Gin is known for being a crisp, dry spirit that features bright flavors like juniper, citrus and other botanicals. Gin is a staple in many classic cocktails, from the gin and tonic to the martini and the negroni.
But as common is gin is, few people are aware of aged gin and the unique flavor profile that it brings to cocktails. And with the D.C. cocktail and distilling scene getting its feet wet the spirit, it's time to get a little more familiar with the product.
So, what exactly is aged gin?
First things first. Federal regulations actually don't allow barrel-aged gin, per se. So the product is properly referred to and advertised on store shelves as barrel "rested." Unlike whiskey, it doesn't take years or decades of waiting to produce a satisfying aged gin. Most aged gins only sit for anywhere from a few months to a year or more.
"Gin is not as hearty as a whiskey," says New Columbia Distillers founder John Uselton. "A barrel can overtake a gin in a hurry."
At New Columbia Distillers, the hybrid gin-aquavit spirit ages for around three-and-a half to four months in apple brandy barrels. The idea was more or less born after the distillery received the barrels from Right Proper Brewing Company.
One Eight Distilling, another local business, has begun dabbling in aged gin as well. It's still an experiment, but early batches have aged for several months in a variety of new and old oak barrels.
What does it taste like?
Allowing gin to rest in wood barrels allows the liquor's familiar characters to take on the color and taste of the wood. Infusing flavor notes of things like charcoal, vanilla and other spices can really complement and transform gin.
"The floral botanical flavors of gin bring out the spicy elements of the wood," says Trevor Frye, beverage manager at Jack Rose Dining Saloon.
This complex flavor profile also makes barrel-aged gin a perfect spirit for the fall and winter seasons.
In fact, New Columbia produces its spirit specifically for the winter and fall season, and uses a botanical and grain than the distillery's flagship Green Hat gin.
The recipe includes a 12 percent rye mash, which serves to boost the body and pair with star anise and caraway flavors that are typical of aquavit.
What's the best way to drink it?
Don't go reaching for the martini glass or tonic soda right away. Barrel-aged gin is best suited to be enjoyed on its own or paired with heartier ingredients with a bit of a spicy kick such as vermouth or bitter spirits.
"It's something that can work in the place of gin or in the place of whiskey in a lot of places," says Alexander Laufer, head distiller at One Eight.
Frye suggests using aged gin in a negroni or a Martinez – a cocktail with vermouth, Maraschino liqueur and orange bitters. Jack Rose has also served a drink with aged gin, gingerbread syrup, lemon juice and egg whites.
Uselton admits that his is not the easiest gin to develop a cocktail around, and that a lot of people choose to drink it straight and let the flavors shine on their own. He also recommends what he calls the Virginia 75, a take on the French 75 made with the aged gin-aquavit, local cider and caramelized sugar.
Anyone looking to pick up some aged gin should be on the look out at cocktail bars around the city, as well as higher-end liquor stores. Uselton points to Batch 13, near Logan Circle, or Schneider's on Capitol Hill, as solid options.
This year's batch of New Columbia's gin-aquavit will be released at the distillery on Halloween and available elsewhere starting the following week.