new American gins have departed significantly from the London dry style, becoming more approachable for consumers who didn’t think they liked the spirit. The distillery also has been exploring gin’s roots with the release of an award-winning genever-style spirit two years ago, made with malted barley. “I would say that as there’s been a renewed interest in gin, there’s been renewed interest in the history of gin and where it came from,” Bell notes. “Gin has a much richer history than people realize and one thing marketers haven’t done a good job of is draw on that rich history that’s been so important with whiskey. With genever, we want to go back in time and say ‘this is where a modern London dry gin evolved out of.’” So far, he says, it’s mostly been “hardcore mixologists” who’ve geeked out over the genever-style product. Two-hundred-plus miles to the northeast of Corsair’s Bowling Green facility, New Riff has always considered itself, first and foremost, a bourbon distiller. But gin has been part of its DNA since it opened in 2014. “We’re gin lovers,” says Jay Erisman, New Riff’s VP of strategic development. “I’m a gin lover, my father was a martini man. There was never a question if we’d ever make a gin.” But the company wanted its gin to have a sense of place, not unlike that of another whisk(e)y producer in a historically whisk(e)ycentric region across the pond. Just as Bruichladdich captured Islay’s terroir with locally foraged botanicals in The Botanist gin, New Riff sought to give consumers a taste of the Ohio Valley. Its Kentucky Wild Gin combines classic gin botanicals like coriander, orris and angelica root, cinnamon, lemon and bitter orange (as well as juniper, of course), with regional flora like goldenrod and Eastern red cedar berries—a local species of juniper. “It doesn’t replace standard juniper,” Erisman points out, “it augments it.” (There is some historical significance to red cedar in the gin world. Two-hundred years ago, author Anthony Boucherie included the botanical as an alternative to expensive, imported juniper from overseas for whiskey distillers looking to convert their products into gin). Additionally, the recipe incorporates spicebush, which has been a part of Native American cuisine for centuries. “It’s an expression of our location that’s gotten some traction in the marketplace,” says Erisman. “You’ve got to have a local flavor where you are, unless you’re living in an urban jungle.” It’s debatable whether the Blue Grass State’s many indigenous flavors ever will lead to a quintessential Kentucky gin style. And it’s unlikely that the botanical beverage ever will become as synonymous with the Commonwealth as its native corn-based whiskey has. But, at the very least, Kentucky is proving to be a state big enough for more than one classic spirit.
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Jeff Cioletti is the editor at large of Beverage World Magazine, creator of The Drinkable Globe website, and hosts the web series, The Drinkable Week. WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
Published on Dec 14, 2017