Whisky Advocate

Gin Meets Whisky (in a barrel)

January 27th, 2014

We welcome Geoff Kleinman, editor of the DrinkSpirits website, as a guest blogger on the subject of aged gin…which can be tantalizingly close to whisky.

Author_Geoff KleinmanAged Gin isn’t a new spirit category, but it’s a category that has been getting an increasing amount of attention. Craft distillers have embraced aged gin as another vehicle for creative expression and as an aged product that can be sold during the long waiting game that’s required for aged whisky. The problem with the category is that, at times, it tends to blur the lines between gin and whiskey, with one product, Pow-Wow Botanical Rye, completely obliterating the lines.

“Early American gin (up through the 1860s) was made in the flavored-whiskey style, and it was often barrel aged. Later, once (neutral-spirit based) English styles took root, that, too, was often aged, but much more lightly,” explains David Wondrich, spirits historian and author of Imbibe!.

One of the first contemporary entries in the aged gin space came from Ransom Spirits, in Sheridan, Oregon. With Ransom’s Old Tom Gin, distiller Tad Seestedt helped resurrect a “lost” style of gin and in the process helped kick off a new wave of the aged gin category. “The idea was initially to replicate the short amount of time that the gin would have historically spent in barrel during transport over land or sea to its final destination. We also realized afterwards that the barrel aging had an obviously pleasant effect on the gin,” says Tad Seestedt.

agedginRansom’s Old Tom Gin soon became a darling of the craft spirit world, and it opened the door for more craft spirit companies to follow in the aged gin space. “One of the most challenging aspects of “craft distilling” is that the big boys make outstanding products – aging gin allows me a chance to not only be creative but create products that the big boys fhave to play catch up, like with Beefeater’s Burroughs Reserve,” says Paul Hletko, founder and master distiller of FEW Spirits.

Many craft distillers don’t have the ability to truly rectify spirits and scoff at using neutral grain spirits for their products. The result can be a malty botanical spirit with similar characteristics to a young whiskey. “The primary difference, besides the addition of the botanicals to the spirit, is the distillation proof of the base spirit. As you know, whiskey is distilled to a much lower proof off the still, so there are fusels and other congeners in the whiskey distillate that aren’t there in the base of the gin distillate,” remarks John Little, head distiller of Smooth Ambler Spirits.

Seeing this intersection between aged gin and aged whiskey, Amir Peay, CEO and founder at Georgetown Trading Co., created Pow-Wow Botanical Rye. “We took a fine, mature whiskey and then infused it with whole botanicals over an extended period of time. My idea of a good whiskey is one that is complex and balanced, and I wanted to see if we could take a great whiskey and add new layers of botanical complexity that worked in concert with the existing flavors.”

The dividing line between a botanical flavored whiskey and an aged gin may be murky, but it’s there. “Aged London dry style gin, or any gin that’s based on neutral spirits, is not aged whiskey, it’s aged vodka. If you make your gin with an unrectified grain spirit that’s been distilled to a relatively low proof, as the Dutch do with their moutwijn, then it’s a flavored whiskey,” explains David Wondrich.

While aged gin is predominantly seen among craft distillers, this year Pernod Ricard got into the space with their limited Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve “Barrel Finished Gin.”

“Aged or rested gin opens up another drinking occasion for gin. Most people wouldn’t think to sit and enjoy a glass of neat gin with a cheese plate after dinner, but with Burrough’s Reserve on the market now we can,” says Nick van Tiel, Pernod Ricard’s English gins brand ambassador.

Whether or not whiskey drinkers will embrace the aged gin category remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a category that deserves exploration. Paul Hletko best sums it up: “It is a wide open place, and much of what we do is education on what ‘brown gin’ is and why it’s brown.  But the opportunity to be creative is worth it.”

7 Responses to “Gin Meets Whisky (in a barrel)”

  1. tanstaafl2 says:

    Moutwijn or malt wine has been a favorite of mine for while now since I was to acquire a couple of bottles of Van Wees Roggenaer and a few older Bols Corenwijns. I definitely think of them as an interesting variation on whiskey rather than a jenever. But finding much information about them and what is available (in English anyway!) is just about as difficult as acquiring them if you don’t get to Europe with some regularity, and just about as expensive.

    Aged gins do seem to be getting a bit more common here in the States but options like Citadel Reserve or Rusty Blade are not much more common than moutwijns and still almost as hard to find!

    I have not yet had the chance to explore the Pow-Wow rye as it is not available locally to my knowledge and when ordering things I always seem to have a list of other things that take precedence.

    • Tadas A says:

      I have a bottle of Bols Corenwyn 10 year old gin. It is lovely stuff. I bought it at the Amsterdam airport. It really changed my opinion that gins are only good for cocktails.

      • Lew Bryson says:

        Agreed, Tadas. A friend brought me three moutwijns from the Netherlands. I took a bottle to a Burns Day dinner as a lark a few years ago, and it was the hit of the night. I very much feel that they’re MUCH closer to whisky than to gin.

  2. Tadas A says:

    “Many craft distillers don’t have the ability to truly rectify spirits”. That is not really true. Most craft distillers have Christian Brothers or Holsten combi-stills. Combi-still is a pot still at a base with a rectifying column on top of it and is capable of making perfectly rectified spirit at 96% in one run.

  3. Paul says:

    It might be more accurate to say that many craft distillers don’t have the DESIRE to truly rectify. I don’t actually have the ability to truly rectify, but that is a personal and creative decision, rather than anything else. I don’t want to rectify to neutral, so I don’t, and I don’t therefore have equipment well suited to do so.

  4. Wes says:

    I find it curious that the epitome of a spirit such as gin is considered to be something run through what basically amounts to an industrial process. Even the term “rectify” seems clinical, doesn’t it?

    I think craft distillers will be the ones defining flavor in future. They have the time, ability, and experimental savvy to explore flavors and techniques that speak to us. Much like distillers did hundreds of years ago when they were in touch with those that bought their products, and before there was the massive refining columns of today. Heaven forbid we actually taste the flavor of the base spirit that carries the botanicals.

    As an Oregonian I raise a glass to Mr. Seestedt for ushering in a new renaissance of flavors.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Wes, I suspect that some of the reason gin is made and thought of in this manner is down to regulations and standards. Companies invest huge amounts of money in making gin, and selling their brand (and idea) of gin, and then they often decide to spend huge amounts of money lobbying government to create defining regulations that codify their way of making gin as the one true way of making gin.

      I hear this may even happen in whisky making.

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