The three best and three worst Midwestern gins
If you only get one bottle of Midwestern gin for your home bar, make it one of these versatile gins. And we tell you which ones to avoid.
Craft spirits are sweeping the nation, and gin is leading the pack. Why? Because gin is easy to distill and doesn’t require any time in a barrel. Thus, a new distillery can design a pretty label, buy some grain-neutral spirits and start selling product the next week—and distilleries across American are doing just that.
This has resulted in some incredible innovations in gin, a spirit that was mostly confined to the staid world of Bombay and Beefeater before the little guys started pushing things along. Unfortunately, it’s also resulted in a lot of cheap swill. How can you tell the difference?
We’re here to help. We taste-tested every craft gin in the Midwest that we could get our hands on. These included traditional juniper-forward gins, gins made with unique, exotic botanicals, barrel-aged gins and over-proof gins—22 gins in all, from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Minnesota. We tasted them straight, in gin and tonics, and in martinis. We tasted them blind and we tasted them from the bottle. We even tasted some of them in other cocktails.
Some of this gin was pretty darn bad. Comments during tasting included “tastes like turpentine,” “adding vermouth just makes this stuff worse” and “burns with little flavor.” After weeks of work, we’ve emerged from the cocktail laboratory with some answers—and some surprises.
Here’s what we tried:
Clearheart Gin (Iowa)
Death’s Door Gin (Wisconsin)
Farmer’s Organic Gin (Minnesota)
Few Spirits Bourbon Barrel Aged Gin (Evanston)
Few Spirits Chai Gin (Evanston)
Few Standard Issue Gin (Evanston)
Great Lakes Rehorst Gin (Milwaukee)
Journeyman Bilberry Black Hearts (Michigan)
Journeyman Bilberry Black Hearts Barrel Aged Gin (Michigan)
Letherbee Autumnal Gin 2012 (Chicago)
Letherbee Autumnal Gin 2013 (Chicago)
Letherbee Gin (Chicago)
Letherbee Vernal Gin (Chicago)
Mississippi River Distilling River Rose Gin (Iowa)
North Shore Distiller's Gin No. 6 - Modern Dry Gin (Lake Bluff, IL)
North Shore Distiller's Gin No. 11 - Classic Dry Gin (Lake Bluff, IL)
North Shore Distillery Mighty Gin (Lake Bluff, IL)
New Holland Knickerbocker Gin (Michigan)
Pinckney Bend Gin (Missouri)
Quincy St. Old No. 176 American Gin (Illinois)
Scofflaw Old Tom Gin (Lake Bluff, IL)
Watershed Distillery Four Peel Gin (Ohio)
One general conclusion up front: Chicago rocks. Even blind-tasted, two of our top three gins are from the Chicago area. For whatever reason, we make some darn good gin in the Windy City. Another general conclusion: The age and size of the distillery matters very little. One of our top gins comes from a new place that only has a single still in a garage and another comes from a distillery that cranks out thousands of bottles. So which were the best and worst?