “If you really pay attention, you can taste essentially the terroir in a lot of these gins.”
Try: Peak Spirits CapRock Colorado Organic Gin
Seasonal: Gins made with botanicals or fruits specifically tailored to a season. Think smoky or spiced tones in the cooler months and floral or tropical fruit flavors in warmer weather. “We do a new recipe each spring and fall; for this spring, we’re experimenting with local honey, chamomile, dandelion, jasmine, yerba santa and echinacea,” says Brenton Engel, founder of Letherbee Distillers.
Try: Letherbee Distillers Autumnal and Vernal gins
Make this recipe: SMALL BATCH SHAKE
Shake 1.5 ounces of Peak Spirits CapRock gin, ½ ounce of elderflower liqueur, ½ ounce of lemon grass syrup, ½ ounce of lime juice with some muddled basil and ice; strain and serve over ice.