A decade ago, if you asked for a local craft gin your bartender might have looked at you as if you’d requested a maraschino cherry in your dirty martini. Today, however, the (usually) juniper-forward spirit* has become the liquor du jour, leaving gin drinkers with a new problem: parsing all the Centennial State iterations, with their unconventional styles and endless botanical combinations. To help you decide which bottles to choose, we asked the buyers at Argonaut Wine & Liquor—who’ve seen a steady rise in gin sales over the past few years—to select a lineup of Colorado-made gins, 16 in total, for a blind tasting with three local bartenders. Here’s what went down.
Nancy Kwon: Currently the bar manager and spirits curator at Boulder’s Emmerson Restaurant, Kwon was named best bartender in Los Angeles in 2015 by LA Weekly.
McLain Hedges: Hedges is the beverage director of the RiNo Yacht Club bar and the owner of specialty liquor retailer the Proper Pour, both located inside the Source in RiNo.
Kendra Anderson: An advanced sommelier since 2005, Anderson’s love of spirits is just as fierce as her passion for wine—both of which inspired her to open RiNo’s Bar Helix this past October.
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*EXPLAINER: Gin is a neutral grain spirit distilled with botanicals, primarily juniper berries. Common styles include London Dry (think: Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire), which is the classic, juniper-heavy gin; contemporary or new American gins, distinct because juniper is not the predominant flavor or aroma; and Old Tom gins, typically sweetened with sugar, agave, or honey and barrel-aged.
And The Winners Are…
Peak Spirits Farm Distillery, $30
Peak Spirits in Hotchkiss produces this contemporary-style, slightly sweet, fruity gin from local Jonathan Gold apples and Romanian winter wheat. It’s got bright acidity, a slightly musky aroma, and herbal notes of thyme and mint.
NK: “Balanced play between botanicals and fruit flavors. Pretty aroma.”
KA: “A good gin for a new gin drinker.”
MH: “Structured. A lot of florals. I could pick this gin out of a lineup of a hundred.”
C-Note Negroni by Kendra Anderson (makes one)
1 ounce CapRock Colorado Organic Gin
¾ ounce Cappelletti Aperitivo Rosso
1 ounce Casa Mariol Vermut*
3–4 sprigs fresh thyme, for garnish
*Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth can be substituted
Fill a chilled mixing glass with ice cubes. Add all ingredients except the thyme to the glass. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon until thoroughly combined. Strain into a coupe. Place the thyme sprigs in the palm of one hand and then spank them a few times with the other hand to release their aroma. Rest the sprigs on the lip of the coupe, allowing the leaves to dip into the drink.
Golden Moon Distillery, $86
This cask-finished spirit (a niche style in the gin world) spends four to six months in French oak casks previously used to age port—hence its tint and winelike scent. It’s ideal for creative home mixologists with adventurous palates.
KA: “Gin for a gin nerd.”
MH: “Oily. Dense. Herbal. Very absinthelike.”
NK: “Extremely floral and perfumy. I almost want to dab this behind my ears and wear it as a fragrance.”
The Golden Age of Colorado by Nancy Kwon (makes one)
1 ½ ounces Golden Moon Port Cask Reserve Gin
¼ ounce Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aéro d’Or Apéritif Wine
¼ ounce Bénédictine Liqueur
2 dashes Strongwater Floral Cocktail Bitters
1/5 of a dropper of Cocktail Punk Colorado Lavender Bitters
Put all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, and stir for 60 to 90 seconds until well-chilled and combined. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a fresh lemon twist.
MTN Distillers, $35
For a straightforward, no-nonsense gin, the panel agreed: MTN Gin’s crisp, floral-forward taste was tops. They’re not alone: Last year, the Loveland distillery’s flagship MTN Gin took home the gold medal in the distilled gin category at the Denver International Spirits Competition.
NK: “I could drink this all day and night!”
KA: “An all-around winner. Great for a gin and tonic.”
MH: “Classic, focused, and clean.”
Southside Swizzle by McLain Hedges (makes one)
1 ounce MTN Gin
1 ounce white vermouth, such as Dolin Blanc
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce mint simple syrup*
6 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
Bitters, such as Angostura or Peychaud’s
Add all ingredients except the bitters to a Collins (tall) glass. Fill the glass halfway with crushed ice; stir vigorously for 10 seconds. Add enough crushed ice to fill the glass, plus a little extra above the rim of the glass for show. Garnish with a sprig of mint tucked into one side. To finish, completely cover the top layer of crushed ice with the bitters and then insert a metal straw.
*Mint Simple Syrup
1/2 packed cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup granulated sugar
Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the mint leaves and cook, stirring once or twice, until the leaves turn bright green; this should only take a few seconds. Immediately scoop the leaves out of the water using a slotted spoon or sieve; transfer the mint to a large bowl of ice water. Gently stir the mint until cool, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the sugar and 1 cup water and puree until smooth. Strain the syrup through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.