Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
Gin and bourbon don’t really play nicely with each other. It’s odd — you’d think that a nice oaky, complex bourbon would be an excellent companion for the herbaceous, tree-like flavors of a classic gin. But let’s be real here — how many popular cocktails can you think of that feature sizable amounts of both bourbon and gin? Not many, right? The two just aren’t meant to be paired.
But just because they don’t mix nicely on a liquid level doesn’t necessarily mean their flavors don’t go together. As it turns out, gin and bourbon can have a complimentary effect on each other if you mix them right — and by that, we mean aging gin in old bourbon barrels.
I’ve trumpeted the virtues of barrel aged gin plenty of times before. Just as with other spirits –whiskey, rum, tequila, cognac, wine– barrel aging does something magical to gin. It mellows the spirit’s boozy bite, brings out certain botanicals, and depending on the type of barrel and style of aging, imparts the gin with wonderful new flavor notes you wouldn’t otherwise get.
But not all barrel aged gins are created equal. Some gins are aged in virgin oak barrels that haven’t held any other spirit, and some are stored in barrels that previously held wine, whiskey, and other intoxicating elixirs. I’ve been wading through the world of barrel aged gin for the past couple years, and in my humble opinion, the bourbon-aged variety is far superior. If you haven’t had tried gin aged in a bourbon barrel yet, you’re missing out. This is one of the best new booze trends in recent memory.
Here’s a few that you should keep an eye out for:
Jasper’s Barrel Aged Gin — This stuff spends about 60 days in a six-year old bourbon barrel — just enough time to mellow and pick up the characteristic sweetness from the barrel’s previous occupant. It’s distinctly floral on the nose, with heavy notes of lemongrass and anise on the palette, making it wonderfully layered and complex.
Big Gin — This small-batch gin is distilled in Seattle and rested in bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill for six months before bottling, yielding a supple spirit with a smooth, subtly sweet finish that pairs nicely with the peppery spices of the botanical bill.
Watershed Bourbon Barrel Gin — This is one of my favorites. Watershed Distillery rests its grapefruit-heavy Four Peel gin in 53-gallon and 30-gallon bourbon barrels borrowed from their own supply, which mellows the bitterness and imparts lovely hints of vanilla into the spirit.