I’ve lived the quintessential East Coast dream on at least a couple of occasions. To point a car West and to to head towards the other coast, stopping at all of the incredible go-between and pass-throughs along America’s state highways, and religiously avoiding the interstate when at all possible. For me, Galena, Illinois holds a unique place for me. Along US 20, it’s the gateway in my mind, that breaking point between the dense urbanity and never-too-far-from civilization feel of the East/Great Lakes and the wide-open expanses of the middle. It’s the beginning of the “everything else.” So each time I’ve driven west, I’ve stopped in Galena’s historic downtown, walked along the Galena river, and Paused.
Galena is home to Blaum Brothers Distilling Company. Located right along the aforementioned US 20, two brothers have been designing spirits from the ground up since 2013. The grains are sourced locally, distilled on their handmade copper still. They have an as-yet-released Rye and Bourbon in the works, but as for now they have vodka, moonshine, and gin out on the market. The gin is based on a small number of botanicals, each distilled individually with their wheat/rye base spirit, before being blended to create the final product.
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Letherbee Gin has been created to be the “anti craft, craft gin,” says its distillers aiming to provide an affordable, high quality gin that’s main use is to be poured at bars, to become the main pour at restaurants. It’s not about the bottle, the bottle is an afterthought: its minimal appearance and cryptic tagline “Gin for wellness” are probably not enough to stand out on what is now a really crowded shelf. They want to stand out as a gin, as a local affordable well gin [made in Chicago], not as a package on a shelf of gin.
Commendable, as I judge a spirit not by its wrapper [though some are very nice], but by what’s inside.
Strong nose, juniper, fennel, cubeb and a bit of pepper. Gin like, with a bit of an edge. The taste is very loud, even by gin standards. Juniper begins early, some lemon peel, citrus rind, and coriander. The spices begin to shine in the middle before coming out quite loudly in the finish. Fennel and licorice, with a finale that really brings a bit of heat. Long fennel seed note on the finish.
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We’ve talked about Few’s quite excellent Aged Gin on this blog before, so I’m not sure how many surprises I have in store for you in this review.
In my previous review I threw around the word “Genever” a little bit, referring to the fact that unlike most gins which use a neutral-character base akin to vodka (in many cases, actually vodka). Few uses a base closer to a “white dog,” or white whiskey. This means that although it can be considered “neutral” in some sense of the word, it carries with it a distinct warming, toasty, almost grain-like flavor to the cocktail.
We’ve commented on this a great deal in the past. Other gins, such as Ingenium Gin, St George’s Dry Rye Gin and Smooth Ambler’s Greenbrier Gin have come at gin from this similar angle. The Beverage testing institute has described gins like this as “Genever-like Gin” in their recent evaluations of gins similar to Few. I’m not sure if that is the right name for it, but I believe that it properly conveys what is going on here.
Few American Gin is not a Genever. But it is not a normal gin.
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I’ve been into this before, but I think it bears repeating: if a gin has a white whiskey as it base, and then that gin is aged, is the end product really a gin anymore?
Fortunately for us, Few Spirits has forced the issue for us and this question no longer dwells in the realm of the philosophical, the hypothetical or the theoretical. Its quire real: Few Barrel Aged Gin.
At First Taste you might mistake this barrel aged gin for a Genever, and although you’re technically incorrect, you wouldn’t be far off in perception. Okay, so Genever has a malt base, this gin doesn’t. But the flavor profile that is created is not far off. It has the rich lows of a good Genever. A rich woody character permeates the base. You can pick up the earthiness of the base here, but its in the way that the taste builds that Few Barrel Aged Gin really differentiates itself from Genever and even some other barrel aged gins.
There’s a certain spicy sweetness evident here, warm Christmas notes: Cloves, [a good gin-tasting friend of mine pointed out Gingerbread, and I think he may be right], and a faint note of burnt sugar.
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Naturally, when there’s 30+ gins to be tasted it cannot be done all at once. As much as we’d like to try, to do a proper tasting our livers and mental capacities just couldn’t take it. So in order to give every gin a proper tasting and a fair shot, we spread it out into 6 mini tastings over the course of a long day. So as promised, here’s a recap of what we tasted side by side and with what– and I’ll share with you my top two from each heat.
For full gin reviews of every gin covered in the 50 States of Gin tasting, you’ll have to stay tuned to the Gin is In this fall. If my first post was the 10 miles high overview, this is the one from 50,000 feet. The full reviews will be on the ground: up close and personal.
Heat #1 ///
The Participants: Dogfish Head Jin from Delaware [the nation’s first state, I’m sure you see where we’re going with this], Pennsylvania’s Bluecoat Gin, Southern Gin from Georgia, Gale Force Gin from Masscahussetts and finally, New Hampshire’s Karner Blue gin.
Overall a strong opening.
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