Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Journey through Gins lesser known relatives (Part 4 Barrel Aged Gin)

Aged Gin is not something entirely new if you refer back to Part 1 of this series on Genever the Dutch have been barrel aging for many centuries. However it has had new life breathed into it in recent years with an explosion of new brands from around the globe.

So why would you age a Gin? Seems a little counter intuitive to the bright fresh flavours that Gin makers are normally trying to achieve? You may be right in that this style of Gin is not necessarily going to be consumed in a traditional G&T or Tom Collins and so it may not appeal to some Gin drinkers.
However aged Gin is a very exciting new development for Gin that will help consumers to realise that Gin has more to offer than simply being something you smother with tonic water, Gin should be seen as a spirit that is worth sipping on its own. Craft gins are often extremely unique and flavoursome with incredible diversity available but often limited to cocktails and the G&T through tradition and stigma.

Aged Gin opens the door to a world of new flavours that is not accessible by any other dark spirit on the market. The combination of all the diverse flavours available to gin with the added aging process to increase smoothness and wood flavours makes for an extremely complex and unique drink that I am sure will have whisky drinkers stand up and take notice in the coming years.

The Process
The process in simple terms is to distil a standard Gin using one of the many techniques discussed in earlier articles, generally either steeping or vapour infusion. The Gin like whiskey will be at a higher % alcohol to start with say for example 50-60% this is then added into barrels like you would a whisky. The added strength allows for some evaporation of ethanol as the barrels breathe leading to a decrease in the final alcohol content. The higher alcohol content allows the smallest possible dilution to come to your required alcohol content and allows the maximum amount of wood/botanical flavours to carry into the final product.

We won’t go into too much detail about the barrel aging process here but suffice to say that it is an art in itself with types of barrel, time in barrel and storage conditions of barrels all having significant impacts on the end taste. The aging period can range from days or months to years depending on the barrel type whether it is a fresh barrel or a pre-used barrel the amount of char and ofcourse on how strong/weak you want the flavour character of the oak or other wood to come out. Some distilleries are even using more than one aging cycle ie starting with an American oak barrel and transferring to a sherry or other barrel for a secondary aging. The length of the aging process may also be dependant on whether the distillery is looking to create a product to be sipped like a whisky or to be consumed in traditional Gin cocktails such as the G&T and the Negroni.

Now consider taking a Sloe or Old Tom and aging these in barrels and you get an inkling of the variety of flavours that are available to aged Gin.

This trend is starting to gain traction around the world with new products being released every year and even some of the main stream distilleries like Beefeater getting in on the game. Some distilleries are reporting huge multiples of growth in this area and given that like whisky there is a longer lead time to market you can expect that ever more brands and unique flavours will be released in the next few years.

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