Back to Colorado we go. On the side of a road, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains you might come across a sign that says DISTILLERY.
If you know David and I. Or if you know what we do [write about spirits], you know that even if we didn’t have it on our list [we did, we just had bunk directions] we were going to stop.
We should have had a bumper sticker that says, THIS CAR BRAKES FOR DISTILLERIES. Because we saw the words. Quickly pulled a U-turn, and were in the parking lot of a distillery. We were at Spirit Hound Distillers, and they were so kind as to give David, Sara and I a tour of their wonderful space, but also to let us try their spirits.
First Some Background
Spirit Hound’s Gin consists of 9 botanicals [see picture below of the botanical bottle], but what really struck me about Spirit Hound gin was a quirky arrangement that existed at the time when we visited. Folks who were hiking in the Rocky Mountains and found juniper [yes, there’s a good deal of it in them there foothills] could pack a bag of fresh picked juniper and bring it to the distillery in exchange for a drink.
Why did this strike me? For one, the primary, but not exclusive, species of juniper in the Rocky Mountain foothills is ROCKY MOUNTAIN JUNIPER a.k.a Juniperus Scopulorum. The primary juniper used in gin is COMMON JUNIPER a.k.a. Juniperus Communis. The hills of the Rocky Mountains represent an intersection of both species’ natural range as well as the Common Juniper’s ornamental reputation means there are few places where it doesn’t grow.
Given the results of experiments such as the Origin line of gins, I’ve taken to acknowledging that terroir and provence actually have an effect on the end product of distilling. So when a distiller allows the common hiker to pick the juniper that is used in their gin, I’m uncertain that they are picking juniper of one species [the berries look quite similar] exclusively. Could there be more variance from batch to batch of Spirit Hound Gin because of this? Or Could the end product of both species be quite similar once distilled because terroir is more important than the species? Or could this whole “each type of juniper” tastes different be in my head*?
This of course isn’t to suggest that Spirit Hound is not crafted with loving care. It most certainly is. I merely want to suggest that the various ways that craft spirits are made can sometimes challenge our notions of what makes a good gin a good gin. NOW ON TO THE TASTING NOTES.
Fennel apparent upon opening and pouring. Sweet on the nose, a bit of citrus, cinnamon- lemon and orange. Juniper on the fringe, there but mild, with a hint of alcohol. No heat, no intimation of strength, simply just a hint of alcohol.
The palette has a bit of edge to it. Heat, a good amount of alcoholic burn [surprising for 42%], and a hefty dose of juniper. Nice and warming, but fennel dominates. There’s a bit of depth to the spice that becomes more evident on the tail. Bright notes of clove and a touch of chai spice on the tail [cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, but not all that distinct] fading into cardamom [specifically] and juniper. A bit of heat lasting in the back of the palette. A little harsh at times in terms of burn, but the mouthfeel is a bit thick and quite smooth. Has a nice depth to it.
Flavorwise though, it does come across as “one-note” because of the precedence of that fennel note. And once you get into mixing you’re really going to taste that fennel because THE FENNEL SHINES ABOVE ALL ELSE in most drinks. A gin and tonic is quite nice with Spirit Hound, but the tonic really emphasizes the fennel and downplays the other notes. The Negroni features a really nice fennel note, a touch of juniper and a little bit of cardamom on the tail. A nice drink.
I found it made a pretty good martini as well, though the harsh edge was still pronounced. Fennel again dominates, but not in such a way that you can’t appreciate it as gin. But Spirit Hound’s diversity only goes as far as you’re willing to take the fennel note. The gimlet tasted a little confused, though the Tom Collins was a nice choice. The citrus emphasizing the notes in the Spirit Hound that might have been able to compliment the Fennel a bit more.
One interesting note is that this gin takes to heart the notion of Chinese five spice powder. Fennel Seeds + Cloves + Cinnamon + Star Anise. If you added Sichuan Peppercorns you could have had a five-spice-powder gin***.
Overall it mixes well, it has a nice flavor, but the fennel seed notes could be tuned down a bit to create a more diverse and widely mixable gin. But that being said, there aren’t a lot of gins that fully embrace the power of a non-canon botanical and push it far without losing the core of what makes gin, a gin.
Back to our original Point though…
So on the juniper? It tastes bright, fresh and vibrant. Without having multiple batches side by side, it’s hard for me to weigh in authoritatively if there is a difference in batches. But the flavor of the juniper is nice and tastes well-curated. Perhaps the difference between superior and inferior gins might not be the actual juniper itself, but the skill and craft of the distiller who can make the juniper do what it needs to do.
Price: $33 / 750 mL
Origin: [flag code=”US” size=”16″ text=”no”] Colorado, United States
Best consumed: Gin and Tonics worth noting, but Tom Collins and Last Word among shining other drinks.
Rating: Fennel forward, but never boring. Smooth with an edge of heat. This is a gin that I think might not be for everyone, but among those who like the fennel seed and herbal approach, I’m not sure there’s another gin that has this unique perspective out there. Worth seeking out, especially if you’re into hiking and collecting fresh juniper berries….
*I don’t think it’s in my head, but I think that the Origin Line might have been carefully curated as to maximize differences which may actually be smaller and less noticeable to the palette in reality. Also, as with the Origin line, the mixes with botanicals actually had less pronounced differences than the juniper alone.
** Batch 23 was reviewed. This gin was also given as a sample.
*** How has no one made a gin based on this. Juniper + the botanicals of five spice powder sound like a great idea.
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