Few spirits have had as tough a time with branding spin as gin. Made with distinctive juniper flavors and a fermented mash of barley and other grains, gin started out centuries ago as a medicinal libation particularly valued for helping ease childbirth [presumably for the mother, but no doubt appreciated by dads, too]. But when Dutch King William of Orange deregulated distilling in early-18th century England, gin became so plentiful, cheap, and easily obtainable by even the poorest of the poor that it was targeted as the cause of wide-spread social breakdown and depravity. British booze historian, Richard Barnett, describes circa 1750 gin as the historical equivalent of modern-day crack. So what the eff turned around gin’s bad rap? Quantity and quality control, and a distinctly American invention of the 19th century quickly embraced by the world [and with our COLLECTIVE approval]: the Cocktail. Few cocktails define summertime sipping quite like the Gin & Tonic, a beverage mixed in the Tropics by British colonists to make the bitter taste of anti-malarial quinine hidden in “tonic water” more palatable, and it’s drinkers predictably more shit-faced at the same time. The Royal Navy mixed gin with lime cordial to keep scurvy at bay, a precursor to that warm-weather favorite, the Gimlet. When Chef Julia Child was asked by a sommelier what her favorite wine was, she answered “Gin,” and it’s also the spirit to which she famously attributed [along with eating plenty of red meat] her longevity.*
Flash forward to modern day distilling in the U.S. of A., and in recent years you’ll find kickass craft distillers making superlative spirits one small batch at a time. In January of this year, the number of legal distilleries in Utah rose to a grand total of five with the licensing of Beehive Distilling, based here in our Salty City. Distillery owners and badass ginthusiasts Matt Aller, Chris Barlow, and Erik Ostling have other spirits in the works, but their first offering is a delightful small-batch libation called Jack Rabbit Gin. All three guys have some serious design and advertising chops [they have backgrounds in PR and photography], so it’s no surprise that their product is beautifully packaged and branded. But as pretty as the label is, Jack Rabbit Gin has some serious boozy cred, being about as far away on the spectrum from much-maligned bathtub gin as you could imagine; right now they are only making 250 cases a month and it sells out immediately upon release. When one of our favorite sushi chefs [and tastemaker extraordinaire], Takashi Gibo, tasted a martini made with Jack Rabbit Gin and orange bitters as made by his restaurant’s bartender Jonny Bonner, he immediately wanted it on the drinks menu as the “Takashi Martini.” It’s that good.
Compared with gins made highlighting super-intense pine and juniper profiles, Jack Rabbit gin’s predominant flavors are still congruently distinctive and smoothly [rather than brashly] juniper, hitting sage and citrus notes high on the palate, with exceptionally well-balanced signatures of rose and mineral ash lingering back on the tongue. Simply stirred with ice, Jack Rabbit gin’s fragrance smacked this imbiber square in the solar plexus with a particularly sultry reminiscence of sagebrush and verbena crushed under cowboy boots after a high desert rainstorm. Nostalgia aside, it’s a well-rounded spirit remarkably suitable for dry martinis, gimlets, and we can’t wait to use this fabulous shit to make an especially celebratory French 75 [see here]. Mix equal parts Jack Rabbit Gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth over ice and add an orange slice to make the best fuckin’ Negroni this side of Milan. Inspired by watching Chef Takashi torch his sublime sushi dish “Sex on Rice,” the guys at Beehive Distilling have been experimenting with fresh-charred Chardonnay barrels in which they’re slightly aging gin for a future release selection. Oh. My. Gawd.
Beehive Distilling expects Jack Rabbit Gin will be available soon in state liquor stores, but until final approval...oh, wait...they HAVE that! Mmm hmm. We've got it on good authority that state liquor stores have just ordered 100 cases of this divine and drinkable shit. Gin lovers rejoice: The first 50 cases are sitting in the DABC warehouse at this very moment, and are set for distribution to state liquor stores later this week. Hell to the yeah! Check out their Facebook page [below] for locations and availability as soon as they know what's what. Please join the fine folks of Beehive Distilling as they kick off spring with a private soirée to celebrate patio weather and Utah’s newest libation on May 31st at A Gallery. Count on food by Fresco Italian Café and cocktails shaken up by two of our favorite Salt City barmen, Scott Gardner [Church & State/Finca] and Jonny Bonner [Takashi]. During a tough afternoon of R&D at Takashi’s bar #somebodysgottadoit with the distillery owners we sampled the “Hachi Hive," the boozechild of Takashi's general manager Rich Romney that'll be served up at the event: Jack Rabbit Gin, elderflower liqueur, yuzu, and a honey-sage syrup made with honey from Takashi’s rooftop beehives [“Hachi” = “bee” in Japanese]. Distiller Chris Barlow says of this perfect springtime sipper, “it haunted my dreams.” In such a good way.
Beehive Distilling's Facebook | Spring Soiree, May 31st, 6:30pm to 9:00pm | A Gallery, 1321 South 2100 East
Space is limited for this invitation-only event | Click here to get tickets or call 801.891.2720 for details.
* Q: Why were olives created? A: So gin drinkers wouldn't starve to death.