By Wolf Howard
Gin Week is fast upon us! Natasha from Natasha’s Gin Room has been putting in some serious work to help the world better understand her beloved spirit, and there will be countless opportunities to learn about and appreciate the complex and exciting world of one of humanity’s most misunderstood libations.
While some St. Louis residents are fervent about the opportunity to sample gins and gin drinks far and wide, there are many that hear “Gin Week” and reach for a scotch to quiet their memories of a Christmas tree assailing their mouths. In my younger days I found gin to be unpalatable. Full disclosure: I’m not old by any means, but I’ve learned a lot about alcohol in a very short amount of time.
The thing about alcohol that has become most apparent to me is that the categories we use for hard liquor tends to bar us from understanding the vast variety of flavors and styles available in any brand of spirit. Gin tastes like juniper, whiskey tastes like peat and oak, and vodka tastes like nothing if you’re springing for the good stuff. This couldn’t be further from the truth (except for the bit about vodka, that’s very true). The spirit that first opened my eyes to how different spirits within a category can be was Regatta Bay Gin.
Spirits of St. Louis’ Regatta Bay is a gin designed for the non-gin drinker. Well, perhaps more appropriately for the drinker who thinks the only hard liquor they like is vodka because they don’t have to taste it. Or the whiskey drinker who’s found herself in the middle of the St. Louis heat and decides maybe something brighter would be more appropriate. Or even the gin drinker who just wants to try something different in his Tom Collins.
Bright citrus notes stand out in Regatta Bay thanks to lemon peel and coriander, and we even throw hops into the mix as one of our bittering agents – we are also a brewery, after all. It’s a drink that’s altogether welcoming and refreshing, an exercise in restraint that allows all of the other herbal components to shine through a subtle juniper backing. It goes great in our Blueberry Bay, combined with the unmistakable aroma of sage and a distinctive blueberry sweetness. Honestly, if you’re the type to hear the word gin and go running from the room, we would appreciate a chance to change your mind. One sip on Blueberry Bay and you may become a lifelong sailor.
One of the hallmarks of Spirits of St. Louis is our tendency to experiment. For better or worse, it’s hard for anyone in the house to leave good enough alone. Sometimes the end result is an odd mess that gets sent down the drain. But other times – the lucky, awesome, I’m so glad I get to work in the world of liquor and beer times – something excellent happens. My first taste of our Experimental Old Jon Gin No. 2 was one of those times.
We took our flagship Regatta Bay gin and put it on Missouri white oak for 10 months, because everything’s better on oak: I mean that sincerely, and we can discuss this at length if you want to find me at the bar. What came out of that cask is gin black magic. Or brown magic, if you prefer. It changes nothing about how delicious this spirit is.
On the first sip, oak leads the pack, all of its caramel, woodsy goodness complimented nicely by the coriander and citrus peel. It has a richer mouthfeel than classic gin, and finishes with subtle tones of vanilla. It’s like if gin and whiskey had a baby, and that baby went on to graduate with a Ph.D. in Deliciousness, Summa Cum Laude.
While I would enjoy our No. 2 on the rocks and be happy as a liquored up clam, we’ve decided to double down on the gin-whiskey-baby-making and made a slight twist on the Negroni – or the Boulevardier, if you prefer your bourbon. Our Old Negroni combines equal parts Old Jon Gin No. 2 and sweet vermouth with a touch of Bruto Americano, an aperitivo something like Campari but more approachable because it’s from California and everything’s chill out there. It’s kind of like a Negroni, but not as bitter, and kind of like a Boulevardier, but not as sweet. It’s a shot at the middle ground, a welcome home for whiskey and gin lovers alike.
To those of you bursting with excitement for Gin Week, we salute you! May your spirit be as merry as your drink, and we hope you come see us to try some of our twists on the gin culture. To those of you that feel like it’s not your week, come see us anyway. At the very worst you might be reassured that gin is your least favorite spirit on the planet, and thereafter enjoy a dram of J.J. Neukomm Whiskey or a pint of Park Avenue Pale Ale – or any of the other dozens of libations and brews we have to choose from.