“I’ve been hiking around the Central Coast for years, and wanted to capture the aromas and flavors I found in the wild,” said Distiller Aaron Bergh regarding the creation of Calwise Spirits’ Big Sur Gin.
Big Sur follows in a long tradition of gins that seek to capture the feeling of a place through using local or indigenous botanicals. You’ve seen this in South African Gins using the local fynbos; European Gins; Australian Gins using local alternatives to traditional gin botanicals; and we’ve even seen this in California-distilled gins as well. But places as botanically diverse as the California coast can be subject to multiple interpretations through the same inspiration.
Big Sur Gin begins with a base distilled from something that California is known for— wine grapes. Among the local botanicals Aaron was inspired by is the Yerba Santa leaf. It’s native to arid California highlands and the plant has been an important part of the region’s native peoples’ food and medicinal traditions.
The nose has an earthy and somewhat medicinal aroma. Mentholated, there’s a coolness and camphor-scented notes reminiscent of muscle balm. Sage, raspberry leaf tea, and a touch of ginger. Big Sur Gin is intensely herbal and moderately floral.
Calwise Spirits’ Gin has a flavor that’s true to the nose. Early, it’s the sage, lavender leaf and Yerba Santa that give it a lot of color.
Mid-palate, there’s some bitter, complex and vegetal notes. The flavor starts going from cool and mentholated to camphoraceous and leafy. There’s a touch of apple and then fennel/anise notes in the background; but the finish is going strongly in the direction of fresh bay leaf.
The finish of Big Sur Gin is exceptionally long and has an interesting effect of being like having just had a bay flavored piece of gum with a hint of celery salt and black peppercorn.
If you’re looking for a warm cup of tea but prefer gin—the Big Sur Gin Hot Toddy is going to have all of those herbal aromas with an added kick.
Big Sur Gin was a little less successful in deeply floral or sweet cocktails. The herbs were a bit overpowering in the Aviation and it lends an (albeit interesting) Broccoli cream soup note to shaken cocktails like the Ramos Gin Fizz.
The Gin and Tonic is a bit more medicinal and strongly herbal with a lot of camphor notes on the finish. Though they can go quite well with a really bitter tonic, or especially tonic syrup.
In short, bartenders should consider Big Sur Gin a specialty gin that requires dedicated attention rather than a swap and replace for your standard classic-style gin.
Overall, Big Sur Gin
Certainly a specialty gin, Big Sur is unusual, creative, and evocative. Albeit, it does so at the expense of juniper— there’s very little juniper character in here.
Big Sur Gin is successful at conjuring a notion of a place. I’d say it reminds me of a high, rocky desert after a rain with the smell of sagebrush and snowbrush.