River Bend Distilling in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin is both a winery and a distillery. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that their Craftsman Gin’s base spirits is distilled from grapes. The winery and vineyard opened in 2009 and focused on wines made from Wisconsin grapes. The distillery opened in 2016 and similarly focuses on local Wisconsin products. Craftsman Gin is produced “grain-to-glass,” the same as River Bend’s other spirits on site at the distillery.
Craftsman Gin’s nose has a light dusting of lavender alongside with a suggestive grappa note. There’s a bit of ethanol and heat on the nose as well. It’s a big rough-around-the-edges with a floral charm to it.
It’s intensely and boldly colored on the palate. Most of the botanicals in Craftsman Gin are dialed up and amplified. I get a bit of citrus on the tip of the tongue— strangely silent and cool at first. It rapidly builds with notes of herbaceous juniper, biter citrus, and then a lot of floral/herbal lavender notes.
Distilled lavender in particular can be a little bit “greener” tasting, and not entirely with the same light perfume notes that you get from maceration. But these herbal notes also have hints of celery, wet leaves, camphoraceous herbs and a touch of citronella.
Although it’s vividly flavored, the base spirit feels thin on the palate— almost watery, it has no texture to it. It seemingly departs leaving a rush of flavor and an astringent ethanol burn. The finish does suggest grappa to me, with a very grape pomace character.
The botanicals lack balance and focus. They’re all over the place. It’s hard to characterize what Craftsman Gin is— or isn’t. Secondly, novel base spirits like grape can be done well. Especially when the character or texture is treated like a botanical.
Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here. Craftsman Gin doesn’t really come together and work— ultimately gin is about juniper (mostly absent) and balance. In a crowded marketplace rife with grain-to-glass spirits and exciting balanced gins, it’s hard to recommend Craftsman Gin.
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