Roxor meets Waterloo: Central Texas gins go head to head
In the past few years, we’ve seen more and more Texas-made spirits hit the market. The local liquor landscape, established almost 10 years ago with Tito's Vodka, has grown rapidly; now, an entire bar can be stocked with vodkas, whiskeys, rums and even tequilas made by Texans. This doesn’t even include the Texas wine and beer boom.
But what about gin? Often misunderstood and underappreciated for its strong and often bracing juniper flavor, gin is usually seen as the underdog spirit. And now it’s being produced by two different Central Texas distilleries.
New to liquor store shelves this month, Roxor gin and Waterloo gin both use Texas ingredients to represent two very different styles of the classic spirit.
Waterloo gin is produced by Graham Barnes Distilling, which is probably best known for Treaty Oak Rum and Graham’s Texas Tea. In addition to rum and vodka-infused tea, the owner Daniel Barnes and distiller Joshua Holland have developed a traditional style gin, which employs a pot still with a column that is packed with a basket stuffed with a botanical blend using a number of ingredients including Texas lavender, pecans, and citrus from the Rio Grande Valley.
Most gins are made with a primary botanical of juniper followed by any number of ingredients to add different flavors. Popular brand name Hendricks Gin uses nine botanicals while the more aromatic French Citadelle uses 24. Barnes and Holland settled on 13 botanicals to produce Waterloo, which should be on shelves within the next few weeks.
Roxor is the brainchild of celebrated Houston chef Robert Del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie and Don Short, a former marketing executive for Coca Cola, Minute Maid. (NOTE: Don Short is also a key figure behind the creation of CultureMap). The two partnered to leverage Del Grande’s culinary expertise and background in biochemistry as well as Short’s knowledge of branding and product marketing to create the state’s first gin.
Together the two came up with Roxor, what Short calls a “modern interpretation of gin,” using fresh grapefruit and lime rind to tone down the often heavy juniper element. Del Grande produced a very specific recipe using 12 botanicals and entrusted the Dripping Springs Distillery to produce the spirit. “We really liked the water Dripping Springs uses for their distilling and the way they make their vodka,” says Short.
Roxor gin is made using a different method than what Graham Barnes uses to make traditional gin. Instead of distilling neutral alcohol through pods of botanicals in a column still, Roxor is made by taking a very heavily distilled vodka and steeping it with the botanical recipe for 18 hours before it is distilled a final time making the final product: gin.
So how do the two stack up? We decided to put them head to head for a tasting with Austin’s Adam Bryan, bar manager for Bar Congress and a serious, self-proclaimed gin fan. Bryan, who has been in bartending for more than 10 years, is a fan of two distinct gin styles. The first is the heavy-hitting London dry style that packs a punch with strong alcohol and very heavy juniper and pepper flavors. “Gins like Old Raj tend to have bold esoteric flavors like saffron that can really throw your palate for a loop, but really show off the artisanal prowess of a distiller,” says Bryan.
The second style is a bit more approachable and includes well known brands such as Bombay Sapphire, Hendricks, and Aviation. “After bartending for so long, I came to appreciate these gins because they’re generally lighter and sweeter and have helped me introduce gin to people who claim not to like it. They may not get deep into the more artisanal styles, but if they begin to enjoy something like Aviation and stop there, that’s good enough for me,” says Bryan.
To evaluate the different products, Bryan poured small samples in spirit glasses and swirled them to give them oxygen. He then brought his nose to deep into the glasses to test the flavors coming off of the gins. Much like tasting wine, tasting spirits is all about what the nose senses first rather than the taste. The only difference is that when you inhale a spirit, you should inhale with both your nose and mouth, which releases a more rounded expression of the spirit into your overall palate. After sifting, smelling, and tasting both the Roxor and the Waterloo, here are a few of Bryan’s notes:
Roxor Gin by New Artisan Spirits
Produced in Dripping Springs
Nose: Strong hints of grapefruit citrus; fruity, chalky candy (Sweet Tarts), hints of pink peppercorn. “The nose reminds me a lot of juicy fruit and sweet tarts,” says Bryan. “I wouldn’t say it’s very floral, but big on citrus and light on juniper.”
Taste: Very smooth; strong citrus; a little glycerin. “It has enough sweetness that you wouldn’t want to mix it with anything to make it much sweeter.”
Waterloo Gin by Graham Barnes Distilling
Produced in Austin
Nose: Stronger juniper; hints of woodiness, and with an organic feel; a burnt molasses sweet finish. “It seems more culinary to me,” Bryan says. “There’s almost a barbecue quality to the finish, which may be a result of the pecans. It’s still pretty mild but has more floral and citrus across the board.”
Taste: Some juniper but fairly neutral; some sweetness in the finish; some citrus, but hints of lavender come out.
The Roxor leads the charge for fresh, summery-style drinks or even simply with a splash of soda. “I would definitely consider the Roxor to be much more of an introductory gin that would be just fine on ice or with dry tonic,” says Bryan. “It would also be great for those that love more feminine drinks like the French 75 or something with St. Germain.”
The Waterloo has a layered complexity that will appeal to those who are already gin fans. “It’s mild, but more along the lines of a London dry,” Bryan explains. “It would be great for a Corpse Reviver, a gin Alexander, or even a classic martini. It will be great for fall and winter drinks that are spicier.”
Whether or a gin fan or not, these two products are worth a try. If not simply to support yet another thing to make Texans proud, then simply for the quality spirits our Central Texas distillers continue to create.