London, beware: Midwestern distilleries are cementing their place in gin circles with new and distinctive approaches. Here are a select few, a quartet-sized sampling, of the Middle American operations that are mixing things up with botanicals that shine a light on the region’s terroir.
Thinking beyond the botanical characteristics of most gins is at the heart of this Michigan distiller’s Bilberry Black Hearts Barrell-Aged Gin. Juniper, anise, bitter orange and bilberry are some highlights of this spirit, which is aged in white oak barrels. Beyond the acidic and sometimes bitter flavor of the bilberry, Journeyman’s gin’s unequivocal taste and aroma are due to its 100% organic wheat base and the unfiltered water sourced from an underground aquifer in nearby Three Oaks.
Death’s Door Spirits
Paying homage to the Death’s Door passage that separates Washington Island from Door County, Wisconsin, Death’s Door takes its cues from the state’s agricultural output. Although the trinity of botanicals—juniper, fennel and coriander—may seem typical, its distilling process involves a combination of local red winter wheat, malted barley and corn. The result is a distinctive flavor and body to stand up to rich, savory foods.
Prairie Organic Spirits
Prairie produces one the few organic gins on the market, made from yellow corn grown and harvested on family farms in Minnesota. Their gin plays upon juniper, cassia and sage, while holding back on the traditional coriander and angelica provides a drier zing and smooth finish. The grain of choice gives it a backbone that’s perfect with tonic water and lime or a bit of muddled lemon.
This cult-favorite Chicago distiller, Letherbee, offers a medley of 11 botanicals (juniper, cubeb berries, orange, lemon peel and more) that impart a clean, full-bodied taste to every batch. Its seasonal bottlings, Vernal and Autumnal, epitomize the distiller’s commitment to experimentation and creativity. What’s the special touch? “The seasonal gins change every year, but we always make sure to use a generous amount of unicorn blood in each batch,” says spokesperson Heather Do.