The new world of Gin

By Jonathan Sloan

I like to think of bottles of spirits as musical performances. Some are soulful and heartfelt, others are more commercial, but most express a point of view. The better spirits present a sense of place, an ideolgy, a fond memory, or some fingerprint of the distiller.

Gin may seem like an unlikely medium for a distiller to express these qualities, since juniper berries are always the primary flavor, but just as a piece of music varies accordingg to who's performing it, gin expressions can vary widely. And increasingly, the new entries in the field veer away from the classic London Dry Style employing mixes of botanicals that result in unique spirits. Some bottlings croon, others are brassy, but all of these gins are worth pouring into a glass and giving a listen.

No 209 Barrel Reserve Gin

Oak aging is typical used to concentrate the flavors in a distillate, but when is applied to No 209's flagship unaged gin, the oak acts like a prism that higlights different flavor aspects. There are two oak versions available, both using barrels from Rudd Oakville Estate: In the Cabernet Sauvignon-barrel version, the oak seems to focus all of the gin botanicals on spice and fruit, bringing candied cherry, orange and baking spice notes to the fore.

In contrast, the N0 209 Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Reserve Gin is all about herbs and juniper, with scents of lemon, menthol, and green cardamon sweeping though It's a fascinating pair, best appreciated tweaked minimally or in a classic cocktail.

Distillery N0 209, San Francisco, CA; No. 209 Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Reserve Gin and No. 209 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve Gin; both 46% abv, $54


Uncle Val's Botanical Gin

If you enjoy citrus in your gin, this vibrant and fresh spirit is for you. Made with garden's worth of cucumber, lemon, sage and lavender, lemon verbena, and lighter on the juniper.

It makes, a fine Corpse Reviver #2.

35 Maple Street, Sonoma, CA; 45% abv, $40


Fords Gin

From the 86 company, a group of bartenders, this is a text book example of the spirit, with plenty of freshtasting juniper bracketing gin's pleasant tartness and citrus sweetness.

Designed for mixing, it's bottled at a higher proof-key for delivering flavor that doesn't dilute in cocktails- yet in the gin is also remarkably smooth straight out of the bottle. Try it in a Southside, the gin version of a mojito.


Imported by Domaine Charbay Distillers, Ukiah, CA; 45% abv, $37



Burrough's Reserve Barrel-Finished Gin

Before you roll your eyes at "barrel finished," and the price, read on:
This is something interesting and unique. Beefeater's master distiller Desmond Payne distills this gin in the original tiny still that Beefeater founder James Burrough used in the late 1800s, then moves it into a oak cask to rest. While the time in oak is minimal, as evidenced by the pale straw color, it is a crucial step in developing the concentrated flavors of orange peel, caramelized sugar, vanilla and spice. Bone dry, this is a sipping gin, and it pairs especially well with aged cheeses and dried fruit.

Imported by Chivas Bros. Import., NY; 43% abv, $70


Wheeler's Western Dry Gin

Named after George Wheeler, the explorer and cartographer who surveyed the American West, this gin is the essense of the high mesas of New Mexico.

It's made by Santa Fe-based distiller Colin Keegan, who blends juniper with local botalicals including hop flowers, osha root, magenta cactus flowers and sage. It's slightly floral and cucumber-like, and so dry it's almost dusty, evoking images of tumbleweed and the huge
sky of the high desert.

Santa Fe Spirits, Santa Fe, NM; 40% abv, $32


Sipsmith London Dry Gin

Sipsmith Gin is produced in one of the first distilleries to be granted a license to make spirits in the city of London in 200 years, and has been crafted since 2009 by master distiller and spirits historian Jared Brown.

The gin tastes classic yet modern: green mango, juniper and violet scents waft from the glass, while orange and spice counter the gin's more vegetal flavors. Silky smooth, light and fresh, it's delicius simply enjoyed neat or in a martini.

Imported by Wilson Daniels., St Helena, CA; 41.6% abv, $42


Spirit Works Gin

This tiny distillery is located in the heart of Sebastopol, where owners Ashby and Timo Marshall make their own base spirit from California-grown organic red winter wheat.

The wheat gives the gin a particulary full, smooth sweetness, which they complement with an array of botanicals and hand zested citrus. It's something very special, and delicius, best enjoyed cold and neat.

Spirits Works Distillery, Sebastopol, CA; 43% abv, $35


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