Keith and Constance Bodine form the team behind Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery’s Back River Gin. They make a wide array of wines and spirits sourcing as much as possible from their local Maine farms. One of the key ingredients in Back River Gin is Maine-grown blueberries.
The nose of Back River Gin doesn’t immediately lead with blueberry like other berry-botanical gins like Brockman’s. It’s a much more subtle and complete nose rooted in gin tradition.
A hint of cranberry, cassia, and wet pine-forest-in-winter juniper greet you on the nose. Back River Gin has prominent, but not aggressive juniper at the front of the nose. To put it another way, you’ll recognize it as gin but you won’t call it a Gordon’s clone.
The palate is much bigger than the nose. Subtle coriander and aniseed notes come on early, but mid-palate is a roar of cassia and ginger. The cassia almost becomes full-throttle cinnamon suggesting cinnamon candies.
After the cinnamon begins to recede, a fruity floral notes starts to come out of the background. I get blackberries and literal honest-to-god-blueberries here. There’s just enough pine accent juniper behind all of this to give Back River Gin a depth of flavor that goes beyond the signature botanicals.
The finish is moderate in length with a clean and durable warmth.
Back River Gin is a versatile mixer. Bartenders can easily use Back River Gin as a pour behind the bar and put in a number of cocktails. This is what impressed me about this gin the first time I tried it— and the second, and the third….
The cinnamon comes through in a Gin and Tonic, but if you like that note it’s delicious and somewhat more muted than it was in the gin on its own. I love it in a Martini. Olives and onions go wonderfully with it, suggesting both a Dirty Martini, a Very Dirty Martini, or a Gibson.
Overall, Back River Gin
Back River Gin is the rare gin that is exciting, versatile behind the bar, and worth seeking out.
Fans of classic style gins may find it a bit light in the juniper. But fans of contemporary spice forward gins will find quite a bit to like about Back River Gin’s craft. It’s well made, with a unique balance, and a unique flavor profile that even half a decade later has rarely been equaled in the Gin Renaissance.
18 thoughts on “Back River Gin”
Agree with reviewer. Magnificent gin. Best I’ve ever had. Period. Perfect for the Aviation.
Being from Maine, I really appreciate your reviewing this as it is hard to find out of state, but is well worth it! The labeling and marketing is small-distillery style and while it lacks a lot of the “pop” that the bigger distilleries with bigger budgets put into their bottling, it’s definately worth picking up! I’d hate for the underrated appearance of the bottle to cause someone to overlook this fantastic gin!
I’m a Mainer, a sailor, and a huge fan. Best gin ever.
This one always gets rave wherever it goes. I’ll make sure to try it when I’m in New England!
Wow – -that’s a glowing review! I’ll be on the lookout for this one. Cheers
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.
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!
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!)
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…
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.
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.
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: http://venasfizzhouse.com/
Maine friends put us on to this gin a number of years ago. We started with a bottle and immediately went back to the small general store to buy their last two bottles. Living about a days drive from Maine meant going with out it for some time, but I soon found a coworker who bought property there and was returning on a regular basis. She became my “mule” for my BRG fix. We both love this stuff and have allowed many friends to try it – to their delight. Unfortunately, it still is not sold locally. So it has become our “special occasion” gin. This is such a great gin, you can even drink it alone on the rocks.
Sooooo thankful for being able to find this gin! Purchased a bottle at the distillery and then one later in the state…
Wish this was a BBC ailabke in Iowa…
I was in Maine last week visiting family and stopped in for a “tasting” (I’m from the Napa Valley, in CA…and we do like to do tastings – wine, spirits). I tasted your Back River Gin and was blown away….I agree, the best gin ever! There is something in the nose that I just can’t put my finger on…..but, oh, so lovely! I brought back a bottle and immediately contacted my “Total Wines” store and asked them to contact your distillery and begin stocking this gin…. definitely the BEST GIN EVER!!! My “Maine family” is meeting me in PA next month, so I have asked them to bring 2 bottles that I can tuck into my suitcase…..to tide me over until Total Wines begins stocking!!!
I forgot to add…..there is something so lovely in the nose and on the tongue, that, though, I like a good gin martini or gin and tonic……I just can’t bear to mix this gin with anything! A lovely “sipping- straight gin” and…….to be able to appreciate the nose!!! Would love to know exactly what the botanicals are used in this gin….but, that’s your secret!
Not in classic style but still very nice and great for sipping neat. Enough of a “gin” for Gordon’s fans but a softer juniper for those find that note too strong in Gordon’s. Don’t let the blueberry put you off. If you don’t read the label you would not guess it was in there. I buy a few bottles whenever I’m in Portland.
Far as I know, you can only buy it at the distillery in Union, Me and their store in Portland. We’re headed up this morning to resupply. A two hour trip one way.
Best gin I’ve had.