The Potable Pioneer: Ginever - A Popular Spirit Returns to its Roots
A far cry from what you're buying to mix your gin & tonics, what about this gin makes it stand out boldly in a class of its own?
Seasonality: New for Fall, Hopefully Year Round
Producer: Wigle Whiskey
Country of Origin: Pittsburgh, United States
Trivia: Using a complex blend of 9 botanicals, the distiller smartly only divulges 3 - the other 6 remain a mystery
Availability Info/Look for This: If you missed a chance to grab a bottle of batch #1 at the release party on October 19th, they'll have more ready for purchase soon at the distillery at 2401 Smallman Street
The average gin drinker of today will naturally head for bottles of Beefeater's and Plymouth out of instinct, trusting in a style of gin that has been popular for the last 100 years. This 'British style', however, has not been the normal standard for this historic spirit from the get-go. With gin having a 500 year legacy, it's managed to evolve from its origins to what we naturally accept today as standard gin. Fortunately, some distilleries are taking the time to reach back into the annals of historic distilling methods and dust off the original recipes for this popular spirit for us all to enjoy, and one of them is located right here in the city of Pittsburgh!
Tucked away off of the bustle of Smallman Street in the heart of Pittsburgh's industrial Strip District, this craft distillery has been providing lucky natives with craft spirits since March of this year. Originally introducing an unaged wheated and rye whiskey that can be found in over 30 restaurants across the Pittsburgh area, Wigle has decided to use its careful attention to detail and historic distilling methods to provide us with a gin that is quite different from what we've come to expect as the standard for this fragrant, juniper-infused spirit. Wigle's 'Ginever', just released in a small batch of 300 bottles this past Saturday, is classified as a genever-style gin, using a Dutch method that dates back far before the dry days of American Prohibition.
Supposedly pioneered by a Dutch alchemist in the 1600's by the name of Sylvius de Bouve, this early distillation started with a base of malt wine. The final product was apparently very repellant and rough on the palate, so juniper berries (jeneverbes in Dutch) were added to make the spirit more pleasing and easier to drink - thus the original genever (or jenever)-style gin was born! It was not until the 1900's that it became popular to use higher grade and neutral spirits to craft a British-style gin that we see crowding liquor store shelves today.
I had a chance to chat with Wigle's founder and product tester Eric Meyer, and he told me Wigle's Ginever uses their popular rye whiskey as a base for their new genever-style gin. According to Eric, the neutral spirit base that these common British-style gins use is actually vodka, where he goes on to explain that the taste you get from these specific gins comes solely from the botanicals, not the base spirit. In Wigle's Ginever, their hearty and flavorful rye whiskey works in harmony with the botanicals to provide a mutually balanced expression of flavors, partly coming from the 9 botanicals, and partly from the distinctive grains in the rye. The rye whiskey actually undergoes an extra step in the process where it is syphoned into a special receptacle called a 'gin basket'. This container holds a cheesecloth brimming with fresh juniper berries, lavender, cardamom, and cubeb berry (plus 6 other secret ingredients) which the rye then passes through and as a result is infused with these lovely botanicals to give it its distinctive character.
I had the chance to give this gin a brisk swirl in a snifter and try it. Fresh, juicy juniper, lavender, and earthy spice leap from the glass and come through more fully in the taste, leaving a pleasing floral and herbal finish to linger on your palate. Bottom line - this is a spirit unlike anything you've experienced before. Eric was proud to tell me that pretty much all of their grains are locally sourced and that they just received their Organic Certification, making them one of the only organic genever gins in the country! Being a small business and craft distillery that uses only local, organic grains and ingredients, their passion and attention to detail is apparent in the final product. With such a special and distinctive craft gin now pulling up a chair at the table, it's hard not to wonder why this genever style didn't remain the norm. Will you like it? You'll need to sample it to tell, but you definitely should because it's an incredibly unique spirit and a very refreshing take on a staple found in liquor cabinets and bars all over the world. For what it's worth, I loved it. So, raise a glass to Wigle's Ginever, and give it a shot to breathe new life into some of your favorite gin cocktail recipes: you'll be pleasantly surprised!
By Max Stein
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