Gin often gets a bad rap as a dated spirit, a potent sipper that requires tonic, a blast of juniper berry, and nothing more. In 2013, fueled by the nostalgic flavor of her grandfather’s discarded martini olives, a familial culture of crafting cocktails, and an urge to turn her hobby into a career, Melissa Katrincic began Durham Distillery in Durham, North Carolina, and founded its iconic line of Conniption Gins. Now, over a decade later, Conniption Gins are five-time winners of the “best” gin in the United States awarded by the World Gin Awards.
TLP relished the opportunity to tour the distillery with Melissa and Lee Katrincic to observe their methods and hear their story—not to mention partaking firsthand in expertly executed cocktails at the Corpse Reviver Cocktail Bar downstairs.
Conniption Gin: Modernizing The Gin Drinking Experience
TLP: Tell us about your personal ties to gin and how that inspired your foray into the distilling world?
Melissa Katrincic: I come from a line of martini-drinkers and cocktail creatives. Even dating back to my childhood, I remember my grandfather directing a grand display for evening cocktail hour and slipping me the remnants of his gin-soaked martini olives. His wife, Gertrude, serves as the namesake for our gin still. Further, our familial ties are also the inspiration behind the name, Conniption. In true homegrown Southern fashion, Gertrude was notorious for the idiom “Don’t have a conniption fit,” a common tactic to calm family members. The name just stuck. Something so packed with unexpected flavor, our gin was something worth having a conniption over.
Lee Katrincic: I’ll come clean. I was not a gin-drinker originally, but knew Melissa and her family had a lot of ties to gin and it quickly became something significant in both our lives. My background is in the pharmaceutical industry, and I never pictured myself venturing into distilling, but it made sense for us as a family and we took the leap.
TLP: What makes your process unique for capturing the boldest flavors in your bottles?
Melissa Katrincic: Distilleries that solely focus on gin in America are very rare. For us, we’re focused on preserving and strengthening the flavors and botanicals in each of our gins. When we first started Durham Distillery, we spent a lot of time theorizing and testing formulas and processes. We tried as many bottles as we could get our hands on and took a lot of notes from global distillers, and often referenced perfume industry tactics for how to tease out flavor notes. We wanted to take traditional gin distillation methods and incorporate modern science.
Lee Katrincic: My chemist’s mind was quickly wrapped up in the process, laying out botanicals, testing each distillate, and leaving pipettes strewn all over our kitchen table. In addition to traditional pot distillation, we began modern cold vacuum distillation using a rotary evaporator as a means for a more gentle and precise distilling process. This closed system allows us to adjust boiling point and pressure to preserve the flavors we’re infusing. We were the first in the country to use this method!
TLP: How would you describe the difference in barrel-aged gin and how this has transformed the modern gin-drinking experience?
Melissa Katrincic: A big distinction here is this is not a gin trying to be a whiskey. This is a gin that has a level of maturation for a rich depth of flavor, a noticeable smoothness, and a layered personality. We tasted over 125 gins to refine our palates and landed on specific flavor notes we wanted in each of our bottles. Each of our gins has its own unique flavor profile.
Conniption Barrel Aged pairs savory notes of caraway seed and rosemary with the unexpected undertones of fig and lemon. Our American Dry gin is the best for gin beginners, it’s well-rounded yet complex. Navy Strength takes inspiration from Thai, Indian, and Nordic influences, emphasizing savory notes to play against the juniper. Kinship is where I personally got to play the most, with flavors of bitter orange, cardamom, licorice root, honeysuckle, and cucumber mixed with butterfly pea flower for that majestic indigo color. Conniption gin is all about flavor-forward, palatable spirits that make any cocktail experience feel elevated.
TLP: What has your experience been as a female gin distiller?
Melissa Katrincic: Starting out, there weren’t many other female distillers in the US for me to seek out. I sought mentorship from Anne Brock, who now heads Bombay Sapphire; Lesley Gracie, master distiller with Hendricks Gin; and Jill Kuehler of Freeland Spirits in Oregon. Since our inception, I was the first female US distiller to be inducted into the Gin Guild, and since 2021 I’ve become a gin judge, relying on my tasting of over 700 gins. I feel proud to forge a path forward for other female distillers and continue to advocate for other female entrepreneurs. It’s humbling and sometimes overwhelming to think about how far we’ve come. It’s not just about me and Lee–and thank God–it’s about our team, our vision for changing the perception, production, and consumption of gin, and about enjoying a spirit that has brought so much into my life.
French 75 with Kinship Conniption Gin
Makes 1 cocktail
1.5 ounces Conniption Kinship Gin
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
2 ounces Ruffino prosecco, chilled
Garnish: lemon twist
- Shake gin, lemon, and simple syrup in a cocktail tin with ice.
- Strain into a coupe glass , top with Prosecco, and garnish the French 75 with a lemon twist.
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