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Crater Lake Handcrafted American Gin

Crater Lake Handcrafted
American Gin


By Robert Plotkin

Founded in 1996 by distiller Jim Bendis, Bendistillery is one of the oldest and most successful craft distilleries in America. He chose to locate his distillery on a 24-acre farm in Bend, Oregon, in part, because the city is surrounded by the largest juniper forest in the world and it has access to the lava stone-filtered spring water of the Cascade Mountains. The close proximity to fresh juniper berries and pure, soft spring water could mean only one thing to a distiller—gin.

In Crater Lake Handcrafted American Gin, Bendis has created a fitting tribute to the classic American style of compound gin. Born during the Roaring Twenties and the dark days of Prohibition, compound gins were flavored by only one botanical—wild juniper berries. Unlike London Dry Gins, in which the aromatics are infused during distillation, with compound gins the juniper is introduced after distillation.

To make award-winning Crater Lake Gin, Bendis uses neutral grain spirits distilled from corn and infuses it with whole juniper berries handpicked from the surrounding juniper forests. Afterwards it is rigorously filtered through crushed lava rocks and rendered to 47.5% alcohol (95 proof) with pure spring water.

Classic cocktail recipes dating back to the pre-Prohibition days are all the rage with mixologists. They'd be well advised to make those cocktails with a gin handcrafted in the style of the day. Crater Lake is a sensational gin tailor-made for the assignment. Considering it is flavored with only fresh juniper, there's a lot going on aromatically and on the palate. It attains sensory heights other top-shelf gins infused with ten or more botanicals would die for.

Be fully prepared to be impressed. Crater Lake has a pale golden hue, a silky, lightweight body and a wafting array of woodsy, piney and zesty aromas. Its bouquet is reminiscent of being amidst a thick stand of evergreens. The entry onto the palate is spicy warm as it expands filling the mouth with the dry flavors of juniper, cinnamon, anise, herbs, coriander and pepper. The finish is warm and spicy. In Crater Lake Gin Bendis has created an American classic.

As it turns out, Bendis had more gin innovations in mind for us. Limited release Crater Lake Handcrafted Estate Gin 2013 is a small batch gem. It begins with neutral grain spirits made entirely from winter wheat grown on site. The wheat is fermented with a proprietary strain of yeast and then distilled in "Mo," the distillery's 150-gallon combination column and pot still.

Bendis chose for this vintage of reserve gin 3 botanicals—lime basil, lemon balm and whole juniper—all of which grow wild on the property. The botanicals are infused into the neutral grain spirits both during distillation and again after the spirits come off the still. It is then aged briefly in new, medium charred, American white oak barrels. After it reaches its peak maturation the gin is bottled at an accessible 42.5% alcohol (85 proof).

The 2013 edition of Crater Lake Estate Gin has the hue of Chardonnay, a soft, ethereal body and the enticing aromas of citrus zest, piney juniper, and semisweet grain with subtle notes of toasted oak. It raises little heat as it bathes the palate with long-lasting spicy, citric, floral and piney flavors. While an inspired choice for use in craft cocktails, this gin should be sampled neat—or slightly chilled—before mixing. Your patience will be well rewarded.

An unusually bountiful growing season prompted Bendis to distill the 2014 edition of Crater Lake Handcrafted Estate Gin entirely out of estate-grown barley. Again "Mo" was selected for the job. Crafted in more of an English style, the gin's botanical mix of lemon balm, lime basil and fresh juniper berries is added during distillation. After the gin exits the still, it is rendered to 42.5% alcohol (85 proof) with spring water and hand-bottled.

The 2014 Crater Lake Estate Gin is crystal clear with a satiny textured body and a complex bouquet loaded with the aromas of citrus, juniper, milled grain and herbs. Its aromatic signature does a great job preparing the palate for the pleasures to follow. The fresh flavors of juniper, herbs and citrus surge to the forefront followed closely by waves of spice and black pepper. The juniper reappears during the gin's extended finish. Without a doubt this vintage-dated opus has more than enough character to warrant being presented over ice or slightly chilled in a cocktail glass. It also has enough citrus character to merit serving with crisp tonic water.

The Bendistillery portfolio of handcrafted spirits also includes a renowned range of Crater Lake Vodkas—including a Reserve and flavors Hazelnut/Espresso, Pepper, and Sweet Ginger—and Crater Lake Rye Whiskey. Each has earned more than its fair share of critical acclaim.