How much progress the gin revolution has made with the public is arguable (outside of the usual cocktail dens, I haven't seen an uptick in the number of people ordering gin Martinis), but it has certainly changed the way American micro-distillers do business. In the past, to release one gin was something unusual. Today, young distilleries release two or three at a time. In late 2010, New York Distilling Company made its debut on the liquor store shelves with two new gins. A few months early, St. George Spirits of California bested them by simultaneously introducing three new gins.
All three look the same until you notice the small, lightly tinted, defining adjective that rests about the word Gin on each bottle. One says "Botanivore," another "Dry Rye" and the last "Terrior." With each, we are dealing with a different mix of botanicals and, in one case, a different grain. The Dry Rye is easiest to get a handle on. It is pot-distilled with a rye base, and what you expect from rye whiskey you get a bit of in this rye gin.
The Botanicore Gin is infused with a whopping 18 botanicals, including caraway, ginger, California bay laurel, wild fennel, dill, celery seed, coriander. None of the gins shy away from the traditional juniper-heavy profile of the spirit, but this one has the heaviest juniper note. Finally, the Terroir Gin, as you might guess from the name, draws all its botanicals from the immediate, northern California area, including hand-harvested juniper berries, Douglas fir (from Mt. Tam), coastal sage, fennel, California bay laurel, cinnamon, cardamom and lemon. The inclusion of the bay laurel reminded me of the state's No. 209 gin, which has experimented with this herb in the past.
I am, by now, fairly skeptical of so-called New Western Gins. Too many of them adopt flavor distinctions that make no sense, playing with unusual botanicals, and eschewing the traditional juniper, seemingly just for the sake of standing out. You end up with an unbalanced gin that does not serve a Martini or Gin & Tonic well, and thus renders itself a useless oddity. (No, I do not endorse the notion of a "sipping gin.")
Still, I have found a few likable North American gins over the years. I inaugurated the three new St. George gins by making Martinis with them on successive nights. I found each made a sufficiently pleasing drink. The Botanicore came closest to a classic Martini profile. The Dry Rye, unsurprisingly, instilled the cocktail with a hotter, spicier flavor.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I preferred the Terroir Gin Martini, which I expected to be the most peculiar, the best. It's not a typical Martini by any means; those pine notes come through strongly. But its unique personality comes out in attractive ways. It made for a perfect Winter Martini, if such a thing can be said to exist.