Friday, February 20, 2015

Caledonia Barr Hill Gin - Fantastic! (VT)

Warren Bobrow came all the way up the Hudson Valley to visit me last summer, and brought me a present. It was a small bottle of Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin. Warren is a celebrated cocktail author, who is constantly on the go, and seemingly having a wonderful time. He is funny, witty, smart, and former banker turned mixologist. Fascinating. And I thought to myself, if Warren recommends it, it must be good.
Fast forward to the coldest and whitest freaking winter I can remember in a long, long time. The little bottle has sat on my desk now for about five months like a little trophy. But the other night, I needed to celebrate. I'd picked up some real steam on a book I'd been working on, and decided in the best sense of Bernard DeVoto and A.R. Gurney, that I would honor the "Cocktail Hour" and make myself a dry martini.
Chipped ice and a shaker. I pulled a martini glass out of mothballs and began the ritual that leads to one  of the most civilized drinks in the world.
Now, craft gin has exploded, as evidenced by a plethora of gin books, not the least of which is the latest by Matt Teacher, The Spirit of Gin. There are all kinds of gins out there today: slow gin, dry gin, oak aged gin, gin infused with citrus fruits, etc. Exploding! So, I was inspired.
Caledonia Spirits, on the banks of the Lamoille River in the Northeast Kingdom, is rooted in the agriculture of Vermont. Hardwick, Caledonia County, is a community of farms - dairy, cheese, timber, vegetables, grains, seeds, honey, and herbs These farms define the region. This is where Todd Hardie founded Caledonia Spirits.
This gin is getting recognition from all over.
“The Secret to One of the Country’s Best Gins? Bees,”wrote Christopher Hughes in Boston Magazine. "Hardie is something of a honey expert, having come to the spirits profession after 50 years as the apiary and bee inspector for the Vermont Department of Agriculture, as well as a professional beekeeper with over 1,900 colonies in the Champlain Valley. Over the years, he’s translated that knowledge into commercial enterprises selling traditional raw honey-based plant medicine, mead, and starting five years ago, vodka and gin at his farm in Hardwick. That long history in the industry led to connections at the finest apiaries in the country, particularly around the Saint Lawrence River Valley of New York, where Hardie now sources some of the best raw honey, a nectar derived from hundreds of flowers and fruit tree blossoms."
“Raw honey is a medicine, a food, and a sweetener, and it makes everything taste wonderful,” Hardie says. “So, adding raw honey to the gin at the very end makes it softer and rounds off the edges. It’s made from corn, and legally to be a gin it has to have juniper in it, but there’s really nothing else to it. People do taste other things, but those are carried through and expressed by the raw honey. The gin is basic, but there are over 100 different flowers present in the honey.”
According to Hughes, "That’s the thing that also distinguishes Barr Hill’s gin. Unlike its competitors, some with recipes several centuries old, Hardie’s gin can taste slightly different depending on the season. In spring you might get heavier notes of apple or maple syrup, while in the summer you’re bound to get the hint of something greener and pinier because of the bees’ diet of alfalfa and milkweed."

The kitchen was a little warm, as we had commenced preparing the evening meal, and as I shook the shaker, frost suddenly condensed all over the outside of the silver metal chalice. There I nothing quite so sexy as a shaker and it's special sound.

I poured the elixir into the glass and marveled at it for a minute. This was straight gin. Dry!

I smelled it. It was a sweet, heady mixture with juniper and hints of apple and something sweet, like oatmeal with honey? Yes, there was juniper, but Hardie doesn't blast you with it. It's much more subtle than that, which allows the spirit to show through. More heavily perfumed gins, especially those reeking of juniper, always seem to me that the distiller is covering up less than stellar booze with perfume. It is the perfume of desperation rather than Barr Hill's aroma of seduction.

Now came time for the first sip. One is greeted up front with the classic taste of gin. Juniper abounds, but again, not grotesquely. Now there is a lingering flavor. Not sweet, but not bitter. To be sure, it's dry, the soft apple and honey notes come through. It's kind of easy. Different. Luxurious.

It would be a waste, and useless, to use Barr Hill for say gin and tonics. Like throwing pearls before swine. It's too pretty for that, in my opinon. I think you need one of those bigger gins for G&Ts. No, Barr Kill is more complex. It needs to be savored.

In a martin glass. Shaken, not stirred.

So, thank you to Warren Bobrow!!!

And congrats to Todd Hardie! Excellent!

Read the Boston Magazine piece: