Traditionally, gin is a clear, unaged spirit but the industry is warming up to the concept of adding another dimension to the juniper-flavored spirit. Australia’s Four Pillars soaks their scrumptious gin in nine French oak chardonnay barrels; Utah’s Beehive Distillery does something similar. Not even a year old, Middlebury, Vermont-based Stonecutter Spirits’ flagship product—the Single Barrel Gin—is aged in bourbon barrels, and has already become an award-winner (double gold and best in category at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition). Founders Sas Stewart and Sivan Cotel are not only nuts for a good aged gin but are deviously creative with whiskey, too—their first batch is finally ready for release, today, and it’s distilled like a bourbon in Kentucky, then brought to Vermont to age in a process similar to that of Irish whiskey, then finished in the same way as certain premium scotch.
But to start with their flagship product: gin is an incredible spirit and not enough people know how dynamic it can be. “With American gins, to be called a gin, you have to have juniper—but beyond that, you can add any number of botanicals or spices that you want. Some people get a little crazy and add 20 to 30 different spices; some people will go super-dry and just have juniper and citrus,” Stewart tells CH. “For us, we wanted to think first about how we could age a gin.” They tailor their gin recipe specifically to match the flavors of the bourbon barrels: vanillas, caramels, oak and of course, bourbon. The gin itself is infused with botanicals including cardamom, orange peel, green tea, coriander, licorice root and even rose petals. The Single Barrel Gin sports a much paler hue than a lot of aged gins we’ve seen, reflecting its soft aging approach. Smooth and sippable on its own (Stewart loves to cool down by pouring it over a huge ice cube), the gin is also complex enough to be pushed in new directions when mixed in cocktails. This is no tame, bland gin.
Launching today is their next baby, which has been incubating for some time.
The Heritage Cask Whiskey is, in fact, the first of two whiskeys currently aging. It’s been distilled in Kentucky, like a bourbon, then brought to Vermont to be transformed into something new. “We first age it in bourbon barrels, mimicking an Irish tradition of aging. Then we flip it and take it out of those barrels and put it in new barrels, California cabernet barrels—and that mimics a Scotch tradition of finishing in sherry or madeira barrels. Kind of an American take on that,” says Stewart. “It’s like an American whiskey that’s backpacked around the UK. It’s got kind of the best of all of those worlds. It has soft oak, sweet spice—because it has a high rye bourbon mash bill—and a nice dry earthy finish from that cabernet finishing process.”
The other whiskey is their small-batch: distilled in Vermont, aged in a mix of full-sized new barrels and ex-bourbon barrels—and to our impatient dismay, maturing until 2019. Similar to their gin, Stonecutter Spirits tailor the recipe (in this case, the mash bill) to the specific barrel aging process. Interestingly, within their barrel room—which holds about 600 barrels—they pump in fresh air year-round, usually three times a day. “It means the barrels get to experience temperature change, barometric change, humidity change, etc. We encourage that because it lets the barrels themselves, the wood, swell and contract; it interacts with the spirit inside it in a unique way,” says Stewart. “It’s like our version of terroir.”
Visit Stonecutter Spirits’ sizable and beautiful Tasting Room (a former tile factory) in Middlebury, VT, open Thursday through Saturday, where tastings are free, craft cocktails are $10 (the themed menu changes monthly) and take-home bottles of Single Barrel Gin are $55.
Tonight, they’ll be unveiling their Heritage Cask Whiskey ($61) from 6-9 pm: five VT bartenders will be whipping up custom cocktails, chef Julia Clancy will be serving BBQ and grilled vegetables, LuLu’s is making “Old Fashioned” ice cream made with the whiskey, and it’s free to attend.
Images courtesy of Stonecutter Spirits