Friday Happy Hour: Holiday Gin Giving Guide

The holidays are upon us and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from tending bar, preparation is half the battle. So let’s get an early start on gift giving. It is Black Friday, after all. My holiday gift giving secret is I buy people booze and only booze. You can buy it online, have it shipped, and avoid all that normal holiday shopping madness. Everyone loves booze or all of my friends do, at least (admittedly, all of my friends are lushes or in Industry). And no matter how well stocked your loved ones’ bars, there’s always something they don’t have. So what do you get the drinkophile in your life when it seems like they have everything? More gin. And lucky for us, this month saw the release of three new gins on the DC market.

New Columbia Distillers released its Green Hat fall/winter selection, Ginavit, a hybrid spirit that is a mix of barrel aged and non barrel aged gins with akvavit. Before we continue, I owe you guys a bit of a disclaimer, I HATE akvavit. It is one of the only things that I have difficulty mixing with. Kümmel, malört, black pepper-infused belgian ale? No problem! But this esoteric, pervasively caraway-flavored spirit is my one weakness. And I really, really like caraway too. Just not in a liquid, high test medium. But I was excited to try Green Hat’s new seasonal offering nonetheless.

The Ginavit release party was held at Boundary Road, a refreshingly understated H Street bar. I started the night cautiously, opting for one of the cocktails that featured Ginavit, rather than the spirit straight up. I chickened out, admittedly. I told you akvavit scares me. The first drink I tried was a Ginarac, a gin based sazerac with malört rather than absinthe rinse. It was dry on the palate, not too sweet, a bit savory. With the bitter, herbal malört and the herbaceous Green Hat, it worked great as an aperitivo. And, thankfully, the malört helped settle my stomach (Five Guys wasn’t such a great idea afterall).

After a bit of liquid courage, I had finally built up the nerve the try Ginavit neat. On the nose it’s very juniper forward and at first seems much like a more traditional gin. The sage is more understated than other Green Hat offerings I’ve tried. There’s a slight nuttiness from the base spirit with only a faint caraway/akvavit scent. With the addition of a bit of water the caraway becomes more noticeable on the nose but is still understated on the palate, with the sage and a subtle juniper coming through instead. The hint of caraway makes for a very Christmassy gin, more Christmassy than other London Drys, at least. It’s perfect for this time of year and I can’t wait to mix with it. Impressive, New Columbia Distillers, most impressive, you’ve changed my mind about akvavit.

Next it was off to Vinoteca for the release party for Copper Fox’s new gin, the rather risque Vir Gin. I was blown away by this stuff, it was totally different from what I was expecting. I am a bit of a gin purist, shying away from the more modern American gins which I find to typically be rather rough compared to the London Dry style. But Copper Fox can stand up there with the big boys with this gin. On the nose there are strong herbal notes. Not gin herbs, for that matter, there’s lots of lavender, a great lemon/lime thing going on, and a bit of thyme. I was loving the Mediterranean combo of lavender & thyme. Reminds me of the south of France, oddly enough, even though I’ve never been there. There’s an incredibly, ridiculously malty nose. Lots of barley, maybe some wheat or rye, with a grassy, hay smell (in a good way) or a barnyard quality, like a good single malt or sheep milk cheese. Blame the copper pot still for the complexity, I guess. The malt and lavender are muted with water and the citrus/herbal component comes through clearer. Like purslane with a bit of anise after proper dilution. On the palate this was very citrus forward, with lime and a floral grapefruit with a mild spicy/herbal quality. Think oregano. With water the botanicals open up and more juniper and a subtle lavender come through. This is a less piney/Christmassy juniper, it’s more earthy and woodsy instead. It would be great mixed with a dark, dry sherry, like an Amontillado or an Oloroso.

This was a surprisingly smooth gin for clocking in at 45% alcohol, and while I was having a blast sipping it with a bit of water, I needed to try it in a cocktail. This stuff may have made the best Hanky Panky I’ve ever had. The intense herbal quality matched the vermouth-Fernet combo; it’s not every gin that can hold its own against Fernet Branca. I would imagine this would be great in a martini with a quality dry vermouth, or mixed with sherry in a Tuxedo. When I pick up a bottle, I’m likely just going to mix it Fever Tree’s Mediterranean Tonic.

And now for the ringer, Beefeater’s Burrough’s Reserve, a small batch gin that’s aged in Lillet barrels. This is north star of gins, all other gins should navigate by this stuff. Unfortunately I missed the rather exclusive launch party at Founding Farmers, but I was lucky enough to be able to get to play with a bottle of this stuff at work (one of the perks of working at the second largest gin bar in DC). I’m not going to include tasting notes because you need to taste this stuff to believe how amazing it is. I will just say it is one of the best spirits, let alone gin, I’ve ever tasted. It would even be a shame to mix it in a cocktail. If you had to, I would recommend pouring two ounces in a glass, maybe adding a dash of water, and sip it slowly with close friends or a very attractive woman. Let the gin do all the rest.

I hope this helps simplify your holiday shopping this season. And if it doesn’t, at least you’ll have a lot of gin to make up for it. And that’s always a good thing.

Paul Allen

While having only recently relocated to DC, Paul has been a long time fan of DC’s cocktail culture. In his short career he has tended bar for GQ, Bombay Sapphire, Campari, and Nikka Whisky in London. Currently you can find him behind the stick at Firefly. When not working, he’s likely vociferously advocating for the DC Craft Bartender’s Guild or trying to brew the perfect cup of tea. Though he misses his native Rhode Island’s beaches and beautiful fall weather, Paul is proud to live, work, and–most importantly–drink in DC.


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