How Chuckanut Bay Distillery Gin Got Its Character
Some spirits are all about the distillate. Bourbon, for example, isn’t distilled over 80% alcohol and therefore retains much of its grain character. Gin, however, is all about the botanicals. Many distillers will often use a neutral grain spirit just over 96% ABV in order for the base to be as neutral as possible. This base spirit, as well as the proof-down water in gin, provide a blank canvas for the botanicals to tell their story.
This presented a bit of an issue for us at the outset of our gin making career here at Chuckanut Bay Distillery. Our first still, a simple pot still, had a difficult time running above 95% alcohol, and as a result, we ended up with spirit right at 95% alcohol by volume (ABV). The resultant spirit was a bit more “character-forward” than the above 96% ABV spirit that we’ve since settled on for our gin since 2015. Essentially, this early spirit was not a blank canvas, and as such, we deliberately selected a botanical blend to complement this reality. After dozens of iterations, we discovered that dialing back the botanicals just a bit allowed us to create a more balanced, better integrated product. Our gin is delightful to sip neat and makes a fantastic martini.
Juniper is the star in every gin. (If it isn't, you might ask yourself, am I really drinking gin?) As a company, we always strive to use the most local ingredients possible, so of course we wanted to use a juniper indigenous to our neck of the woods. Juniper, however, is a complex creature, and finding one with the desired fruit/resinous character just wasn’t in the cards. Fortunately, Europe has been at this gin thing for some time now, and we were able to locate an Italian juniper that integrated perfectly.
The next most important botanical, in our opinion, is Angelica root. This distinctive ingredient makes an appearance in most all gins, and for good reason: it contributes earthiness and enhances mouthfeel by providing weight and gravitas to the resultant product.
Next, we have coriander seed which provides a citrusy, spicy character that harmonizes with juniper especially well.
Together, these first three botanicals are often referred to as the "Holy Trinity of Gin.” Getting these ratios just right was particularly critical for us in terms of how they would balance against our base spirit.
The rest of the characters in our gin include cardamom pods, grains of paradise, and orris root. Cardamom pods provide a green spiciness… think of the spiciness of wheatgrass with just a touch of citrus. Grains of paradise provides a white peppery component, resulting in a layering effect on the spice profile of our gin. Orris root functions to balance out these spicy contributors by providing a gentle floral character which provides the slightest suggestion of sweetness.
Our gin has evolved, and dare we say, matured since we initially released it in 2013. In our new location, our still set-up allows us to produce neutral spirit consistently above 96% ABV. As a result, the spirit we use now provides a tighter, cleaner foundation than the 95% spirit we produced originally. Despite this subtle change in our base spirit, we’ve kept our original botanical recipe, albeit modified to integrate it into the product as a whole. We feel that our practices have dialed in a very approachable, balanced gin that will delight those seeking a charming interplay of spirit and botanicals.
Happy Gin season to you!