Golden Moon Distillery last week a added a new gin to it's growing line of spirits. Their newest spirit starts with one of their oldest: Golden Moon's citrusy, herbaceous gin is rested in barrels previously used to age port wine. The Port Cask Reserve gin takes on rich, red-wine flavors and aromas--and a pink, rosy hue. Only 600 bottles were made, which will make their way into liquor stores and onto backbars around Denver in the coming weeks.
Founded in 2008 by distiller Stephen Gould, Golden Moon Distillery was originally created to make absinthe -- and absinthe only. Now, with a lineup of twelve spirits -- thirteen if you count the new gin, Gould hints at plans for a large-scale operation, based in Golden, that he hopes will be the biggest craft spirit distillery in the country.
Golden Moon's standard gin is unique even before it hits a wine barrel. "There's just not another gin like it" Gould says. "It's not typical of any style currently produced anywhere else in the world. It's a very herbal gin. It's something that an apothecary would have made in the 1800s."
Gould's gin is viscous and complex. Lemon balm gives it a citrusy aroma, and lots of lavender and mint in the distilling process make it a very herb-forward gin. Fresh juniper berries, foraged from locations along the Front Range, impart regional flavors. "We're already starting with something that's atypical," he says.
Gould, who has been distilling for almost 25 years, is also a Scottish-trained whisky distiller. "I like making malt whiskies," he says. "If you look at what we're doing with the Port Cask Reserve gin, it ties in very closely to the style of Scotch whisky-making that I like to do."
In Scotland, whiskey is typically aged in multiple casks -- usually used bourbon barrels imported from the U.S. It's very common for Scotch to pass through multiple barrels before bottling. Gould took this whisky-making technique and applied it to his gin production.
But Gould's barrels aren't bourbon barrels. Keep reading for more on Golden Moon's new port-barrel gin...
He connected with a port wine producer in Napa Valley to obtain barrels so fresh, they're still wine-wet when they get to Denver. "They have an incredibly short shelf life," he says, "because they'll start to sour. The challenge is that we only can deal with the port barrels when they are exceptionally fresh."
If the barrel shipment is delayed on the road for just a week, he might not be able to use them. Prior to shipping, the barrels are "mummified," or sealed with plastic wrap to preserve the moisture.
Before the truck hits the road, Gould makes and sets aside a batch of gin, kept at the ready for the arrival of the barrels. "We know they're coming," he says. "We have gin standing by, and when the barrels get here, they're still swollen with port, fresh in the wood. We fill them. We do nothing else to them."
The barrels are made in California with oak from France's Limousin region,famous for the quality of its wood. "They're probably the most expensive and high-quality barrels money can buy." Gould explains. He bought two of them for this current batch of gin, but plans to get twenty for the next batch, which he hopes to put in barrels sometime between spring and fall of 2015. "The reality is," Gould continues, "we will not be able to use all of those for gin -- we just can't make the gin fast enough."
Gould won't reveal how long the gin rests in the barrel, saying only that he ages it "until it's ready." Gould produced 600 750 milliliter bottles, and once those bottles are gone, they're gone. "We're not going to be able to make any more until we get fresh, wet port barrels," he says.
Golden Moon Speak bar manager Noah Heaney says the base gin was designed to be a sipping gin, and he enjoys it on the rocks with a lemon twist. He recommends using the aged gin in a classic martini, with white vermouth, citrus bitters and lemon.
Heaney created a cocktail called "Oh, How Reserved" with two and a half ounces of Port Cask Reserve gin, a half ounce of lemon juice, a quarter ounce of orgeat (almond syrup), and five dashes of citrus bitters. These ingredients are shaken and strained into a cocktail glass garnished with a lemon twist.
Our gin is a very approachable, flavorful gin as it is," Gould adds, "but this cask-aging totally changes the character. The regular gin has a lot of juniper, mint, lavender and lemony notes. In the port-cask conditioned gin, all that is subdued and you've got this nice creaminess over the top."
Free samples of the Port Cask Reserve gin will be available at the Port Cask Reserve gin launch party on November 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Golden Moon Speak, Gould's craft cocktail lounge in downtown Golden. The party includes live bluegrass music and the opportunity to purchase a bottle ($86) at the bar.
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Gift baskets ($175) will also be available containing the Port Cask Reserve, a bottle of Golden Moon's Curacao or Creme de Violette, and all the tools to make a cocktail: shaker tins, a jigger and a cocktail strainer. All you'll need is ice, olives and a chilled cocktail glass.