Jeff St. John’s gin was designed by himself and a team of local gin lovers. His Horse Mountain Dry Gin is nearly as carbon neutral as a distilled product can be. Solar powered, rain barrel diluted, and of course distilled on a custom self-built and self-designed still. Horse Mountain Dry Gin is off the grid.
It’s distilled from a base of cane with ten added botanicals, infused via vapor.
We’re tasting Bottle 145; Batch 7.
Pleasantly spicy on the nose, notes of caraway, with a rooty, earthy hint of sasparilla. Almost difficult to place. Juniper and a slight muddled minty coolness permeates as well.
Pleasantly spicy on the palate as well, with vivid a rooty character that drank blind might invoke comparisons to an Amaro. A little bit bitter at first, the mid-palate bursts with licorice, cinnamon, coriander and a heavy dose of clove. There’s notes of birch bark as well, with herbaceous juniper, dandelion and anise.
The Dutch and Dewey Distillery team recommends working with ice water* to cause some of the botanicals to come out of solution. This will produce cloudiness, similar to a louche in Absinthe. Distilling-wise, this happens when botanicals are more soluble in ethanol than in water. These aromatic compounds are only possible to be held by high proof spirits. Diluting causes them to dissipate. As Horse Mountain Dry Gin is bottled at a relatively high 96 proof/48% ABV, it’s likely we could see some louche and cloudiness upon dilution.
Horse Mountain Dry Gin w/ cold water
You can see the dancing trails of botanical oils as you pour water in. As I mentioned above, those of you who drink Abinsthe will recognize this effect upon dilution.
In this case, I diluted Horse Mountain Dry Gin exactly as I would an absinthe. I delicately pour a small quantity in; observe the change. And if it’s not cloudy yet, I add a few drops more. You could be crazy and use an absinthe fountain, but who has those sitting at home?
After about an equal ratio of water is poured in before Horse Mountain Dry Gin becomes hazy with an opalescent louche. The complex spices begin to reveal themselves. Cloves come through more clearly; while the more delicate vanilla tinged hints of cardamom begin to emerge. And of course there’s a lot of orange as well. The Gin Wife thinks the herbs and roots are better in the diluted version than the straight version. She also remarks on the “root” character of it.
I found Horse Mountain Dry Gin to be a challenging mixer. It absolute dominates other spirits and mixers in cocktails. The Gin and Tonic is delightfully cloudy with hints of sweet anise and warming clove. It’s a winter Gin and Tonic if there ever was one. The Martini is a cacophonous symphony with myriad herbs and myriad spices combining. There’s almost too much going on here.
I found the anise notes a bit overpowering in other mixed drinks. It became cloying with sugar and overall did not work in sweet/citrus applications. I did however really like the way Horse Mountain Dry Gin worked with other Amaro. It’s a really nice Negroni or even Old Fashioned just on its own. I recommend above all others that you do louche it like an Absinthe and enjoy it slightly diluted. That was my favorite application.
Horse Mountain Dry Gin is intensely spice-forward and is likely to appeal to fans of both spice-forward contemporary style gins and even absinthes. It’s more in that family of spirit than it is in line with most gins; Horse Mountain Dry Gin may be as contemporary or historical as they come.
The spice-forward approach may be too much for some. And it’s lack of versatility as a general pour may limit Horse Mountain Dry Gin’s appeal among bartenders.
That being said, it’s hard to find fault with the spirit. Distiller Jeff St. John has brought out an incredible botanical intensity on his custom still. The base spirit is clean and remarkably mild, vastly unlike many other cane based gins on the market. I think Horse Mountain Dry Gin is a niche gin that will appeal intensely to fans of the style, but may be too narrow for general use.
*”…watch it slowly become cloudy as the essential oils precipitate tiny droplets. Taste a sip every couple of minutes and observe how the aroma and flavor develop as the ice melts” [Source: BevNET]