Back River Gin

Back River GinThere are only a small handful of states that I’ve never visited: Alaska (hard to get enough time off work to drive there), Hawaii (I’m not a fan of flying), Michigan (I don’t know, always just seemed a little out of the way) and Maine. My reasons for not visiting Maine aren’t for lack of trying. My wife and I once attempted a weekend drive to Kittery. But that drive came up short as we spent the weekend wandering the Green and White mountains respectively (beautiful, of course). So I’ve never been to this state, but if the botanicals of Back River Gin are telling me anything about what this place is like, then the omission of Maine from my travelogues is a grave mistake on my behalf that I should remedy as soon as possible. Okay, now on to the gin but first- a special thanks to Keith and Constance at Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery for sending me this review sample.

First Impressions
The nose of this gin is certainly unique. I’m immediately struck by the sweetness of it. There’s notes of Cassia and Cinnamon, a vague hint of citrus and floral fruitiness backed with a gentle and pleasant juniper aroma. It smells like a gin for sure, and I’m struck by certain aromas which might be unusual when looking at gin on the whole but seem so natural and harmonious here. The scent of this gin is a strong invitation to take a sip. And take a sip I did…

Second Impressions
Based on what I had read about Back River Gin, I knew to be on the lookout for the blueberry. It adds a mellow sweetness and even dominates the palette while never seeming quite like too much. The first sip is rich and smooth. The flavors begin with the same scents from the bouquet before the blueberry kicks in. The finish has a sharp juniper note that hits you in the back of the throat. The finish is long and just a touch fiery, but never too much.

At this point, Back River Gin had me pretty impressed. But how does it work in cocktails?

Three Third Impressions
First and foremost: the G&T. Stunning. I mixed it up with your traditional sweet supermarket Tonic. It was good with Canada Dry. The Blueberry and juniper came through, but only the faintest intimations of the Cassia. I then paired it up with the more bitter Q Tonic, and the flavors really shone.  The lime and the bitterness of the tonic make a refreshing counterpoint to the flavors of the gin. I highly recommend it.

Next on to the Aviation. The 43% alcohol gives Back River Gin a little more power and the ability to hold its own in cocktails such as Aviation. I chose this cocktail not only because it is among my favorites, but because the Blueberry and floral notes I thought would pair very nicely with the Violet. It paired very nicely, and the Cinnamon notes gave some depth to some of  the usually buried cherry and almond notes in the Maraschino liqueur. Its a very nice cocktail and helps showcase the diversity of the cocktail.

I’m sure you thought I was going to go Negroni right here. Probably because a) I always use Negronis as a benchmark and b) They’re one of my favorite cocktails. But this time I’m going in a completely different direction, and not just because I’m out of Vermouth.

Corpse Reviver #2: This is an ultimate test. There’s a lot of strong flavors swirling around here. You’ve got a little bit of Absinthe, the Lemon and the Orange, and of course its fair share of Lillet. And how did it hold up? Blueberry and Absinthe? Though a lot of the more exotic notes of Back River gin didn’t come out, the core juniper and gin-like qualities held their own and the Corpse Reviver had its characteristic juniper base.

Closing Impressions
Overall, its hard to find a better gin than this one. It certainly isn’t a classic London Dry style. It would likely get lumped in the category of “New American” or “New Western” simple because of the florals, the inclusion of ginger and blueberry and the strong Cassia notes. Simply put, Back River gin is an incredible contemporary style gin. This is the kind of innovation that makes tasting gin and writing about gins as exciting as it is. This gin works well in everything, from the martini to the G&T and everything in between.

Price: $30 / 750 mL
Origin: [flag code=”US” size=”16″ text=”no”] Maine
Best consumed: In nearly anything or anyway you can think of. 
Availability: Liquor stores in the Northeast with wide selections, as well as many places online.
Rating: Unique and worth hunting out. 

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Readers' Reviews

by William

Agree with reviewer. Magnificent gin. Best I've ever had. Period. Perfect for the Aviation.

11 thoughts on “Back River Gin

  • February 7, 2012by jellydonut

    This one always gets rave wherever it goes. I’ll make sure to try it when I’m in New England!

  • February 7, 2012by Josh Miller

    Wow – -that’s a glowing review! I’ll be on the lookout for this one. Cheers

  • February 7, 2012by Aaron

    I was very pleasantly surprised, (my expectations were high because I had seen other reviews, but it did live up to them) I would definitely recommend seeking it out.

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  • February 20, 2012by Mary Beth Sica

    Lucky to live in Maine….my favorite gin. I have several bottles in my cabinet. Their cranberry gin is good too. This place also makes this stuff called Cranberrt Smash, a wine and brandy infusion. The owners are great….if anyone is in the Maine area, its worth a trip to Sweetgrass winery and distillery!

  • February 22, 2012by Unoaked Chardonnay

    On an evening when we aren’t enjoying our usual lovely beverage, he drifts towards Bloody Mary and I head for a gin and tonic. And I join you in praise: Back River Gin is delicious. Sweetgrass will be one of our first stops when we return to Maine. Must say, though, there is never a reason to use tonic made with high fructose corn syrup. It simply drowns all the good in a cocktail. Fever Tree and Q tonics are premium, powerful and bright. The generic brand tonic from Whole Foods is a light touch against your spirits and affordable. And if you check the labels, sometimes White Rock tonic is made with cane sugar instead of HFCS. (They seem to be transitioning, good for them!)

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  • August 5, 2012by FoodiePilgrim

    You’re right on with this review. In addition to the mentioned cocktails, I will say it’s excellent in a 4:1 Martini with Dolin of M&R dry vermouth, and sublime with Vya. They make a dry vermouth, too… I can only imagine how that goes. The bartender at Marshall Wharf raved about it last night, but I had 250 miles to drive…

  • March 21, 2013by Charley Rose

    Sorry to dissent but it totally didn’t work for me. I read about the distillery and their gin in Downeast Magazine a couple years ago. My wife’s from nearby Rockland and we’re up there regularly. Couldn’t wait to visit them. We did and picked up a few bottles of various distillates including their Gin. The only word I can use is astringent. I can add horribly astringent! I had a hard time finishing it. I’m an evening after work martini guy and occasional G&T guy in the summer. 3 thumbs down on this one if you ask me.

  • June 7, 2013by fsc

    I doubted that I would like this gin, but, like the review, I adore it. To me, it smells sweet and of blueberries, but the flavor is dry and has clean juniper tones with a chasing hint of blueberry. It is a bit rough (i.e., more burn than most), but it makes a stellar G&T. My only disappointment is that I bought only one bottle at the Sweetgrass Winery.

  • February 26, 2017by foodiepilgrim

    Happy news for Sweetgrass Winery and Back River Gin fans – Sweetgrass now has a storefront in Portland, about 2.5 hours closer to the rest of the country than their farm in Union! And very nearby is Vena’s Fizz House, where you can get all sorts of cool and rare bar gear:

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