Think You Don't Like Gin? Think Again!
American craft gins are not just a Christmas tree in a glass
Naturally, gin is reminiscent of a pine forest. After all, any alcohol labeled as gin must legally have “a main characteristic flavor derived from juniper berries,” which come from a conifer tree and contain resinous, piney notes.
However, gin includes “other aromatics,” too, like citrus peel, coriander, anise and almonds. Contemporary craft distillers often differentiate their products from mass-produced liquors by minimizing the juniper and highlighting those other botanical ingredients: thus New World, modern or American styles (versus historic Genever, Old Tom or London Dry).
Besides ingredients highlighted, differences among gins arise from the distillation process, the neutral spirit base ingredients and the method of infusion (steeping or distillation, for example).
Noteworthy Virginia gins, available through your Virginia ABC store and at the distillery, include:
Continental Gin and Commonwealth Gin. James River Distillery (Richmond) uses organic ingredients in all of its products and offers two takes on gin. The juniper-forward Continental Gin is inspired by London Dry style. Commonwealth Gin pulls botanical flavors from the New World to balance out the juniper, including Cascade and Amarillo hops.
Vir Gin. Spirits from Copper Fox Distillery (Williamsburg and Sperryville) begin with barley grown on the Northern Neck, floor-malted and applewood-smoked. Vir Gin adds Mediterranean juniper, citrus, spice and selected botanicals, including seasonal offerings from the distillery garden. Citrus and spice highlight the palate.
Watershed Gin. Catoctin Creek (Purcellville) starts with a base spirit made from organic rye grain for a spicy bite. Organic herbs and spices contribute a complex spectrum of subtle citrus, cinnamon and licorice along with juniper.
Modern Gin. Vitae Spirits (Charlottesville) begins with a sugar cane molasses-based neutral spirit and uses a production technique that elevates the aromatics. It’s a tasty spirit that gin lovers can sip neat or use in a cocktail.
Strange Monkey. Silverback Distillery (Nelson County) starts with a neutral spirit made from locally sourced winter wheat and adds botanicals in the distillation. Juniper berries take a back seat to coriander, anise, sweet orange peel, bitter orange peel, lemon and almond.
Bluecoat American Dry Gin, Philadelphia Distilling, Philadelphia. For a classic dry gin crafted by a small American business, go for Bluecoat gin, made with 100 percent organic ingredients. Pull out notes of citrus, angelica root and Mediterranean juniper berries. Small-batch Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gin masterfully merges gin notes with vanilla and caramel from 18 months of barrel aging. Perfect for sipping or a 1-to-1 spirit-to-tonic cocktail.
Vigilant District Dry Gin, Joseph Magnus, D.C. Juniper berries, herbs, oro blanco grapefruit, bergamot orange notes and a hint of funk mark this London Dry-style gin.
Forager Gin, McClintock Distilling, Frederick, Maryland. Not available in Virginia ABC stores, McClintock products are worth seeking out when in Maryland. Flavor notes in this vapor-infused gin – citrus, floral, herbs and anise – leave the pine flavor warbling softly in the background.
CLASSIC GIN COCKTAILS
Gin & Tonic
Quality tonic water tempers the gin while elevating the highlights in this simple cocktail. Ratios range from 3-to-1 tonic-to-gin mix to 1-to-1. Experiment to find what suits your tastes.
2 ounces gin
3 ounces tonic water
1 lime wedge
Pour the ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Stir well. Wipe the lime wedge around the rim of the glass and garnish.
Sorry, James Bond, the classic dry martini is stirred, not shaken.
2½ ounces gin
½ ounce dry vermouth
Lemon peel or olive
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain in chilled martini glass. Squeeze oil from lemon peel onto the drink, or garnish with olive.