Southsides. Tom collins. Gin and tonics. with its citrusy herbal profile and bright crisp finish, gin is the quintessential spirit for summer’s most iconic cocktails. But this season, add a twist by swapping out your go-to bottle for barrel-aged gin.
Though aging spirits in barrels is common with whisky, tequila and, to an extent, rum, it wasn’t until relatively recently that American distillers started to experiment with aging gin. (The Dutch have aged genever, an old style of gin, for centuries.) Wood casks add notes of vanilla, caramel and spice, as well as smooth texture and richness, which can seem like an incongruous match with the boisterous herbal character that gin gets from being distilled with a traditional mix of botanicals (juniper, cardamom, citrus peels). But the best craft distillers have found a way to make it work, creating a balanced sipping-style gin that also works well in cocktails.
Each of these gins is slightly diﬀerent, so be sure to do some advanced research before buying. Aged genevers, such as the release from Bols, will be maltier and more earthy, while some of the more experimental versions, such as the one from Tennessee’s Corsair Distillery, could have notes of spice and nuts. Do some advance testing if you’re planning to use it in cocktails—not all will be a perfect match with tonic, gin’s usual partner. (For extra credit: Try pairing gins with small-batch tonic waters, such as Q or Tom’s to find the match you prefer.) One rule of thumb: aside from the typical summer gin drinks, these tend to work well wherever you might use whiskey or rye— think Manhattans and Old Fashioneds—or in more robust gin drinks, such as the Negroni. Below are our favorites:
ST. GEORGE DRY RYE REPOSADO GIN
This top-notch, Bay Area craft distillery is well known for its trio of distinctive, un-aged gins: the Terroir (made with California bay laurel and Douglas fir), the Botanivore (bergamot peel, hops, cinnamon and many others), and the Dry Rye (the base spirit is distilled from rye grain for a spicy, earthy flavor; the botanical mix favors peppery flavors). In small quantities, St. George also ages the Dry Rye in used oak wine casks for 18 months. (The “reposado,” Spanish for “rested,” is a nod to tequila’s classification for barrel aging.) The oak adds a deep, savory flavor, notes of caramel and a pretty pink hue. Bottled at 99 proof, it’s not exactly a shy spirit, so think about swapping it into cocktails that call for rye whiskey, such as a Boulevardier or Old Fashioned. stgeorgespirits.com
RANSOM OLD TOM GIN
One of the earlier aged gins on the market, this entry is a collaboration between the renowned Oregon craft producer and cocktail historian David Wondrich to revive Old Tom Gin, an early 19th-century style of the spirit. Cocktail geeks were quick to embrace this release, as the historical style meant that more faithful reproductions of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails could be made. (London Dry, the most common style today, wouldn’t be created until the late 19th century.) With this bottling, a malted barley base is distilled with a range of classic botanicals, including juniper, citrus peel and cardamom, and then aged in new French oak barrels for three to six months. With a profile marked by malt, citrus and juniper, this gin can be used in any number of gin-based cocktails, from adding a little oomph to the basic Gin and Tonic, or in a true pre-Prohibition cocktail, such as the Martinez or Tom Collins. ransomspirits.com
SPIRIT WORKS BARREL GIN
This relatively new Sebastopol, California, grain-to-bottle distillery, oﬀers a range of gins made from organic California winter wheat that is crushed, fermented and distilled on site. The Barrel Gin, aged for months in American oak barrels, has intriguing notes of vanilla and baking spices mixed with the classic gin aromas of juniper and cardamom. Try it in a Bee’s Knees (a gin sour made with honey syrup) for a refreshing late-summer evening cocktail: Mix 2 ounces of barrel-aged gin with 1 ounce of honey syrup (two parts honey to one part hot water, stirred to dissolve) and 1/2 ounce lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice, and strain into a couple or cocktail glass. spiritworksdistillery.com