Typically, when we reach for gin, we expect something clear and light, infused with either subtle or assertive botanicals, depending on the brand. But truth be told, there are plenty folks out there, myself included, who more often reach for bourbon or whiskey. So why not take gin, stick it in a barrel, wait, and see what happens?
Lucky for us, barrel aging gin is a trend that is sweeping through the distilling world. For West Virginia distiller John Little of Smooth Ambler, barrel aging his gin came about by happenstance. In the midst of bottling a batch of his gin, he ran out of bottles, so he poured the remaining gin into some charred oak barrels. This kicked off a series of experiments. What type of barrel? How long to “rest” the gin? He ultimately found that aging his gin in two types of bourbon barrels: one new and one used, then recombining, created his desired flavor profile of burnt caramel and burnt sugar on top of the lighter lemon notes. It sips like a gin and finishes like a whiskey.
The next time you crave an Old-Fashioned, consider swapping out your favorite brown water for a barrel aged gin. Here are some stellar offerings, with two cocktail recipes to try. We expect to see more barrel aged gins on the Southern market in the not-so-distant future.
BRANDON’S BARREL RESERVE GIN
Rock Town Distillery / Little Rock, AR
Phil Brandon aged his first limited release for four months in used whiskey casks, imparting its beautiful color and imbuing notes of whiskey, oak, caramel, and vanilla along with the residual citrus and juniper in the gin. He calls it a whiskey drinker’s gin.
CARDINAL BARREL RESTED GIN
Southern Artisan Spirits / Kings Mountain, NC
Aged in brand-new bourbon barrels, this gin retains some of the juniper, mint, and peppery notes the Mauney twins are famous for, but with the addition of the more mellow characteristics of a whiskey.
CORSAIR BARREL AGED GIN
Corsair Distillery / Nashville, TN, and Bowling Green, KY
Corsair takes their award-winning vapor-basket gin and rests it in charred oak barrels previously used to age their spiced rum, giving the gin notes of sweet, subtle spice and mellow oak.
SMOOTH AMBLER BARREL AGED GIN
Smooth Ambler Spirits Company / Maxwelton, WV
Head distiller John Little splits the batch of his signature gin into two types of barrels: new charred American white oak bourbon barrels and used bourbon barrels, “finishes” those for about three months, then recombines them. The used barrels provide a rich, creamy sweet note, while the new barrels contribute heavier charred notes, the best of two worlds.
WATERLOO ANTIQUE BARREL RESERVE GIN
Treaty Oak Distilling / Austin, TX
I love this gin. After we photographed the cocktails for our gin article, this is the bottle that bartender Hallie Arnold chose to take home. Head distiller Daniel Barnes mixes two barrel-aged gins (one younger, one older) for the perfect finish. Deep, rich, dark, and heavy, this gin acts more like a bourbon, with underpinnings of grapefruit and pecans from the initial gin-basket distillation.