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Calling All Gin Lovers! One writer takes a shot at spirit-making

This month, Baltimore Style was invited to a gin-making class in Hotel Revival’s picturesque rooftop Garden Room. It was a night of fun, learning and spirit-making.

The hotel and McClintock Distilling, the state’s only organic distillery, partnered up to host the class. Braeden Bumpers, an owner of the distillery, taught the history and process of making gin — he even showed guests how to make a custom blend of botanicals and their own compound gin to take home.

So, here’s what we briefly learned about the history of gin: It was invented by the Dutch in the early 17th century, according to Bumpers, and was adapted into British culture by William III, also widely known as William of Orange. By the end of that century, it was very popular in England. So, we can thank the British for the gin and tonic and the martini, Bumpers says.

Now for a little American history: By the 19th century, gin’s popularity in England had plateaued, but the status of gin in America was beginning to flourish. The Genever, made from malted barley corn and rye, and English Old Tom Gin, a softer, sweeter style of gin, were most prevalent here. Then came prohibition, which marked its downfall, Bumpers says.

Today, gin is a common choice, with flavored gins, typically lower proof and very sweet, leading in popularity. Think of the sloe gin liqueur infused with lavender and honey that you see stacking liquor shelves worldwide.

At Hotel Revival, there were six gins to taste: Genever, London Dry, Old Tom Gin, American Contemporary, Navy Strength and flavored sloe gin. Just like wine, no two batches of gin are equal, Bumpers says. While some would describe the spirit as a piney tasting vodka, the idea that all gin tastes like Christmas is actually a myth.

A gins base is pure neutral ethanol, he explains, but it has to be distilled and infused with botanical flavors. One primary flavor is the juniper berry, which has a piney, stringent tang. But, even if you try and follow the same recipe, no two natural ingredients are the same, which causes variations.

So, how do producers make gins taste consistently flavorful? This is where the skillfulness of the distiller comes in handy. And of course, how the gin is made. Different botanicals that can be infused into gin are categorized into spicy, herbal, floral, fruity, citrus and nutty, and at the heart of it all is juniper (bitterness at its finest).  Every category also has several taste sensations.

London Dry is described as a clean spirit base with an overwhelming juniper character. Old Tom is sweeter and less botanical.  American Contemporary style is new-wave and aromatic and Navy Strength is usually brighter with more citrus flavor. Flavored gins are spiced post-distillation with artificial or natural flavors.

“When we do this class, we try and customize it to your liking. If you like sweet, then you will use herbs like chamomile, Elderberry, honeysuckle or honey. If you want a citrusy flavor, you can use orange, grapefruit or lemon,” he says.

Spicy flavors include cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and peppermint. And, if you’re looking for savory, rosemary is an essential zest, just remember that less is more, Bumpers adds.

So, if you ever had an ample curiosity about gin, you can visit the distillery for private tours and tastings as well as take your own distilling of spirits or gin-making class, Bumpers says. Don’t be shy; it’s always gin-o-clock somewhere.

For more info, check out: McClintock Distilling

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