There's been a huge surge lately in the accessibility and diversity of different styles of gin. From Old Toms to Genever, gin enthusiasts are branching out to enjoy the full breadth of what the spirit has to offer. That also includes the increasing presence of barrel-aged gins hitting the market in recent years.
Perhaps the first aged gin sold across the globe in modern times is Maison Ferrand's Citadelle Réserve Gin out of France. Maison Ferrand also produces the unaged Citadelle Gin, and various other spirits, including Cognac.
"The first batch was in 2007 and we drank it," says Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand. "We liked it so much but we didn't know there would be a market. This was the first aged gin that I knew about at the time. In 2008, we launched it to the public and were happily surprised to see how well it was received."
Maison Ferrand's aging methodology has evolved over the years since its initial release. Today, Gabriel's Citadelle Réserve Gin is solera-aged, and involves a complex combination of gins rested in seven different types of barrels before they're married together in a large solera vat. That vat is only ever half emptied, so each new batch also blends with all of the batches which have preceded it.
Barrel aging gin has travelled across the Atlantic, and is taking root with several stateside companies like FEW Spirits, Smooth Ambler Spirits, Corsair Distillery and St. George Spirits, amongst others. Producing gin is already a common path for small, startup whiskey distilleries who need to sell product as their whiskey ages. With barrels laying around too, why not toss some gin in there?
"It's in the fun, experimental nimbleness of having a boutique distillery such as this," says Allen Katz, founder of Brooklyn's New York Distilling Co. They produce Chief Gowanus, an aged New Netherlands-style gin that incorporates a small touch of hops, which harkens back to what would have been made in the New York area by the Dutch three to four hundred years ago.
Gin's Mash Bill
Mash bills are most commonly associated with whiskey. Yet, whiskey mash bills, or more simply, unaged whiskey, is what these American producers are generally using to make their gin. There's a huge gap in flavor from mass-produced gins which are based on neutral grain spirits or vodka, to gins produced using the same quality sourced grains that distillers are using for their whiskey.
... barrel-aged gins can be used in a diverse range of cocktails ... the spirit can be used to build Martinis ... as well as Old Fashioneds, a drink commonly made with whiskey...
Whiskey distillers can simply take their unaged whiskey, re-distill it with the botanicals of their choice, then toss the new whiskey-based gin into a barrel. Therefore, a barrel-aged gin in this fashion has many similar qualities to whiskey. "It is truly a whiskey-gin hybrid," says Katz, referring to his Chief Gowanus.
Owing to their hybrid heritage, barrel-aged gins can be used in a diverse range of cocktails. From the gin domain, the spirit can be used to build Martinis, Gin and Tonics and Negronis, as well as Old Fashioneds, a drink commonly made with whiskey.
"When we make gin, it's not with neutral grain spirit," says Katz. "The spirit we make Chief Gowanus with is so far removed from neutral, it's full of grain, cereal quality and spice. When you taste it, does it matter that it's our rye? It does to us because we made the whiskey. You taste whiskey, and I'm happy with that."
NY Distilling Co. uses their fresh-make (unaged, right off the stills) rye whiskey for Chief Gowanus, with a mash bill of 72 percent rye, 16 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley. "The mash bill ensures that some of the racy, rye quality of the spirit will shine through in the finished product," says Katz. "It also provides a bit of a honeyed nose and balance to the juniper and the Cluster hops."
On the other hand, Gabriel, who doesn't produce a whiskey, in turn doesn't want his gin to showcase as much of the grain. He uses top grade French wheat for his gin, but emphasizes the quality and quantity of the botanicals.
"The base spirit is exactly like the canvas for the painter," he says. "The aging is a refining process a bit like sanding a precious piece of wood until it feels smooth and nice."
Back stateside, at Pittsburgh's Wigle Whiskey, the distiller currently sells two barrel-aged genevers. That includes Barrel Rested Ginever, which incorporates fresh-make whiskey they distill and aged in their whiskey barrels, and Barleywine Barrel Rested Ginever, which is aged in whiskey barrels then finished in used barleywine barrels from East End Brewery, also in Pittsburgh. Additional Wigle Whiskey experiments are on the way, including a Ginever aged in both apple brandy and tequila barrels.
"Since our gin is whiskey-based, rather than vodka based, it contains many more congeners than a British-style gin," explains Meredith Grelli, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey.
"We say that our Organic Ginever is a gin for whiskey lovers..."
"These congeners, along with barrel extracts, such as vanillins, lactones, and tannins, interact with the alcohol to form esters that a pure ethanol spirit in oak may lack," she says, offering a high-level, whiskey geek style of analysis. "Additionally, those congeners provide a full bodied mouthfeel that stands up to the drying tannins of a barrel."
Grelli also calls their Ginever a conversion gin, reeling in drinkers who were previously lost to the gin world. "We say that our Organic Ginever is a gin for whiskey lovers," she says. "It has a depth and richness that is far closer to whiskey than to the stark clarity and relative simplicity of British-style gins most consumers are familiar with."
Similarly to NY Distilling Co., Wigle's Ginever is also based on an authentic vintage recipe. "The Dutch settled central Pennsylvania and were providing our country with whiskey based gins pre-Prohibition," says Grelli. "We found a recipe from an early Pennsylvania area distiller who made Dutch style-gins and that prompted our exploration."
As with so many other areas of life, it seems tastes are coming full circle.