Summer calls for a cocktail as light and sassy as the skimpy sundress hugging the shape of the hottie sitting on the barstool next to you. What you need is a cocktail with flavors as complex as the floral pattern on that sundress. You need a cocktail made with gin. Yes, gin. It’s like vodka, but with flavor.
Gin is the stuff that Bond drinks. Gin is the stuff that bootleggers surreptitiously made to thumb their nose at the absurdity of Prohibition. Gin is the stuff that has captured the imagination of a whole new wave of craft distillers. Gin is the stuff that is both bold and elegant enough to capture the attention of that lady in the sundress. Fortunately there are new Texas-made gins being introduced just in time for summer. Let’s declare it the “Summer of Gin.”
The man behind Treaty Oak Distilling, Daniel Barnes, decided to dis till gin two years ago because he wants to make spirits that intrigue him.
“Gin shows off the craft ability of a distiller with playfulness and uniqueness,” Barnes says. “Distillers have the ability to control the flavors and display their personalities. That, and we really like gin.”
Waterloo gin was one of the first modern Texas-made gins when it was released at the end of 2011. It is made with a neutral base spirit made from corn and wheat—sort of like vodka. The base liquor is then put back into a copper pot still to go through another round of distillation, but this time with a stainless-steel basket crammed full of 11 botanicals in the column of the still above the vaporizing pot. The alcohol vapors circulate in botanicals six to eight times, grabbing the intricate flavors of each ingredient.
Barnes and his head distiller, Chris Lamb, experimented with almost 50 different recipes before they found the exact flavor profile they liked. Waterloo is made with a mix of Texas-grown botanicals such as lavender, rosemary, pecans, citrus from the Rio Grande Valley grapefruit, lemon, and orange zest along with juniper, coriander, ginger root, licorice root and anise. That mix of botanicals gives Waterloo the up-front juniper punch of a traditional London Dry style with a little Texas on the palate.
The very name, Waterloo, ties London and Austin together. After that smack of juniper it eases into a long lick of honey from the lavender, piney bitterness, nutshell and mischievous citrus. Some people compare it to Hendrix in style, but with less citrus and cucumber. The folks at Treaty Oak have a fantastic treat up their sleeve: aged gin. The Waterloo Antique series will be available in July. While barrel-aged gins have been a hot trend with some craft distillers, this will be the first one made in Texas.
Barnes had a gleam in his eye when he Daniel Barnes, of Treaty Oak Distilling described Antique while showing me around the barrel room.
“What happens when you give a bold gin a full year in a first-use heavy-charred barrel?” he asks me. “It gets rich whisky notes of cinnamon, clove, anise flavors. The juniper and floral still come through, but it has a nice round, caramelly finish. We are bottling it at 94 proof, so it has heft but is approachable straight out of the bottle. It also makes an amazing old-fashioned with quality orange and grapefruit bitters.”
Moonshine makes a fantastic cocktail to highlight the classic flavors of the un-aged Waterloo gin, which is the namesake of the original structure, the Waterloo Compound. Waterloo Gin is sold for around $25 a bottle in retail shops in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas. It will soon be available in New York and California. It’s also poured in bars and restaurants around Austin, including Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Moonshine, the Four Seasons, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Bartlett’s and Hopdoddy.
The newest gin to hit the market in Texas this June is Genius Gin. CEO and President Mike Groener and his partner, Charles Cheung, started the development of Genius in April 2012 because, as he put it, they “really, really love gin.” That’s one hell of a good reason to make it. Groener is passionate about aesthetics and has an engineer’s attention to detail. He established the flavor profile over the course of a year, experimenting with various ingredients.
“Being a craft distiller, I had a chance to show my style in the taste profile. It’s a way to both create an experience for the customer and put my distinct mark on the brand,” he says.
Despite the tinkering, the original recipe just wasn’t right. He visited several distilleries including Aviation in Portland for inspiration and realized that they had a similar characteristic to his recipe—a characteristic he didn’t like.
“There was a low note to some of them that tasted too rustic,” Groener says. “It wasn’t beautiful. The gins didn’t go well in cocktails. When I returned from Portland, I revamped my recipe and was done with it in about a week.”
Groener prides himself on the handmade qualities of his gin and fastidiously makes a flavor-neutral base spirit from sugar to let the botanicals do the talking. He uses a cold steep in the base for some of the heat-sensitive botanicals like lavender, angelica root, elder flower and lime leaf for a highly aromatic flavor. Other ingredients like juniper, cardamom and coriander (and two secret ones) are meant to be heated up —and even toasted, to impart flavor. Groener distills the heat-loving botanicals and the steeped spirits to make both a standard 94 gin and a 114-proof Navy Strength gin (Navy Strength gets its name from the practice that the British Royal Navy employed of taking gin of at least 57 percent alcohol on its boats, because if it were spilled on gun powder, the gun powder was still useable).
That attention to detail resulted in well-integrated flavors with the juniper sliding smoothly across the entire palate accompanied by a subtle sweetness. The Navy Strength has a slight nuttiness from the roasted coriander, and the higher alcohol gives it the vibrancy of sucking on a fistful of gin-flavored Altoids. While it can be appreciated straight up in a martini, it’s also versatile enough to go into a variety of cocktails. Groener mixed two cocktails using fresh-squeezed juices to taste cocktails and homemade simple syrups.
When Genius is released in June, it will be available in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio at retail stores such as The Austin Wine Merchant, Specs and Twin Liquors, as well as bars and restaurants such as Drink.Well, Midnight Cowboy, Volstead, Grackle, Tigress Pub, the Four Seasons and Vespaio.
IT’S A TEXAS GIN REVOLUTION
After nearly five years of dreaming, scheming, planning and experimenting, Revolution Gin cofounders Aaron Day and Mark Shilling are nearly ready to introduce their craft distilled gin to Texas.
“Aaron and I had been talking about our desire to make a spirit for awhile, and one thing led to another and we decided to stop talking about it and do it,” Shilling says. “Gin is what we want to do first. Craft distilling is wide open to experimentation, with flavors and styles that the big guys can’t do.”
“We were inspired by what we are seeing in the craft distilling industry,” Day quickly adds. “Tito [Beveridge, of Tito’s Handmade Vodka] showed it can be done. [Dan Garrison, of Garrison Brothers Whiskey] showed that it can be done in a craft way.”
The two choose to seek the counsel of other distillers and found an eager group of mentors willing to share advice. (In fact, the meetings and conversations led to the formation of the Texas Craft Distillers trade association, of which Daniel Barnes is president.)
“The mentorship we’ve received has helped us get off the ground,” Shilling says. “We had many productive conversations, and now it’s off to the races.”
Revolution Gin has secured a site for its distillery near Dripping Springs, in the same neighborhood as Argus Hard Cidery, Jester King Brewery and Thirty Planet Brewing Company. They see the area as a cultural corridor leading from Austin to the wineries near Fredericksburg. They aren’t alone in thinking that the area has appeal for day-trippers and tourists alike. Treaty Oak Distilling plans to move its operations to the neighborhood this fall. The gin is in the planning stages as Revolution works on getting its license.
The intent is to make a neutral base spirit with red wheat—or may even use non-GMO corn to make a gluten-free base that is consistent and reliable so they can focus on the botanicals. To gather inspiration for the flavor profile, Revolution has met with bartenders and opinion makers, including the folks at Bar Congress and Bobby Huegle of Anvil Bar in Houston to better understand the specific style of gin that is wanted in Texas.
“Simple is sometimes better. We are looking at using seven botanicals in our gin,” Shilling says. The focus will be on Texas-sourced botanicals such as citrus, lavender, rosemary and Ashe juniper berries. Revolution is shooting for a continental style, rather than a London dry, that brings complexity to cocktails. The star of the botanical show will be rosemary.
“Rosemary is distinct and has real legs,” Day says. “We’re excited to see what that brings.”
Revolution expects to release its gin in area restaurants, bars and stores in early fall for about $30. To get the word out to prominent mixologists, they hired an experienced spirits broker, Jennifer Querbes, as partner and COO. What are you waiting for? Let the Summer of Gin begin.
While Revolution Gin isn’t yet available to taste, Jason Stevens, the bar manager at Bar Congress, created a special gin-based summer cocktail that he’ll mix for you using any Texas-made gin.
- 1 1/2 ounces local gin
- 1/2 ounce Gran Classico
- 1/2 ounce dry Sherry (like Fino, Manzanilla or Amontillado)
- 1 barspoon simple syrup
- 1 ounce fresh-squeezed Rio Star Grapefruit Juice
- 1/4 ounce lemon juice
- few drops Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
- 1 ½ ounces soda water (optional)
Combine all in a shaker filled with ice, and shake briefly to integrate.
*For a boozier cocktail, double strain into an old -fashioned glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
*For a lighter, more refreshing cocktail, single-strain shaken cocktail into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice and top with soda, then stir to integrate. Garnish with grapefruit peel and fresh mint.
- 3 large, ripe strawberries
- half a lime cut into quarters
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces Waterloo Gin
- lime wheel, for garnish
- strawberry slice, for garnish
In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle the strawberries, lime wedges and simple syrup. Add the gin and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with the lime wheel and strawberry slice.
This classic cocktail is light, fresh and tasty. The gin flavor is a little bit up front so you can appreciate it, but it is as delicate as a first kiss. This could be the drink of the summer.
Shake over ice and serve it up with a lemon garnish.
Liberty Tavern in the Hilton Austin has a keen eye for local beer and spirits. They have introduced new summer cocktails, including the Bergstrom made with Waterloo Gin.
- Lime Juice – 1 oz
- Waterloo Gin – 2 oz
- Maraschino Cherries – 3
- Simple Syrup – ½ teaspoon
Shake and serve on ice.
This story was originally published in the Summer issue of Austin Man magazine. Photos by Jojo Marion.