What to drink in Austin right now: Two local spirits put a new spin on gin
Gin starts life as a wallflower. In the beginning, it is nothing more than colorless, odorless, flavorless liquor, sort of like vodka. Then it is distilled again with a mix of juniper berries and other herbs that transform it into an aromatic, sophisticated spirit.
As gorgeous and complex as gin is, it takes on an even more interesting tone when it spends some quality time with oak. Like barrel-aged whiskey, it takes on a comely amber hue and gains a depth of flavor with vanilla, caramel and spices layered in with the botanicals. Local booze maker Treaty Oak Distilling introduced its Waterloo Antique Gin, aged in new American white oak barrels, in autumn 2013. Now two more Austin distilleries are introducing oak-aged gins in time for summer.
Revolution Spirits introduces Austin Reserve Gin Single Barrel Series
Revolution Spirits, a boutique distillery nestled in the rolling hills just outside Dripping Springs, sold its first bottle of gin on February 22, 2014. That happens to be George Washington’s birthday, who was also a distiller and revolutionary. A fitting coincidence.
Revolution makes its flagship Austin Reserve Gin with a blend of six botanicals that includes juniper, rosemary, lavender, lemon grass, pink pepper corn and Texas grapefruit peel. The 100-proof gin is hand-bottled and every label is hand-numbered.
The folks at Revolution Spirits are constantly experimenting with different distilled spirits, like fruit brandies and the just-released coffee liqueur. That spirit of experimentation led them to try barrel-aged gin.
Co-founder of Mark Shilling describes the first batch of the Austin Reserve Gin Single Barrel Series. “We aged our Austin Reserve Gin in a French oak barrel that was previously used once to oxidize Tempranillo port wine. We aged our Austin Reserve Gin in it for six months and tested it along the way to select the right amount of aging required to get the flavor we want.”
Revolution Spirits will be releasing its Single Barrel Series twice a year with gin aged in different types of barrels. “We might use American, Hungarian, French oak variations that have previously been used for bourbon or mezcal,” says Shilling. “Our second batch is currently aging in a barrel that was previously used to age Jester King Brewery RU55 sour red ale.”
The first batch is a limited run of about 27 cases. It has a lovely light copper, almost salmon, color. Despite the barrel aging, it still smells like gin: prominent juniper and soft floral scents with the added touch of vanilla. Bold botanicals and piney gin flavors of citrus, allspice and pepper layer in with aged flavors of caramel and vanilla. It’s tasty on its own and great in cocktails.
Austin Reserve Gin Single Barrel Series is hitting the shelves of bars and stores in Austin, Houston and Dallas and is available for $45. Try it in a classic Negroni.
Austin Reserve Gin Single Barrel Series Negroni
- 1 ounce Austin Reserve Gin Single Barrel Series
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
Stir gin, Campar and vermouth in an ice-filled tumbler; garnish with orange slice.
Genius Liquids rolls out Oaked Genius Gin
Mike Groener and his partner Charles Cheung started Genius Gin in the summer of 2013 to fully pursue a torrid love affair with gin. The unassuming distillery, housed in a nondescript industrial area, quietly cranks out some of Austin’s most distinctive gin.
Genius creates its gin by making a neutral spirit by fermenting sugar with yeast. It is then cold-steeped in botanicals and distilled with additional botanicals. Genius comes in a standard 90-proof version and a 114-proof version.
“The creation of our Oaked Gin was a happy accident,” says Mark Toohey, sales manager at Genius. “We ran a batch of gin that wasn’t up to snuff, so we decided to experiment with it. We wanted to try something new and decided an aged gin was the way to go. We considered buying a barrel and then chose to go with chips to see what happened. The result was too good not to bring to market.”
Genius makes its Oaked Gin by steeping the standard gin for six weeks with medium-roast oak chips. Using oak chips exposes the gin to more surface area to let the oak have a speedier impact. Groener likes the way the oak interacts with the botanicals in the gin. After taste-testing the gin, the team settled on a six-week process that gives the gin a nice caramel flavor and rich golden color.
The oak isn’t overpowering and the botanical aromas shine through; juniper and coriander are most prominent. The flavors are all gin up front, sliding right into lovely caramel flavors with a lingering, smooth vanilla finish reminiscent of the Cognac style Groener was aiming for.
“Sipping it straight is the way I like to drink it,” says Toohey. It’s also delightful in cocktails.
Genius initially made a small batch of 12 cases of Oaked Genius Gin; additional batches are being aged right now. The first release is expected to be available in stores around Austin later in July and will sell for $28. Try it in an Old Fashioned.
Oaked Genius Gin Old Fashioned
- 2 ounces Oaked Genius Gin
- 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 orange wheels
- 1 maraschino cherry
- 1 splash club soda
In an Old Fashioned or rocks glass, muddle the bitters, sugar, orange wheel, cherry and a splash of soda. Get rid of the orange rind, add the gin and fill with ice. Make it pretty with a fresh orange wheel and cherry.