Spirits Confidential with Max Solano
Around The World with Gin Part 1 of 2
Let me start off by saying that, yes, I am typically known as the Brown Spirits guy! But, that does not mean that I do not appreciate well-made un-aged distilled beverages. Quite the contrary. Secretly, I have a very fond admiration, borderline love affair, with gin. You heard me, right, ladies and gentlemen…. GIN!! Now that we have just officially crossed over into summer, this is typically when I indulge in this very enjoyable and vast spirit category. In this first part we will travel across the globe and explore some of my favorite gins from the different geographical regions.
So, what is gin, you ask? Gin is a distilled beverage typically produced from a base of grain spirits (but, not limited to) and always flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. Surely, gin has a very deep and rich history starting with the Dutch in the 16th century, most likely, earlier. The Dutch were distilling their local style of spirit called Genever which had already been used for medicinal purposes for years. The saying “Dutch Courage” derived from when the Dutch would take swigs of this beverage to give them strength whilst on the battlefield.
After the Dutch introduced gin to the United Kingdom, it was England that embraced this spirit, and in turn, greatly impacted the English culture for the next three centuries, and, eventually, the rest of the world.
TANQUERAY No. 10 (47.3% ABV)- England/ Scotland
I could never discuss gin, especially this London dry style, without including Tanqueray No. 10 in the conversation. With as many delicious and long-tenured brands produced in the United Kingdom, this particular expression is my go-to! After all, there’s a reason why we retired this gin from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, because it’s that good! Introduced in 2000, Tanqueray No. 10 is named after the “Tiny 10” pot still from which it is produced and undergoes a quadruple distillation process and made in small batches compared to the mainstream Tanqueray and its other expressions. Whole citrus fruit (lime, orange and grapefruit), not just the typical peels, are used, along with juniper, chamomile, coriander, licorice and angelica root. I recommend serving in a dry martini, Tom Collins or Gin Rickey.
THE BOTANIST (46% ABV)- Scotland
We know that whisky is king in Scotland, but feel consumers are not aware how popular gin is in this country, and that many different gins are produced here. The Botanist is the only gin produced on the Isle of Islay—you know-the capital of heavily smoked whiskies! Or, as I call it “Peat Central.” This gin is produced using pot stills at the Bruichladdich distillery on the western bank of Loch Indaal. Although the botanicals are a closely guarded secret, we know that the Botanist uses a whopping 31 botanicals, 22 of which are locally foraged on the Isle of Islay. I enjoy this finesse style gin in a White Lady.
DRUMSHANBO GUNPOWDER IRISH (43% ABV)- Ireland
As a direct result from Ireland’s craft whisky distillery boom, we are seeing many other spirits from these same producers, including gin. One of the most intriguing to me is Drumshanbo Gunpowder tea gin. Gunpowder tea is so called because each tea leaf has been rolled into a small ball, reminiscent of gunpowder. It’s usually made with green tea leaves and it’s that special ingredient that gives this gin its name. This is a beautifully well-balanced gin produced at the Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, Ireland and aside from the tea, it is made with juniper, angelica root, coriander seed, orris root, meadowsweet, caraway seed, cardamom, lemon, grapefruit, Kaffir lime, star anise and Chinese gunpowder tea. This gin goes beautifully with an aromatic tonic, such as Fever Tree, or makes for an interesting Clover Club.
ANTAGONIC (40% ABV)- Peru
One of the more interesting gins is this gem from Peru. In this land where Pisco originated and is king (along with wines), it’s not common to see many other spirits categories. The Ron Cartavio distillery located in Cartavio, Peru produces some amazingly very well-valued rum orchestrated by Master Distiller, Federico Schulz, who studied under Don Pancho Fernandez, himself. One of Federico’s dreams was to create his own gin, so Antagonic was born. Distilled from 100% sugar cane molasses, over 50 proprietary botanicals are used in making this complexed and delicate spirit, most of which are sourced from the Brazilian rainforest. This gin works well in many cocktails, but just love it in a G&T, preferably Fever Tree elderflower tonic.
RUTTE (43% ABV)- Holland
The Rutte family has been making genever, various gins and other spirits in Holland since 1872. Jan Rutte is the sixth generation distiller following in her family’s footsteps. This beautifully delicate and slightly citrus gin is made with juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, cinnamon, fresh orange peel and fennel. One of their secrets is that they claim to peel the fresh oranges all by hand which helps give this gin a very unique floral and citrus character. I simply enjoy this gin over ice with a slice of orange or in a Negroni for its dry citrus character.
SUNTORY ROKU (47% ABV)- Japan
Japanese gin may be new to our market, but it’s definitely not a new fad. They have been distilling gin since shortly after World War II ended, but incorporate a refreshing and unique profile than traditional London dry style. I call this the flavored vodka drinker’s gin. The first gin released by Suntory, the name "Roku" is Japanese for "Six" which refers to the six Japanese botanicals used. Sakura flower (cherry blossoms), sakura leaf (cherry leaf), sencha tea (green tea), Gyokuro tea (refined green tea), sanshō pepper and yuzu are utilized along with eight other traditional gin botanicals. The gin is distilled using a selection of different pot stills. This gin is fun to sip on over ice with a splash of soda and slice of meyer lemon or, dare I say, in a Cosmopolitan in lieu of citrus vodka.
LIGHTHOUSE (42% ABV)- New Zealand
The Lighthouse distillery was established in 2005 by Neil Catherall and is now owned by our own Las Vegas Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley. Lighthouse Gin’s inspiration came from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse at the southernmost tip of the North Island of New Zealand. With the famous lighthouse in mind, founder and Master Distiller, Neil Catherall, spent several years researching and experimenting with a variety of native botanicals, including fresh zest from New Zealand-grown navel oranges and Yen Ben lemons, to create a unique small batch gin. During his years of research, Neil designed a 200-litre copper still from scratch and had it built by the local craftsmen. With his custom still built and his unique botanical formula complete, Neil went to work crafting the first batches of Lighthouse gin. Since then, Rachel Hall was added to the team to assist Neil with meeting production demand. I would recommend using Lighthouse in some fun classics such as the Singapore Sling, Aviation, Ramos Gin Fizz and Monkey Gland.
Gin has evolved greatly and vastly and has become a mainstream spirit worldwide. In Part 2, we will take advantage of the craft distillery boom and delve into some of my favorite North American gins… ‘Til then!