“No one talks about this ever, and I think it needs to be addressed.”
That’s how Bobby Finan, partner and master distiller at Tommyrotter Distillery in Buffalo, New York, started our conversation about barrel-aged gin. He was referring, specifically, to proper (and improper) applications of aged gin in cocktails. As he embarked on the topic, he became noticeably more serious.
His primary concern? That consumers and bartenders are using aged gins—like Tommyrotter’s cask strength, six-month-aged American gin—as they might use any brown spirit. But in Finan’s opinion, that is a bit of a misstep. Aged gin, it seems, is more delicate than, say, whiskey, and we should treat it as such.
“Bartenders often do some variation of a bourbon cocktail like a gin old fashioned. And they’re awesome,” he admitted.
Problems arise, he explained, when you serve that aged gin old fashioned over too much ice or over small ice cubes. Under those circumstances, after just a minute or two, the drink deteriorates. Bourbon, conversely, can stand up to a little more dilution.
It’s a Matter of Distillation
Finan ascribes gin’s deterioration to a fundamental difference between bourbon and gin. Gin begins as a neutral spirit, which means that during distillation it reaches a purity level of 95% alcohol. American bourbon can’t legally go above 80% alcohol during the distillation process. Ergo, before gin is infused, it is void of aroma, flavor, and color. Bourbon is clear before aging, but, unlike gin, it also retains some of the flavor of the grain that it was distilled from because it never reached a purity level to make it completely clean.
Enter Finan’s extended metaphor:
“Think of gin as a neutral canvas,” he propositioned, “which you infuse, through a couple different techniques, with the essential oils of all these different botanicals. So the blank canvas is the neutral spirit, and the gin is the picture painted on the canvas.”
Finan’s point? When gin, aged or otherwise, is overly diluted, the painting is compromised, and the gin starts to reveal glimpses of its neutral foundation.
“It’s as if someone threw water on a canvas, and those colors started to smear. You’re getting back to the white canvas underneath.”
It’s a problem that bourbon, with its undertones of corn, doesn’t face to the same degree. And it’s a problem that compounds when you start barrel aging gin.
“Barrel aged gin has two layers of paint,” he said, continuing the metaphor. “We paint the first picture on it, which is our American gin profile, through the infusion of essential oils during our vapor distillation process. And then we throw it in a barrel to get the color and flavor of the wood on it, and it gets a new coat of paint.”
Finan is adamant that, with enough dilution, those two coats of paint will smear past the point of recognition. The result is a drink that will eventually start tasting like vodka.
“When you make an old fashioned with Tommyrotter aged gin, it’s f***** awesome. It tastes incredible. But if you don’t drink it in, like, a minute, it’s like a smeared painting.”
The takeaway? Finan insists on using king cubes in any aged gin drink served on the rocks, while still being careful to finish the drink before it becomes too watered down. If you don’t have large cubes, he suggests using aged gin in cocktails that are shaken, strained, and served up to ensure its best performance.
Of course, to be safe, you could always enjoy your aged gin neat. That’s one surefire way to avoid dilution.
Tommyrotter gin and vodka can be found in liquor stores and bars in New York State and Massachusetts. Find a location near you, or follow Tommyrotter on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for expansion news and updates.