Ever drink gin in the morning?
Can’t say I have either. But when you visit a distillery for a tasting, you sip it when it’s convenient to the distiller’s schedule to pour it, regardless of social norms.
“It’s no shame around here,” says Brandon O’Daniel, the ebullient head distiller at Copper & Kings. Pouring a still strength (140 proof) taste of the brand’s new American Dry Gin, he adds, “We like A.M. drinking around here.”
As well he should, since it’s his job to taste distillate all day.
Almost two years since it launched Stray Cat and Alley Cat, a pair New World gins heaped with bold botanicals, the American brandy distillery has moved toward a pair of historic styles: American (nee London) Dry and an Old Tom that’s headed for a three- to six-month rest in a brandy barrel.
When I assume gin making might be harder than brandy making, O’Daniel disagrees a bit, saying that balancing highly fragrant gin botanicals is not only challenging, “I find it a little more interesting.”
In the Copper & Kings way, both new gins use brandy as their base spirit, while gin nearly always comes from grain-neutral spirits born of corn or wheat, distilled to at least 190 proof and, by design, stripping out most all the flavor. By contrast, O’Daniel says fruit brandies are distilled at much lower proofs, leaving in body and flavor that complement added botanicals rather than isolate them.
“Apple (brandy) is really clean and crisp and lets those botanicals lay on top of it and open up that entire palate,” he says. “That we use a fruit base instead of a GNS really just makes a huge difference in the way our gins taste.”
The apple brandy-based American Dry he pours us both is at still strength, 140 proof, and served at room temperature. The rush of botanical aromas to the nose is concentrated and lush. Where 140 bourbon sipped neat at room temperature can flog the palate mercilessly, this is decidedly softer and highly agreeable.
“It reminds me of orange and rose,” O’Daniel says, so wide eyed that I wish I’d recorded the interview with video. “We did both bitter and sweet orange peels—but the majority sweet, and that’s what gives off that bready-doughy kind of deal.” Other traditional notes come through next: cardamom, angelica root and juniper. It’s a classic recipe done O-Daniel’s way.
“It’s going to hold together in a cocktail so well,” O’Daniel adds. And when we taste it later in tonic with lime, he’s exactly right. It’s delicious, bold, sturdy and refreshing. The non-chill-filtered spirit louches out cloudy and almost periwinkle in the glass. “When my gin starts to change color, I get excited.”
The Old Tom, born of grape brandy, also is poured at still strength, this time 136 proof.
“Grape brandy is going to be really fatty and oily because we’re doing it straight pot still,” O’Daniel says, implying there are no column stills at the distillery. Though viscosity in spirits isn’t the same as viscosity in foods and the oils they express, the weight of this spirit is immediately present and pleasing on the palate. “Really, really fat, bold and forward, but with botanicals all about it, and still smooth. Really caressing.”
It’s delicious and a bit sweeter than the American Dry, but not in a treacly sense. Historically, the English sweetened Old Tom with sugar to scrub the roughness off poorly made gins so common to the 1700s and 1800s. However, the sweetness here is achieved by finessing the botanicals recipe and with barrel aging not common to Old Tom styles.
I’m only half sarcastic when I ask if these spirits need to be proofed down (the finished expressions will register 92 proof on the American Dry and 100 proof on the Old Tom) because they’re so good at still strength. O’Daniel’s laughs and says he’d prefer to leave them there—plus drink them neat and at room temperature because doing so reveals the spirit’s ingredients and how it’s distilled.
“Neat. No ice at all,” he says. “I’m a bit of a weird bird.
“But the bouquet (in both gins) starts to explode when they’re proofed down. They’re only going to get better.”
Not that he doesn’t like gin cocktails. He expects both to make excellent dry martinis or ampersands (brandy, gin and sweet vermouth) and anything the mixologists use it in when Copper & Kings’ Sky Bar opens in September.
“Whatever they make with it will be amazing,” he says. “Those guys haven’t disappointed me so far.”
Look for American Dry on retailers’ shelves in late April. Old Tom won’t come out of the barrel until late summer or late fall.