When it comes to American-made gin, Distillery No. 209 has built a considerable creative lead that will be extremely challenging for the competition to catch. The esteemed line of gins is the brainchild of industry veteran Leslie Rudd, former owner of Dean & DeLuca and founder of the Rudd Oakville Estate winery in Napa Valley. His only advice to his master distiller—Arne Hillesland—was to not make his grandfather's gin, meaning one not overtly juniper forward. What Hillesland delivered was anything but conventional.
No. 209 Gin is crafted on a foundation of 100 percent neutral grain spirits grown in the Midwest. Its all-important botanical blend includes juniper berries and Bergamot orange peels from Italy, coriander seeds from Romania, lemon peels from Spain, cardamom from Guatemala and cassia from Indonesia. The gin is distilled in a 1,000 gallon, copper alembic still named Rosie.
Those gin aficionados searching for a piney, London Dry experience will need to look elsewhere. No. 209 Gin marches to the beat of different drummer. It's crystal clear with a lightweight, satiny textured body and a citrus and spice laced bouquet with dry evergreen notes following right behind. It has a dry, lovely fruit palate and a long, citrus finish.
No. 209 Gin is also available certified Kosher-for-Passover and is marked as such on the bottle. Not only does that designation make it possible for Jewish consumers to continue drinking during the holidays, but it also means the entire process of making the gin was thoroughly scrutinized and conditions were found to be impeccable. Spirit enthusiasts of all faiths have cause to be celebrate.
The Kosher-for-Passover version of No. 209 Gin also revels in its citrus-forward orientation. The principal difference between the two is that the Kosher release is made on a foundation of sugarcane neutral spirits instead of grain. The Kosher version has a lush, curvaceous body, an equally generous bouquet, and a savory and semisweet palate brimming with citrus-forward flavors. The addition of locally sourced bay leaf adds an easily perceptible herbal dimension. As was true with the original version, the juniper component takes a back seat to the brilliant bursts of citrus and spice. Both gins are bottled at 46% alcohol (92 proof).
It should be noted the distillery also markets No. 209 Kosher-for-Passover vodka. It is exceptionally clean, crisp and remarkably flavorful.
As good as the No. 209 Gins are—and they are both sensational—Rudd and Hillesland had their sights set on loftier goals, namely the creation of a singular line of wood finished gins. The result was the birth of the Barrel Reserve Gin program. The now celebrated range of gins includes three expressions finished in reserve wine barrels.
I was immediately drawn to the most dramatic looking member of the trio— the No. 209 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve Gin. It's a long name, but it's easy to drink. The gin is made in cooperation with Rudd Oakville Estate. The winery contributes French oak barrels used previously to age their famed Cabernet blend. The distillery's namesake gin is put into the casks for a minimum of 6 months. The result is a spirited tour de force.
The Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve has a deep, red/copper hue, a medium-weight, velvety textured body and an expansive bouquet featuring the aromas of roses, citrus, spice, vanilla, caramel and toasted oak. Like most complex spirits, this gin benefits greatly from some extra time breathing in the glass. Your patience will be rewarded tenfold.
The Barrel Reserve has a spicy warm entry, due in part to its elevated strength of 46% alcohol (92 proof). By the mid-palate it reveals the base gin's juniper, bergamot orange and cardamom. The long, semisweet finish is a skillfully produced flavor extravaganza, an elegant blend of chocolate, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, freshly brewed coffee and red wine.
This extraordinary gin should be first sampled neat, or served chilled with a single cube of ice. The gin also enjoys numerous applications behind the bar and is unrivaled presented in a craft cocktail.
The range also includes No. 209 Chardonnay Barrel Reserve Gin. Following distillation, the gin is placed in French oak casks that were used previously to age Edge Hill Estate Bacigalupi Chardonnay, and other Napa Valley estate-produced Chardonnays. The gin will remain in the barrel for up to 4 months, during which it develops a straw-like appearance and buttery aromas. Once again, the flavor of the original gin is most prevalent during the mid-palate. The lingering finish is slightly tangy, slightly fruity. It, too, deserves to be tasted neat or with a slight chill.
The final member of the trio is No. 209 Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Reserve. It is aged for up to 3 months in ex-Sauvignon Blanc casks sourced from Rudd Oakville Estate. The gin has a lemony, straw-like appearance and an enticing floral, citrus and juniper bouquet. Most of the action takes place on the palate, where the flavors of chamomile, lavender, lemon and chocolate dance in unison with the spices of black pepper, cassia and cardamom.
Considering what the duo of Rudd and Hillesland have achieved with these Napa Valley marvels, can an Oscar, Pulitzer or Nobel Peace Prize be too far in the offing? Kudos!