Monday, October 4, 2010

Original Gin

By now, we're all familiar with the arguments for eating locally. The same logic that's gotten us munching on farmers' market fare has been applied to local craft beers, so it makes perfect sense that the local-drinking trend would extend to spirits, too. And more and more local companies are throwing their hats into the distillation ring. Vodka had its day, and local whiskeys are on the horizon, but right now it's all about the gins. 

It's no wonder why local distillers are latching on to gin, given how vital vodka's wicked but oh-so-sophisticated step-sister has been to the cocktail renaissance we've seen in recent years. The latest arrival is Maine Distilleries' Cold River Gin, which launched in August and is just now filtering into Boston bars like Towne Stove and Spirits (900 Boylstoon Street, Boston, 617.247.0400), but there are other local notables. Greylock Gin and the limited-edition Ethereal Gin hail from Berkshire Mountain Distillers (whose Western Massachusetts distillery we toured for our "Buzzed in the Berkshires" feature last year). Gloucester's Ryan & Wood Distilleries produce the hand-crafted Knockabout Gin. And Nantucket's Triple Eight Distillery turns out its small-batch Gale Force Gin. 

And yes, you do-gooder hippies, the environmental impact of buying such local products is all well and good - but to some of us boozehounds, fine-tuning the palate is as important as saving the earth. These local liquors provide a broader spectrum of flavor and a higher-quality product than you'll often get from a big-batch, name-brand gin. The process these New England distillers use differs from that of larger companies in that they closely monitor the gin's botanicals, adding a little bit of this, a little less of that, as they go. "The little guy can change and create; there's much more flexibility," says Chris Dowe, head distiller at Maine Distilleries. Triple Eight's Jay Harman agrees: "If you keep all the botanicals separate then add them as needed for the flavor profile that you're looking for, you have more control over it." 

Using locally grown ingredients doesn't hurt the taste either. Triple Eight has a garden behind the distillery where some of its gin's eight botanicals are grown. And Cold River's creators use local whole potatoes to make the gin's vodka base (remember, gin is essentially just flavored vodka); it's infused with seven botanicals - juniper, lemon peel, orange peel, coriander, angelica root, orris root, and cardamom - in a copper still for 12 hours, then distilled for a fourth time. That's not just to make everyone feel good about themselves either: using whole potatoes for the vodka base means they (unlike many big-name gin makers) don't have to add any sugar to the alcohol after the fact, making for a more distinctive, natural flavor profile. Ryan & Wood Distilleries likewise use a slower, thoughtful distillation process for their gin; it's basically like making a big pot of gin tea. "The larger processors use a distillation process that they can run through quickly," says owner Bob Ryan. 

The more we avail ourselves of local producers like these guys, the quicker we can chip away at the hegemony of bland corporate power. (Whoops, who sounds like a hippie now?) And finding these small-batch spirits is easier than you think. For instance, you'll see Berkshire Mountain Distillers products everywhere from mainstay retailers like Gordon's Fine Wines and Liquors (894 Main Street, Waltham, 781.893.1900) to the uber-chic, newish Hotel Veritas's Simple Truth Lounge (1 Remington Street, Cambridge, 617.520.5000), which exclusively uses the brand's booze in its cocktails. The bartending stars at Eastern Standard (528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617.532.9100), no surprise, do a blueberry infusion with Gale Force Gin, which features in the lemon- and cardamon-laced Blueberry Thrill ($10). They also carry Knockabout Gin, as do more divey spots like T.T. the Bear's Place (10 Brookline Street, Cambridge, 617.492.0082) and Sacco's Bowl Haven (45 Day Street, Somerville, 617.776.0552). Triple Eight is likewise pretty widely distributed at bars like Kingfish Hall (188 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, 617.523.8862) and Matt Murphy's (14 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617.232.0188), which combines it with blackberries and lime in The Bramble ($10). And if you can't find these New England gins at your favorite bar or shop, it's not hard to go straight to the source: most of these distilleries are open for tours and only a short trip away. Just make sure to carpool - you know, for the environment. 

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