/ by Pete Martin 

/ photography by Pete Martin and Robert Bradley

 

Now is truly a great time to be a gin lover. If you don’t believe me, just look at the shelves at your favorite spirits shop. Next to the usual suspects, you’ll find plenty of fresh options, many born right here in the Carolinas.

Unlike other spirits, there’s a lot of latitude when it comes to the ingredients in gin. While most of the requirements for many liquors are clearly defined, gin is different. Although juniper is a required botanical of gin, distillers each have their own unique recipes and now more than ever are exploring the use of other botanicals to develop fresh, unique styles to help them capitalize on gin’s popularity, which has been on the rise for the last decade.

Creative concoctions aside, the traditional gin and tonic, or G&T for short, remains a beloved gin cocktail. It’s crisp, refreshing and complements almost anything, from appetizers to a light main course. Although a G&T can be thought of as a summertime drink, there’s no reason not to enjoy this cocktail now. And, with so many regionally distilled gins available, why not give your next gin and tonic a local twist? That’s exactly what we did, invited three friends over to sample six regional gins. After blind tasting the spirits straight, I mixed them with tonic and a twist of lime to see how they held up. The verdict: these southern gins deserve your consideration.

 

But first, the tonic

A good G&T requires quality gin, but it also needs good tonic. There are lots of options, from standard grocery store fare to exotic, small-batch bottlings. Larry Bodkin, president of White Rock Beverages, observed the resurgence in cocktails and launched a line of premium mixers including a smashing tonic for a classic G&T (ideal since White Rock is the oldest mixer company in the US). As with gin, recipes and tastes differ, so experiment with different tonics until you find a favorite. Look for glass bottles, which keep the tonic fresh and bubbly.

More than a second act

Is the resurgence of gin, or the regional brands, just a passing fad? Peter Bouharoun, proprietor of Bouahroun’s Fine Wines & Spirits thinks not. He says the trend has been to pull back from juniper berry, “that heavy pine taste” as he calls it and that distillers have added different botanicals: cucumber, lemon, some distinct to their areas. His prediction? Craft gin is here to stay.

Hwy 9, $30 | Asheville, NC

It may only contain nine botanicals, but this is a very flavorful gin. A juniper nose is followed by hints of pepper and citrus on the palate, and the finish is bright yet full. “Big, powerful and good,” said one of the tasting notes. Although this gin brings some unique qualities to the table, it is a superbly made spirit that works exceptionally well in a G&T.

 

Bulrush, $35 | Hilton Head Island, SC

Bulrush is infused with 13 botanicals and is distilled in a process that aims to create a traditional but approachable gin. Here, bright juniper flavors mingle with hints of lavender and spice, and the finish is deliciously smooth. Tasting notes repeatedly referenced how balanced it was. And, it produced a superb G&T.

 

Nippitaty, $33 | Charleston, SC

This was one of the more unusual gins in the tasting. It’s made from organic spirits infused with 12 botanicals, though juniper isn’t the star here. Rather, hints of orange peel and other citrus fruits abound on the nose. Nippitaty is a very light gin and a good choice for those who prefer a less-dominant juniper profile.

 

Conniption Navy Strength, $40 | Durham, NC

First, the navy strength part of the name: It has more alcohol. Whereas Conniption American Dry Gin is 44% alcohol, Conniption Navy Strength is 57%. But don’t let that deter you. Perhaps due to its unique production process, this is a super-smooth gin that presents aromas and flavors of juniper, coriander, rosemary and cardamom.

 

Cardinal, $28 | Kings Mountain, NC

This gin features nearly a dozen botanicals, including angelica, juniper, cardamom and frankincense. On the nose, anise dominates, giving Cardinal a decidedly licorice flavor. This carries through to the finish, though hints of sweetness and citrus join the party. If you like licorice, this gin is for you.

 

Hat Trick, $28 | Charleston, SC

This gin is made with crushed juniper berries and fresh lemon and orange peel. It starts with a juniper nose and follows with black pepper and citrus notes. Fairly bright and finishing on a slightly sweet note, Hat Trick is a great option for those seeking a sweeter, more citrusy G&T.