Last spring I had the opportunity to visit the west coast and the outstanding distillers in the San Francisco Bay area but I had no idea how much I would learn.
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I had always had a natural affinity towards No. 209 gin. Crisp citrus without over whelming the spirit, light bright cardamom, juniper , orange and baking spices. I even had a guest at the Gin Room that traveled from across Europe searching for No 209 gin as they were told by a trusted bartender that it was the only gin that could satisfy their gin interest. Interesting to see how far people will travel for something standout.
We arrived at Distillery No. 209, built over water and positioned directly at sea level on renovated pier 50, the natural cooling properties of San Francisco Bay water beneath the pier keeps the distillery at a perfectly crisp temperature all year long. Distillery 209 has a rich history dating back to the late 1800’s when wine maker William Scheffler began to dabble in the world of spirit distilling in under the distillery licence number 209. Food and wine entrepreneur Leslie Rudd purchased the property in 1999, and began the revival of what is now No. 209 Gin.
This is where the Gin Girl was impressed. Operating as a one man show, Distillery No. 209 is run by the lovely engineer turned distiller Arne Hillesland and his gorgeous pot still “Rosie” a 1000 gallon beauty of a copper still. Arne himself is a wealth of information and a first mover in world of contemporary gin, elevating the concept of what gin can be gin when only a couple hand fulls of gins were out there. Not only taking the risk of distilling gin and only gin years ago when gin was a mere dot on the spirit map, but also took the risk to spread this wonderful contemporary gin around the world by exporting to London and Europe.
Arne spoke at a gin seminar Juniper Ascending put together by Ginnoisseur Keli Rivers at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans earlier this month with other innovators; Beefeater’s Desmond Payne, Aviation Gin’s Christian Krogstad and Alexander Gabriel of Mason Ferrand’s Citadelle Gin. Was a honor to be in the presence of such trailblazers.
No. 209 gin is a corn based spirit which likely adds to its creamier mouth feel, but the most exciting part of No. 209 gin is the quality of the botanical’s used. I can say I had tried quite a few gins and sifted though a health dose of juniper, but the bright juicy berry-esk of the Italian juniper used in No. 209 gin caught me off guard. I wanted to take a bowl with me and treat them as a snack. Arne’s “Bot Cave” held other robust botanical gems including black cardamom, cassia bark and Bergamont orange. We couldn’t get enough of our visit.
After all my adventures through the Bot Cave and distillation, my real excitement was revealed when I noticed their barrel aged gins gathered in a corner. Three varieties taking advantage of their winery roots including aging in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Barrels.
The chardonnay aged gin was an immediate standout, from the medium body, lingering pine notes and a perfect balance of warm spice, citrus and savory. Enough body for mixing and light nuances for sipping straight. The mellow French oak of the chardonnay barrels allows the botanical’s to shine sharper, light pine and savory lavender, a bit of crisp warm spice from the cardamom, bright pepper and citrus lingers through the finish. A solid barrel aged gin and gin girl favorite of the three No 209 aged gins.