Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gin It Up

Did you know that the folks who brew Anchor Steam Beer are now making gin and whiskey?  In the early 90s, the company opened Anchor Distillery, a microdistillery in the same location as the brewery, and began making a single malt rye whiskey, named Old Portero.  A few years later, the microdistillery began producing gin, called Junípero, which is Spanish for juniper.  More recently, they have also begun producing a Genever style gin called Genevieve, using wheat, barley, rye, and the same herbal ingredients as Junípero.

Junípero Gin

I've read about them in some food and spirit publications, but hadn't yet seen them in local bars here in DC.  Well, I finally got a taste this week.  Junípero Dry Gin (98.5% proof, 49.3% alc. by volume) is one of the nicer small-batch, handcrafted gins I've tasted.  It is soft, flowery, and very smooth.  It has a very juniper heavy flavor, but maintains a clean finish.  I thought it worked well with tonic, but given its high proof and botanical flavor, I think it would also make a great martini gin.

Gin is becoming more popular as a drink and because I enjoy it, I've been trying to learn more about the beverage lately.  I've heard gin described as a flavored vodka.  Gin distillers take neutral spirits and a mash of fermented grain then redistill with botanicals to flavor.  The primary botanical source is juniper berries.  In fact, the word gin comes from genever, which is French for juniper.

Historically, gins that were sweetened with sugar for a more palatable taste were called Old Tom.  Terms like Dry or London Dry were used to distinguish unsweetened gins from Old Tom.   Old Tom wasn't automatically a bad gin with sugar added.  The sugar was often added to balance out the bitter botanicals that were used.  This style of gin is making a comeback, but London Dry Gin is still the most popular, and the one I prefer.  

To be labeled London Dry, the gin doesn't need to have been made in London, but production is regulated in many parts of the world to ensure that only a small amount of sweetening and no flavorings or colorings are added.  The natural flavor must come from herbs, fruits, and spices added through the distillation process.  

The third style of gin I've learned about is Genever, which is one of the earliest styles.  Genever styles have a varied range from a light, almost vodka-like flavor to sweetened, fruity, almost liqueur-like bottles.  Pot distilling from a grain mash creates a strong flavor, and genever is not used for martinis or gin and tonics.  It is best served straight - either chilled, over ice, or shaken with ice.  I'll have to try to find Anchor's Genevieve and report back...

Genevieve™ Genever-Style Gin

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