By Brian West
Craft. That word carries a lot of weight. Thanks mostly to the craft brewing industry, it speaks volumes about a product’s general quality and the care in which it is made. Now, craft products are not inherently better than their macro counterparts, but one can be sure that there is more “personality” in each bottle. That, to me, is what makes “craft” anything so special. It’s an intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of the artisan creating the product.
In the beverage world, we’ve seen it already with craft brewing—an explosion of creativity, expanding and redefining beer styles. And just like craft brewers push style definitions and innovate the industry, so too do craft distillers. Each distillery has a personality that one can taste, and craft distillers often aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of what’s expected from a particular product.
Of all the craft products available in this market, I chose to write this article about gin. Why gin? Well, a two reasons: first, I love it (and I’m the one writing this, so there!). But more importantly, gin is the first spirit most of these craft distilleries could produce that allowed them a direct hand in a flavor profile. In other words, it gave them a chance to show their consumers what they were capable of!
Gin, being a white (unaged) spirit, means it can be bottled basically directly off the still (after filtering). This is very good for a fledgling distillery’s enormous financial needs. Vodka, most distilleries’ first product to market, is the same way but, by definition, contains no real “flavor.” Gin is essentially a flavored vodka. Only rather than lemon or melon or … dude … it’s flavored with juniper berries and other assorted botanicals.
Okay, juniper is juniper. Most of us who’ve had gin know the flavor; either you like it or you don’t. It’s the “other botanicals” where craft distilleries really shine. These botanicals can complement or contrast the juniper; make the spirit “juniper forward” or downplay it almost to the point of being undetectable; make a gin floral, or citrusy, or spicy, or earthy or any number of qualities. In short, the diversity of this spirit makes it an amazing canvas on which craft distilleries can paint their unique perspective on gin and, really, spirits in general. It’s a window, if you will, by which you can sneak a peek at the great things to come from a particular distillery.
So here’s my challenge you each of you reading this: whether you fancy yourself a gin-lover or you’re convinced you don’t like gin at all, try each of the unique gins featured here. You don’t have to buy a bottle of each (although extra credit if you do), but at least go to a bar and ask for an ounce or so poured into shot glass or, better yet, a nosing or wine glass. Take the time to smell the aromatics in the spirit—a lot of time went into the aroma. Then, when you’re ready, DON’T SHOOT IT! Sip it. Let yourself experience it, for better or for worse. Then, regardless of your first impression, taste it a second and then a third time. By the time you’ve tried all six, I’ll wager you will have either changed your mind on gin (for the better), found a new favorite (assuming one of these was not already your favorite) or both.
The following gins were published in Volume 5, Issue 3 of Alcoholmanac Magazine:
North Shore Distillery Distiller's Gin No. 11
Great Lakes Distillery Rehorst Premium Gin
Death's Door Spirits Gin
Yahara Bay Distillers Extra Dry Gin
45th Parallel Spirits Midwest Gin
New Holland Spirits Knickerbocker Gin