Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Spirits: Local Gins

"More gins?" I can hear you asking already. You're damn right, more gins. I won't be stopped.

These particular gins are all unique in that they hail from distilleries located near my hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. There's been a boom in local distilling lately, and it's a curious fact that the first products turned out by most of them are various takes on gin. The reason's simple: gin doesn't have to be aged to develop flavor the way that whiskey does, so you can ship product out the door and start recouping your investment immediately, rather than having to sit on barrels for a year or more. Gin's just a smart start-up booze.

The thing about gin is that you have to find a way to distinguish yourself in order to sell it. Clever marketing will only get you so far; with so many other distilleries pumping out product, producers have to make the booze itself unique in order to attract attention. These, friends, are some dang unique gins. They sure caught my eye, and I am only too happy to share.

Bent Brewstillery Gunner Ghost

About: Starting off strong is a gin distinguished by its proof. The dramatically rendered ship on the label ought to be a dead giveaway that this is navy-strength product, the stuff that sailors used to slop all over their gunpowder. (Not intentionally, it just happens after having a few, or when enemy fire fucks up a barrel.) Bent Brewstillery is also my most local of the distillers featured here; heck, our bank is located right across the street from their taproom. They produce a number of unique beers, and the brewery does double time producing mashes for their stills. Hardworking fellows over there.

Tasting: No surprise that this is pretty potent stuff from the nose on up. The botanical mix features some surprises, but the first whiff is full of classic juniper, dark herbs, and an intriguing maltiness. Lighter, grassier elements (hello apricot, lemongrass... and hops?) take over on the palate at first, but the alcohol makes itself known pretty quickly. The swallow is full of malt and spice and a rounded sweetness, plus a sort of cola flavor that's weird to encounter in gin. It's different from other navy-strength bottlings in the same way that American gins are different from London Dry versions: a bit sweeter, a bit more robust, less focused on juniper. I like it, particularly in shaken drinks.

Norseman Strawberry Rhubarb Gin

About: Norseman is a micro-scale distillery run out of the hipster-heavy northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, with a strong focus on local sourcing. Even though it appears to be run by two guys and their dogs, they've really ramped up production and their products can be found at many local liquor stores (including bigger chains that will let you order product online). Those products span a few different spirits and they're starting to release aged whiskies and rum, but this is a seasonal release of their gin, one version of a few. I'm guessing that the strawberry and rhubarb are distilled in with the botanicals; I keep meaning to email the distillery for clarification on that, but haven't gotten around to it. Heck, at this point they might not even remember, this being a rather limited-edition summer edition that you might now be hard-pressed to find.

Tasting: This is a rather sweet gin, and it starts from the nose, which is filled with candied strawberry. On the palate, it's pretty one-note, but it's a complex note: think good strawberry-rhubarb pie, filled with both of those plus lemon peel and vanilla. After the swallow, a bit of white pepper hangs around, but there's really not much juniper presence here; good for the novice gin drinker. On the other hand, it's nowhere close to the artificial sweetness that you might expect from the name, and it makes for a fantastic gin & tonic on a hot day.

J. Carver Barrel Gin

About: The J. Carver distillery is a bit further afield, located in the outlying city/exurb of Waconia, not quite in what I'd consider the Twin Cities metro area but close enough that I'm considering an afternoon trip to their tasting room. They make a few "premium" gins and vodkas, but this is the odd duck of the bunch, a gin distilled with local botanicals, grains, and wild rice (definitively Minnesotan, if a bit unusual) then briefly aged in also-local newly charred bourbon barrels. Making a barrel-aged gin is a bit of a gutsy move, but it paid off. I actually first learned about this spirit from Robb Jones of Spoon and Stable, a man I trust in all matters spiritous, who liked it so much that he bought an entire barrel of the stuff for his bar. Smart move.

Tasting: It shouldn't be surprising that this is an atypical gin, with a nose more redolent of star anise and orange peel than juniper. I get a little whiff of the juniper right at first tasting, but that rapidly gets layered with licorice, vanilla, dark spices, and a building bourbon-barrel char character. The finish is a bit tannic and drying, with more of that oaky finish, a wash of black pepper, and a sort of sweet dried-herb background. It's complex, nicely aged, and a little bit rough but still sippable. With the oak presence and sweetness, this makes one hell of a Martinez.

So there you go, more weird gins! I love the motley collection that I've assembled, and you can be certain that I'll keep on adding to it in future.

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