Best weird Midwestern gins for sipping and cocktails

Not every gin is ideal in a martini—some are designed for mixing in a Tom Collins or just drinking straight.

Photo: Martha Williams
From left to right: Scofflaw Old Tom Gin, Letherbee Gin, and Journeyman Distillery Bilberry Black Hearts Gin.

Sometimes you come across a gin that’s not designed for traditional gin drinks. Sometimes you come across several. We quickly realized during our tasting of 22 Midwestern gins that there were a few gins that weren't like all the others, but that we’d be remiss not to recommend. Here are our favorites and what to do with them.

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First off, there’s Letherbee Gin’s Autumnal and Vernal releases. Call us hoarders, but we still have bottles of the 2012 Autumnal Gin and the 2013 Vernal Gin, so we decided to sip away on them. And that’s exactly what they’re best for—while the 2013 Autumnal earned a slot on our best gin and tonics list, it’s also great to sip on its own and its smokiness made us envision drinking it around the campfire. And if you can find bottles of the previous releases, seize them—the 2012 Autumnal reminded us exactly of eggnog, while the Vernal tasted of pineapple and bright herbs. They’re all good enough that we’d recommend blindly buying any special releases that Letherbee does. 

Gin-focused bar Scofflaw made their own gin with North Shore Distillery, and it’s for sale at the bar. It earns a spot on our weird list, since it’s an Old Tom gin, not the traditional London Dry that’s most common. Old Tom gins are sweeter and rounder and the Scofflaw Old Tom Gin is higher proof and includes botanicals like juniper, cardamom, coriander and cinnamon, as well as osthmanthus blossoms, which provide a floral note. Old Tom gin is typically used in the Tom Collins or Martinez, and we made a Tom Collins during our tasting (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda). The refreshing, summery drink was greatly welcomed after tasting dozens of martinis and gin and tonics.

Finally, Journeyman Distillery took their Barrel Aged Bilberry Black Hearts Gin and stashed it in an oak barrel. The results are terrific—“A++” a taster wrote on their scorecard. There’s caramel and wood on the nose, and it’s smooth with lots of vanilla and cloves. This gin is a beautiful example of future innovations in gin and made us even more excited about the category going forward.

Where to buy the gin: The Scofflaw gin is available only at Scofflaw (3201 W Armitage Ave). All of the other gins are available at Binny’s locations.

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