Getting Gin Resisters to Take Their Medicine

If we can be honest with ourselves, then we can admit that juniper, like many other things you can put in your mouth, is simply unpleasant for a lot of people.  For similarly pungent foodstuffs or beverages (they don't even have to be nearly torturous as dorian or stinky tofu), their adherents will take a contrarian pride in how difficult it is for most to get past the smell and taste of their favorite delicacy. So why can't gin fanatics take a similar tact? Accept that their love of aggressive flavors will always make them the redheaded stepchildren of the spirits world and move on? Or better yet - rejoice! After all, the varieties of whiskey are an acquired taste, and you don't see Laphroaig fan clubs out there proselytizing.

Good news first: Caskwerks Distilling Co. in Tempe, AZ makes an enjoyable gin. Chris, their very friendly Director of Operations showed me around the modest facility. Nothing was in production at the time. He explained that the gin is made from seven botanicals: coriander, lemon, orange, hibiscus, anise, cinnamon, in addition to the requisite juniper (Portuguese Juniper grown in Arizona, in this case, just to keep things interesting). This mix makes for a progressive tasting experience, as one layer of flavor and smell are peeled away to reveal the next. The nose is subtle, with distinct berry notes, but there is also the underlying scent of grain alcohol. This may have to do with the fact that Caskwerks purchases pure corn ethanol (and wheat ethanol for their vodka) and adds that along with the botanicals (which Chris explained are macerated first) to the still. It is from the resulting vapor that the gin is distilled, and brought down to 90 proof, while being double-filtered through carbon.

The result is a gin that walked me through a light burn at first, then a hint of spice (the anise), then layers of citrus -lemon and orange peel- finally getting to the flowery hibiscus (I'm assuming, since I have never eaten a hibiscus). It works, but would I order it at a bar? It's kind of like how your average dude probably has a scented candle hidden somewhere in his apartment. Hidden not out of shame, but by default. If you were to bust it out and stick it under his nose, he'd agree, 'yeah, that smells nice.' The next second, he'd be back to the more important activity you just interrupted; scent gone. Back into obscurity under the sink for you, candle! And so it is also with gin.

Now, Chris does have a great story about how a cocktail bar in Phoenix that carries most of Caskwerk's spirits (they have a vodka and apple pie liqueur, in addition to gin) tried to infuse the gin with tea. They were successful, they found the resulting dark color to be off-putting for gin. The bar asked Caskwerk's if they could come up with a clear, tea-flavored gin. Thus their first and only 'flavored' gin was born.

The solution to the coloring was adding the raw tea leaves in with the botanicals when they are masticated. Chris busted out two large bags, since it made of two separate teas. He opened both and I took a whiff. One (with actual rose petals) was way stronger than the other (cardamom). I'm not a tea drinker (so tea-infused gin really calls my name), so imagine my surprise when I sip the tea gin and it is only mildly tea-y. The nose was even subtler. The flavors took me through that spice familiar from the first gin, to the leafiness of what could be imagined as iced tea. I could see this being a refreshing stand-alone drink, on the rocks.

The Apple Pie Liqueur deserves calling out for the same reason. It is made the same way as gin, but this time mixing the ethanol with a base comprised of brown sugar, apple, nutmeg, cinnamon and honey. It's 50 proof and can easily be enjoyed on its own (colder the better), if you are someone not phased unrelenting sweetness.

Caskwerks clearly has some winners under it's belt. The Gin won double gold and the Apple Pie Liqueur a silver, at the Denver Spirits Competition last year. They have a whiskey planned for release next year. The one item I don't think adds anything special to the portfolio is the vodka. Maybe it's a psychological phenomenon of bias. Chris showed me the towering vats of 100% ethanol before the tasting. All I could get from the smell and taste of the vodka was defanged rubbing alcohol, even though it is distilled three times. Fittingly, if given the choice between that and the gin as the base for a mixed drink, I probably wouldn't have a preference either way.


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