When the subject of gin is mentioned, an array of cocktails immediately spring to mind. This is not surprising, given that more cocktails are made with gin than any other spirit. In the case of gin finished and aged in barrels, well, many of us may be intrigued, but…what exactly do you do with a barrel aged gin? It’s dark hue, complex aromas and flavors may throw you for a loop—but do not despair, they are quite versatile, yet you do need to treat them with care. This Friday, we are opening two unique and superb barrel aged gins—Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat Gin, aged in American oak, and Tommyrotter Distillery’s Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin.
Known for its predominating juniper berry disposition, gin typically can be described as herbal, citrusy, piney, spicy, floral, fruity…and completely clear. It is a spirit derived from distilling a fermented grain mash from barley (among others) then re-distilling it with botanicals to draw out intricate aroma compounds. The fermentation of the grain mash alone produces a neutral alcohol, similar to vodka, which is mainly tasteless aside from that ever-present ethyl alcohol edge. So, pretty straight-forward, tried and true–why mess with a good thing, right? Believe it or not, introducing gin to wooden barrels is not just some funky, hip new invention that’s sweeping craft distilleries across the nation. (Well, it is, kind of, but it’s actually not a new concept.)
Gin was being stored in wooden barrels back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; breakable containers, such as glass, were expensive and this was a more cost-effective method of transportation. Oak had also been used for its antibacterial qualities and sturdiness. Naturally, because the gin was being stored this way, it would take on certain properties from the oak—the gins of this time were of a yellow hue and had sweeter, spicier notes.
The Single Bottle Act was passed in England in 1861; this allowed spirits to be sold in glass bottles. It was then that gin and barrels went their separate ways—that is until the late 2000s. With the emergence of craft distilleries there came to be what is known as a “Ginaissance.” A new generation of younger gin drinkers was born and distilleries were marketing more sophisticated and artistic varieties of this age-old spirit.
Caledonia Spirits out of Vermont makes Tom Cat Gin. It is distilled from corn and finished with raw honey (delicious Vermont honey-that is). It is aged in new American oak barrels, so any influence on the flavor here is strictly from the oak and not from any other spirit or wine aged in it prior. It is the color of glistening rose. Scents of honey and juniper dance around your nose and upon the first sip, there is an inviting slight sweetness that unfolds to reveal notes of pine, followed up with soft kisses of vanilla and fresh peach. This truly imaginative gin is bold yet remarkably approachable, whether you drink it straight or in a cocktail.
Tommyrotter Distillery out of Buffalo New York crafts the Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Aged Gin. It is noted to be “a gin with an identity crisis.” It is aged in new white American oak barrels for six to nine months. It has a rich, dark brown color and is exceptionally complex with marked notes of oak, apricot, clove, and citrus peel. It is part of their Masterwork Collection and is only released twice per year in the spring and fall. Currently Tommyrotter is only available in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Here’s the slight catch: Gin is not a spirit that is typically consumed straight—it is made for cocktails. Barrel aged gins are a bit of a different animal in that they have the botanical characteristics of a gin with whiskey-like notes. So yes, you certainly may enjoy them straight. They have enough complexity and depth to stand on their own without the addition of any other ingredients; however, because of its whisky tendencies, if you were to use a barrel aged gin in a cocktail, it will do much better in one not traditionally made with gin. Try them in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan and be pleasantly surprised. They are also a bit delicate, so to retain their vibrant personalities, they should never be watered down or enjoyed with too much ice.
Are you as excited to try these gins as we are? We will see you at the shop, where we can experience gin from both an old and re-imagined perspective.