The New Gin
Innovative distillers are putting a fresh spin on this classic, often using unexpected botanicals in their creations
BY LESLEY JACOBS SOLMONSON — Spring 2018
Juniper no longer rules the gin game. These days, intrepid distillers throw out tradition in favor of innovation by sourcing unconventional, often local botanicals. Inventive blending and distilling techniques enhance this terroir-driven philosophy, ensuring a gin now exists for everyone. We spotlight five intriguing distilleries reinventing the botanical wheel and producing new tipples you’ll want to try.
The Aussie Wonder
Healesville, Victoria, Australia
Back story: Before starting Australian gin brand Four Pillars in late 2013, wine industry vets Stuart Gregor and Cameron Mackenzie shared a love of gin and cocktails. Though they first thought to create a new tonic brand, they quickly realized that making gin would be far more exciting and enlisted the help of brand builder Matt Jones. “We are three partners who have been involved in booze and brands for many, many years,” says Gregor, “and we wanted to do something really great ourselves. We figured that Australia made many great drinks — great wine, great coffee, great beer — but with the exception of whisky [in Tasmania] and a few others, we weren’t really making any truly world-class spirits.”
It took 18 months of experimentation to hit upon the 10 core botanicals in Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin. Tasmanian pepperberry and lemon myrtle are native plants. Star anise and cassia supply Asian influences. Lavender, coriander seeds, cardamom, and angelica root, as well as whole Australian oranges, round out the recipe with juniper serving as a gentle foundation. In Gregor’s mind, “It’s the best of the New World with a hat tip to the old. Australian gin is like our food; it’s not deliberately wacky or obtuse. It just combines the best ingredients, know-how, and traditions to make something uniquely Australian.”
The distillery also produces a barrel-aged style and a Navy-strength version that won the “Master” medal at London’s Global Gin Masters the last three years.
Newest pour: Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin ($45), just launched in California this past October, uses the abundant shiraz grapes found in the Yarra Valley. The grapes are steeped in high-proof gin for eight weeks, producing a juicy, intense riff on sloe gin.
Philosophy: “We believe simplicity is key to all great drinks,” says Gregor, “and we make our gin based on four simple pillars: a great still, great botanicals, great local water, and great love, attention, and craft.”
More info: fourpillarsgin.com.au
3/4 ounce Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin
3/4 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce dry curaçao
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 dash orange bitters
lemon twist for garnish
Add ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupette glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Albury, Surrey, U.K.
Back story: In 2014, global spirits businessman Ian McCulloch and sales and marketing expert James Shelbourne discovered a shared vision of a local distillery in Surrey, England. Seduced by the way Scotch whisky weaves a narrative around each brand, McCulloch wanted to echo this sort of storytelling. “The conclusion,” explains distiller Tom Hutchings, “was that the site was key — somewhere with a genuine story and inspiration to influence the product and brand. Silent Pool, with its spring-fed waters and surrounding hills where juniper, chamomile, hawthorn, and other botanicals grow, presented itself as the base for production.”
This mystical pool inspired both the company’s name and bottle design, and contributes exactly the sort of legend McCulloch wanted (a 13th-century tale of a young woman who drowned in the pool after being chased by an evil knight). The gin itself took its cues from the pool, too. “The process started with looking at the pool and its surroundings for inspiration,” says Hutchings. “The aim was to reflect the Silent Pool in its purity and depth, smooth enough to drink neat yet layered in depth and complexity.”
The distilling team started out with 60 individual distillates, narrowing these down to 28. The 24 botanicals in the recipe evolved from those 28 distillates. The gin’s flavor profile comes from the flowers found in the surrounding woods, including chamomile, elderflower, and linden flower, as well as summer lavender and rose.
Newest pour: Available in Europe since 2015, the brand launched its flagship Silent Pool Gin ($60) in California late last year. This year, it expands to various other U.S. markets. Floral and citrus notes complement the juniper character, while honey adds a velvety texture.
Philosophy: Says Hutchings, “Silent Pool Gin so perfectly expresses its environment that it wouldn’t quite be the same if it was made outside the small patch of gorgeous Surrey countryside we call home.” Thus, while technically a London Dry gin in style, this spirit is defined by a sense of place due to indigenous botanicals.
More info: silentpooldistillers.com
SILENT POOL G & T
1-1/2 to 2 ounces Silent Pool Gin
4 ounces tonic water
orange twist for garnish
Add ingredients to a Copa de Balon glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with an orange twist, expressed over the top.
The Gin Loyalist
Back story: At Greenhook Ginsmiths, the name proclaims the product. Many craft distilleries produce vodka and gin while they bide their time for their whiskey to age; Greenhook’s Steven DeAngelo only wanted to make the juniper spirit. Unfulfilled by his career on Wall Street, DeAngelo turned his love of gin into a business in 2012. “I came from outside of the drinks/hospitality industry,” he says, “and was just a big gin drinker, really drawn in by the idea of manufacturing gin, which at that time had really become a forgotten and neglected spirit.”
The small distillery, tucked between industrial buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Greenpoint neighborhood, produces three small-batch gins — American Dry, Beach Plum Gin Liqueur, and Old Tom — that have won accolades from both industry and consumer publications.
Unlike other gin makers, Greenhook uses a vacuum process that DeAngelo came upon while reading historical distillation texts. Used by 19th-century perfumers, the process includes the delicate extraction of herbal and floral aromas. Vacuum distillation requires lower heat and lower heat means the botanicals, whether for perfume or gin, are handled more gently. For DeAngelo, this translates into a particularly aromatic product that balances juniper with herbal, floral, and citrus notes.
Philosophy: “Our mission was — and is — to become America’s premier gin distillery,” says DeAngelo, “and to do so we utilize a blend of tradition and innovation.”
Newest pour: Available for the last six years only in the tri-state area, the company aggressively expanded distribution last September. While the American Dry Gin ($35) provides a contemporary take on London Dry gin, the Beach Plum Gin Liqueur ($50) takes the concept of traditional sloe gin and puts an American spin on it by using local beach plums in place of sloes.
More info: greenhookgin.com
3/4 ounce Greenhook Beach Plum Gin Liqueur
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1/2 ounce cane sugar
stemmed mint for garnish
grapefruit twist for garnish
Rub a handful of loose mint inside a julep tin and discard. Combine ingredients in the julep tin. Add ice, swizzle to combine, add more ice. Garnish with stemmed mint and grapefruit twist.
Oakland Spirits Company (OsCo)
Back story: Before starting Oakland Spirits in 2014, Michael Pierce and his small team made only wine (Two Mile Wines) and cider (Crooked City Cider). Now OsCo also produces three gins and several brandies. “Most of our expressions change with the seasons and whimsy,” says Pierce. “While most craft brands build focus on an old recipe, we make spirits of our time: interesting flavor profiles for interesting cocktails, without the confines of antiquity.”
Only four people, including founder Pierce and distiller Tim Lynn, work full time making the spirits, wines, and ciders. Regardless of the small operation, the company’s goals focus on innovation and community building. “We work hard to present flavors not currently offered in the spirits domain,” says Pierce, “and we always make our expressions affordable. We’re not afraid to be so far ahead of the progressive spirits curve that most drinkers won’t understand how to react to our inventions. They will catch up, but we won’t slow down.”
OsCo’s gins use brandy (from grapes) as the base, creating a rich mouthfeel and intense flavors. The three styles consist of an Uptown (Oakland) dry gin, the citrus-forward No. 5, and the locally influenced Sea Gin.
Philosophy: “We make spirits with personality, pluck, and heart that will inspire cocktail artisans — professionals and hobbyists alike,” Pierce says. “The distillery is an extended family, and a collective voice guides our invention.”
Newest pour: For the first 19 months of production, OsCo self-distributed the Automatic Sea Gin ($30) solely in the greater Bay Area. Now, with a distributor on board, the briny bottling can be purchased in California and Utah with plans for Illinois and Colorado later this year. The Sea Gin offers a whiff of fresh, ocean air at first sniff. Hand-foraged Mendocino nori lends brininess to earthy sage and bright lemongrass botanicals.
More info: oaklandspirits.com
2 ounces Automatic Sea Gin
1/4 ounce honey syrup (40 percent honey / 60 percent water)
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
2 dashes celery bitters
sea bean or celery leaf for garnish
Swirl Chartreuse in a coupe and discard remaining liquid. Stir gin, syrup, and bitters until well chilled. Strain into the coupe. Garnish with sea bean or celery leaf.
Back story: As the founder of brand creation firm Quaker City Mercantile in Philadelphia, Steven Grasse creates, oversees, and develops distinctive niche brands. Interested in exploring the craft spirits realm, he designed and built Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile at the foot of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The distillery opened in 2015 with distillers Jamie Oakes and Matt Power on board. While Grasse is still active in the company, Oakes and Power, known for their keen interest in locally inspired and sourced spirits, have full creative license.
The terroir-driven Garden Gin line — Apiary, Flora, Spruce, White Mountain, and Wild Hops — changes subtly each year with the rhythms of the local flora. According to Oakes, “When it came to the gins, we looked at what was out there and thought there was a hole in the market for subtle, alternative, botanical gins. Matt and I would go outside at various times of year around our distillery, take a big sniff, and see how we could translate what we were smelling into a spirit.”
Further emphasizing the local terroir, the company sources all its grains from within a 150-mile radius and mills them at the distillery for freshness. The water is drawn from the Ossipee Stratified Aquifer, which sits atop granite bedrock, and the botanicals are locally sourced either from farms, the distillery’s garden, or from hand-foraging.
Philosophy: The distillery’s local, handcrafted approach draws inspiration from the 19th-century Transcendentalist movement, which suggested that art was being compromised by the incursion of mechanization. “The seasonal gin series was really born out of the Art in the Age [a sister company] philosophy — all natural infusions, no fake chemicals, or flavors,” says Oakes.
Newest pour: Released every winter, the Spruce Gin ($55) offers a combination of bright citrus and evergreen from the spruce tips, as well as the warmth of baking spices and a woodsy quality from bay, tarragon, and gentian. Each year’s bottling varies according to the character of the core botanicals.
More info: tamworthdistilling.com
2 ounces Spruce Garden Gin
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened matcha powder
fresh mint for garnish
Add the ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a mint leaf.
UPDATING A CLASSIC: Think of gin and Beefeater naturally comes to mind. This touchstone in London Dry gin has been producing fine spirits since 1876 and still flourishes under the guidance of master distiller Desmond Payne, who ensures consistency in every batch at the Kennington, London, distillery. Not one to rest on past laurels, Payne stays open to progress while maintaining the company’s legacy. Beefeater launched its most recent innovation in the form of 2016’s Burrough’s Reserve Oak-Rested Gin ($70). The idea of an old-school, large-scale gin producer exploring super-premium barrel aging is a benchmark. Under Payne’s guidance, these oak-rested gins exhibit a synthesis of tradition and innovation, as well as a complexity that encourages imbibers to sip them neat like whiskey. beefeatergin.com
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