Walking around the Craft Distilling Expo last week, we heard a lot of talk about barrel-aged gin and its proliferation amongst distillers. At first glance, the trend seems contrary to the reason some distillers produce gin - they often need a spirit to sell as they wait for their whisky to age. Why spend valuable time aging a ready-for-market spirit? Why use the casks for gin instead of whisky?
Those distillers hesitating to jump on the bandwagon are no doubt asking themselves those questions. But those driving the wagon have realized the need for experimentation, new tastes and new product lines. Small distilleries have flexibility for experimentation and are constantly reworking their spirits. So why not try cask-aging them? In fact, it can take as little as three months to age a gin whereas, for example, a Scottish whisky can’t be called a whisky unless it has aged for 3 years.
It’s not only independent craft brands that are experimenting with oak. The consensus among industry insiders at the Expo was that the only distiller to get barrel-aged gin right is Beefeater’s Burrough’s Reserve. You may consider Burrough’s Reserve merely another line in Pernod-Ricard’s vast alcohol empire but it’s mastermind is world-renowned Master Distiller, Desmond Payne, someone that many independent distillers look up to.
Payne distills Beefeater’s original recipe from the 1860s by hand in the original 268-litre copper still used by James Burrough, founder of Beefeater. He then uses casks that once held Jean de Lillet, the French aperitif made with wines and fruit liqueurs made on site with similar botanicals standard to gin and aged for several months.
Seeing as these casks are out of reach for most independent distillers, not to mention Burrough’s original copper still, craft barrel-aged gins will differ significantly from Burrough’s Reserve. But with Payne’s aged effort retailing in the vicinity of £70, independent distillers have some room for manouvre.
With that in mind, here are a few barrel-aged gins worth a try that won’t burst your budget.
Few Spirits Barrel Gin - £40
The Illinois-based distillery Few Spirits doesn’t just throw its American gin into a cask. It produces a gin bespoke to the American oak, ex-bourbon and ex-rye whisky barrels it uses. Because the wood smooths out the bite of the juniper spirit, the gin Few ages starts off very strong but comes out clean on the other end 18 months later.
Hailing from West Virginia, Smooth Ambler Spirits uses its Greenbrier Gin as a base and ages it for three months, half in new bourbon and half in casks that once aged its Old Scout Bourbon. The distillery says that what comes out of the barrel “sips like a gin and finishes like a whiskey.”
Herno Juniper Cask Gin - £40
The Swedish distillery Herno sticks to its gin roots by aging it in juniper wood casks the distillery ordered. The wood brings out all of the flavours a gin is meant to have and fewer of the whisky notes that gins aged in oak tend to absorb.
Citadelle Reserve Gin - £40
Cognac Ferrand, the Charente-based French spirits maker, has experimented with aging gin since 2008 changing the recipe from year to year and releasing an annual limited edition. Some years, the original Citadelle gin ages in casks while other years the distiller created a different base recipe more suited to aging.
Bottled at Navy Strength, this member of the Master of Malt family starts with its 57% ABV Bathtub Gin and ages it in small barrels for 6 months.