Rye is far from being a common base for gin, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. Rye was used in early recipes for the drink that became genever, and much Polish vodka has traditionally been made from rye. As gin is made from a neutral spirit, i.e. vodka, rye is a perfectly legitimate base from which to make the spirit. It’s just that not many people do.
St. George Spirits from California first made some exceptionally fine vodkas, including a powerful Chile Vodka, and later branched out into other spirits, including two previous gins. This is the first made from rye, however, one of only a handful of rye gins available.
It’s a delicate balancing act, as juniper has to be predominant, of course, but rye provides an equally dominant aroma and flavor. The distillery gets around that by adding 50% more juniper than goes into their other gins, along with black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel, and lime peel.
The result is a pleasingly complex nose, especially those of us who don’t like gins that are overwhelmed by juniper. The rye and black peppercorn provide an obviously peppery counterpart to the juniper, while there are pleasing citrus aromas in the mix, with a dash of salt and some vanilla sweetness. Overall the effect is of an intriguing and unusual blend of gin and whiskey.
The effect is repeated, and then some, on the palate. The juniper seems to step back even more, and the flavor of rye whiskey steps forward. The lime and grapefruit are both evident, as is the fact that it’s 90 proof rather than the more usual 80. This extra-strength is especially evident on the finish, which is where the eastern spiciness comes more to the fore as well.
Gins aren’t typically made for sipping, but this one certainly offers plenty to savor. It’s even better in a cocktail, making a top-notch gin and tonic and a remarkably good twist on a Bloody Mary.