Jumpin' Junipers!

Gin is experiencing an explosive resurgence in Northern California, with distillers offering up a cornucopia of styles, tastes, and personal touches.

Within any gin, there exists an existential dichotomy that cuts to the core of its being. Nefariously simple in its initial make-up: base spirit plus juniper plus some assortment of botanicals plus distillation equals gin. Making even decently drinkable gin (at least in public), however, is a devilishly-nuanced experiment in patience and controlled innovation.
In California, gin has a place of prominence not only in Bay Area history, but in the backstory behind one of cocktail culture’s most iconic drinks: according to legend, a passing gold-miner stopped by a bar in Martinez (some versions have the event taking place in San Francisco proper), and was served up a concoction of sweet Old Tom gin, vermouth, bitters, and maraschino. Thus was born the venerable Martini.
Gin ruled the spirit roost in the United States until after Word War II, when vodka slowly slithered in and replaced it, causing several distilleries to go bust. A derth of locally-made gin followed, finally lifted by the arrival of Anchor Distillery (a side business started by Fritz Maytag, he behind Anchor Steam brewery) and their release of Junipero gin in the mid 1990’s. And while several distilleries were opened in the last several decades (with more than half opened in the last ten years), it wasn’t until recently that the focus has been on gin production.
The virtues and details that set much of Northern California’s craft beers and other artisinal spirits apart from the norm are the same characteristics that elevate our local gin: a conscious effort to replicate a standard style — whether it be a London- or Plymouth- style, dry or slightly sweet — and then, through innovative distillation and maceration techniques, or a focus on Northern California-grown botanicals and unique flavoring agents (seaweed?), create a gin that is distinctly and uniquely local in its roots and appeal.
Following then, are some local Northern California gins. They are all worthwhile additions to your bar, as well as great conversation starters with fellow gin lovers and those new to this amazing and versatile libation. — Story by Jake Speed, illustrations by Damon Guthrie

Sea Gin (45% ABV)
Oakland Spirits Co., Oakland
www.oaklandspirits.com
Distilling their gins from grapes, Oakland Spirits’  Sea Gin is a briny mix that captures the smells and taste of the Mendocino Coast in a bottle, where the nori seaweed infused in the liquid originates from. Combine with California coastal bay and sage, lemongrass, and some other sourced botanicals, and you have a very unique, but also very versatile gin. If you are, or know of, a gin lover who thinks they’ve tried everything, this is one to impress, straight or in a cocktail like their Sea Change.

Cocktail: Sea Change
2 oz Sea Gin
¼ oz honey syrup {40:60 honey:water}
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
2 dashes celery bitters, sea bean, cucumber, or slapped celery leaf garnish

Stir and strain into a Green Chartreuse rinsed chilled coupe.


Boldt Genever Style Gin (45% ABV)
Alchemy Distillery, Arcata
www.alchemydistillery.com
If you are a whiskey lover new to gin, Boldt’s award-winning (silver in the ADI 2017 competition), genever-style gin is a great entry point. Barrel-rested for a minimum of 50 days, each bottle not only states the grain varietal used for the base, but also where it was farmed (Headly Ranch, Honeydew in our instance). With a light amber hue, there are hints of juniper and anise, washed out by more whiskey-ish flavors of pipe tobacco and caramel. Great on its own, over ice, or in their Blushing Blonde Satan’s Whiskers cocktail.

Cocktail: Blushing Blonde Satan's Whiskers
3 oz. Boldt Genever style Gin
1 ½ oz. Dry Vermouth
½ oz Agave syrup
½ oz. Fresh lemon juice
2-3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, Strain, pour into glass. Garnish with lemon twist.


Bummer & Lazarus Dry Gin (46% ABV)
Raff Distillerie, Treasure Island
www.raffdistillerie.com
Launched in 2011 on Treasure Island, master distiller Carter Raff distills gin in stills machined by his own two hands. This dedication to the craft comes through in his Bummer and Lazarus gin (named after two stray dogs that lived in San Francisco in the mid 1800’s … look it up), a dry gin with a forceful herbal nose, backed by citrus and anise scents. On the tongue, bitter orange and lemon come through with a licorice finish. Perfectly suited for their signature Tail Wagger cocktail.

Cocktail: Tail Wagger
2 oz Bummer & Lazarus Gin
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1 sprig marjoram
1/4 oz simple syrup

Quick muddle of the marjoram in a shaker tin. Add all to shaker. Double strain into collins glass fill with Ice top with soda and tonic.


Junipero Gin (49.3% ABV)
Hotaling & Co., San Francisco
www.hotalingandco.com
Junipero is one of the grand-daddies of West Coast gins, first launched in 1998 “The gin that launched a thousand craft gins,” keeps its exact recipe list of twelve botanicals under lock and key, but a first sip brings the juniper front and center while complex whispers of corriander, citrus, and cardamom weave in and out at the edges. Seductively clean for such a high ABV, Junipero works well in cocktails or as a sipper. One however needs to respect this gin’s strength: it will knock you sideways without a warning. Try it with their signature California’s Callin cocktail.

Cocktail: California's Callin'
1.5 oz Junipero Gin
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1 dashTempus Fugit Abbott's Bitters
Anchor California Lager (to fill)
Grapefruit peel for garnish

Combine Gin, Maraschino, juices, and bitters in an ice-filled mixing tin and shake for 20-30 seconds, or until well chilled. Strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass, top with the California lager and garnish with grapefruit peel.


Gin (43% ABV)
Spirit Works Distillery, Sebastopol
www.spiritworksdistillery.com
Practicing their “grain to glass” philosophy, each gin’s journey begins and ends on site at the distillery: grains are milled, mashed, fermented, distilled and bottled under one roof, allowing the distiller a deeper control over all of the variables that go into this dry gin. Using local ingredients, this is a smooth-tasting sipper, almost vodka-like at first taste. Soon enough, however, the juniper makes itself known, followed closely by lemon and some floral notes, organizing a brief party on your tongue before receding back down your throat, leaving a trail of spiciness. Try this small-batch in your next Negroni for a pleasant surprise.

Cocktail: Negroni (with gin)
1 oz. Spirit Works gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Orange twist for garnish

 


Botanivore Gin (45% ABV)
St. George Spirits, Alameda
www.stgeorgespirits.com
While St. George can lay claim to being the first American Distllery since the Prohibition at the time of their 1982 launch, they didn’t release their first gins until 2011. However, with the St. George legacy behind it, good things do come to those that wait. Featuring nineteen ingredients(!) this highly aromatic blend features mainstays like cardamom, juniper, citrus and lemon peel, but throw in some cilantro and citra hops (wait… what?) to keep things fresh and interesting. A slightly sweet overlay makes this a perfect base for their version of the Gin Fizz.

Cocktail: Gin Fizz
2 oz St. George Botanivore Gin
1 oz club soda
1 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 egg white (about 1/2 oz)

Dry shake (no ice) all ingredients except the club soda for about 10 seconds. Add 3 or 4 ice cube then shake again vigorously. Pour club soda into a Collins glass, then double-strain contents of shaker into the glass.


Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin (45% ABV)
3 Badge Mixology, Fairfield
www.unclevalsgin.com
With a distinctive bottle and labeling, this small-batch, gluten-free gin has only five main ingredients: juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage, and lavender. Echoing its Tuscan-inspired origins, this is a surprisingly complex gin for having such a minimal list of ingredients. Opening the bottle, your nose is enveloped in whirls of lemon and sage — pour a sip to be taken to a warm summer countryside in Tuscany, surrounded by fields of lavender bordered by piny juniper. A worthy addition to any bar, try it in a Bee’s Knees or their signature Raspberry Burst for a refreshing summer chill.

Cocktail: Bees Knees
2 oz. Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin
3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Honey Syrup
2 pinches of Fennel Pollen
3 Dashes Bitter Queens Norcal Nancy Eucalyptus Bitters
 
Build gin, lemon, honey syrup and bitters in shaker tin with ice, shake for 7-8 seconds. Strain with Hawthorne strainer through double strainer into a small chilled coupe glass.


Blend #2 Gin (46% ABV)
Venus Spirits, Santa Cruz
www.venusspirits.com
Santa Cruz-based Venus makes it easy to know what goes into your particular blend — they have a checked-off ingredient list on each bottle. Our particular batch features juniper, cardamom, orange, fennel, coriander, bay, sage, and peppercorn, and is aged in American Oak. Beautifully straw-colored in its hue, opening the bottle brings forth aromas of oranges and fennel mixed with juniper and hints of bay. The orange comes front in the taste, dissipating into notes of cinnamon and vanilla with a nice oak finish. Leaning toward the sweet side of life, this gin is perfect for making pitchers of their signature Upside Down cocktail.

Cocktail: Upside Down
Makes 1 pitcher (approx. 15 cocktails):
1 bottle Venus Gin Blend No. 02
1/2 C pomegranate juice
3/4 C spiced simple syrup*
3/4 C fresh lime juice
2 C sparkling wine

Combine all ingredients except sparkling wine in a pitcher and refrigerate. Just before serving, add ice and stir. Add sparkling wine and serve over ice.

*Spiced syrup
1 C sugar

1 C water
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice

Bring all ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Strain, allow to cool and stir in 1 Tbsp vanilla.


Want just one drink? Makes 1
1-1/2 ounces Venus Gin Blend No. 02
1/4 ounce pomegranate juice
1/4 ounce spiced syrup
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 ounce sparkling wine

Combine all ingredients except sparkling wine in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, pour into a glass with ice and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with lime or pomegranate seeds.