Behold! Gin Rickey, a Blonde Barley Wine matured in Gin Barrels for 18 months with additions of freshly zested lime peel, mace, coriander and juniper berries.
This latest release from our Vintage series is highly carbonated to mimic the original Gin Rickey cocktail, which was hugely popular during prohibition. We sat down with Eric Ponce, our Barrel Program Manager, to understand the inspiration and process behind his newest cocktail-inspired beer.
WHAT IS A GIN RICKEY?
A Gin Rickey is a very simple cocktail born during prohibition – Gin, lime squeezed and dropped in the glass, and topped with mineral water over ice. Sugar can be added to taste. It even makes an appearance in F. Scott Fitgerald’s prohibition-era novel, The Great Gatsby.
— Eric Ponce, Vintage Barrelmaster
I’m a fan of the Gin Rickey cocktail. It’s pretty basic but it’s incredibly refreshing. It’s known as a summertime cooling drink, but I like to enjoy them year-round. I thought it would be a perfect cocktail-inspired beer.
The modern cocktail movement was born out of necessity during prohibition. A constitutional ban on production and sales of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 did little to settle our country’s thirst.
Beer, wine, and spirits were both smuggled and produced illicitly, either at home or in makeshift operations. The layman’s liquor during this period wasn’t the quality known before prohibition – there’s truth to the phrase “bathtub gin.”
And so the popularity of cocktails skyrocketed, with mixers, fruit, sugar, and other ingredients added to make these liquors more enjoyable.
Lucky for all of us, some of the cocktails born from necessity are still around today.
Gin is a neutral grain spirit (like vodka) infused with anywhere from 10-40 different botanicals. Very rarely does gin ever enter a wooden barrel, so Eric has been keeping his eyes out for gin barrels to experiment with.
“I’ve been looking for a decent amount of gin barrels for some time now and (one of my barrel suppliers) finally reached and said ‘Hey, I can supply you with more than two gin barrels if you’re interested.’ So I took everything they emptied. We ended up filling 30 freshly emptied gin barrels with Helldorado. I like using Helldorado because it doesn’t have any roasted malt, so it allows the barrel character to be the star.”
Eric explained that gin is really known for its pungent botanical characteristic – whether its flowery, citrusy, woodsy, each gin has a secret spice recipe. He shares, “All we really know is that Juniper berries are normally the highest percentage. Coriander is up there, but no one wants to share their secret recipe encompassing dozens of spices. The barrel adds a woodsy cedar note and more vanilla depth than gins without barrel treatment have. So these barrels – when we receive them, we open up the barrel and they smell like a really great, woodsy gin. And that’s why we want to experiment with them.”
We matured Helldorado in Gin barrels for 18 months, which is on the long side of time for barrel-aging. Eric says:
“It took a little more time to draw out the flavor from the barrels because the gin itself didn’t have a long maturation time in the barrel. Bourbons are in barrel for a minimum of two years of maturation time, and we prefer barrels that held bourbon for five-plus years. The gin sat in barrel for about a year, and so it’ll take a little more time to get the gin character. With anything we release, if we’re saying its’ barrel-aged, we want the beers coming out to express that character, we don’t want people to be searching for it, and we don’t want it to be overpowering either. We tried the beer at 8 months, at 12 months, and still decided it needed more time. We finally tasted it around the 18 month period and said, ‘Alright, the flavor is there!’ ”
SUGAR AND SPICE MAKES EVERYTHING NICE
Once Eric siphoned the beer into a tank, he found it complex enough to his needs and exuding incredible body from its time in barrel. Still, he decided to accentuate its boldness by adding a few more spices:
“I ended up adding more Juniper. I love Juniper; I love the peppery, cedar, woodsy characteristics that comes out of it. No matter what additional spices are used in gin, Juniper is the most forefront spice in any blend. I love coriander personally. I would probably put it in every beer if I could – the floral and citrus notes that it brings are incredible. Then I decided to use this spice that’s not everybody’s familiar with – Mace. It’s the outer shell of nutmeg.
It gets some really cool nutmeg flavor and aroma, but what I also love about it – you get good lemon-lime citrus notes. I knew I was going to be using lime peel in the cocktail anyway, so I thought it would be a great addition. It was extremely hard to find. I don’t know how many spice shops I had a call to get to get mace because it’s so difficult to produce, but I finally found a source and it created pure magic in the beer. And then obviously lime peel.”
A TOUCH OF BUBBLY
We turned up the carbonation on this beer higher than we have for any previous release.
“I really wanted the bubbles to dance on your tongue,” Eric says. ”The soda ingredient in a Gin Rickey cocktail helps release all the great botanical aromas, and so we wanted to mimic that intense, seltzer carbonation”.
It’s a new element to our Vintage beers, playing with the amount of carbonation, and it affects the mouthfeel and drinkability in a fun and exciting way.
LIMITED AND PROHIBITED
Cocktail-inspired beers have taken our tastebuds by storm at the brewery. We draw inspiration from all directions and are thrilled to be able to present you with Gin-Rickey.
This is a limited, brewery-only release – now available at our three California brew stores and through online orders (CA residents only at this time). 11.3% ABV