In search of the perfect Gin & Tonic

In Search of the Perfect G&T

Alchemy Dry Gin, Maine Craft DistillingI’m a bourbon guy in the winter, but when the warm weather hits I’m all about the gin & tonic. The syrupy bitterness from the tonic water mixed with the piney sharpness from a well-crafted gin along with a touch of citrus from a lime wedge creates the quintessential summer cocktail.

With the craft distilling movement roaring along, Mainers have a myriad of choices when searching out an artfully crafted bottle of gin. On a warm day in early spring, I map out a day trip from Biddeford to Freeport in search of the perfect g&t made with Maine-crafted gin.

My first stop is ROUND TURN DISTILLING in the Pepperell Mill in Biddeford. The snug tasting room is equipped with a vintage console record player spinning a Tina Turner record on my visit. I love this place immediately.

At the white-tiled bar, owner and general manager, Kristina Hansen explains that their Bimini Gin was inspired by summer weather and juicy IPAs—the list of botanicals includes Mount Hood hops. Instead of being a piney juniper bomb, Bimini boasts big grapefruit notes.

The tasting room attendant mixes me up a g&t with Bimini Gin, Jack Rudy tonic, ice cubes and a lime wedge in a highball glass. With my first sublime sip, I get fruit-forward grapefruit notes with that iconic piney gin undercurrent from the juniper berries. This g&t is tropical and delicious.

Back River Gin, Sweetgrass Winery & DistilleryThough I could stay all afternoon at Round Turn, I need to soldier on in my g&t pilgrimage. Next stop, SWEETGRASS WINERY & DISTILLERY‘s tasting room in Portland. Their distillery and tasting room in Union, Maine, is worth a day trip in itself, but today’s mission is about volume.

The Fore Street tasting room has an industrial vibe from the exposed brick walls and dark wood beams. I’m intrigued by their flagship spirit, Back River Gin, a London-style gin made with organic botanicals and Maine blueberries. Retail sales manager, Courtney Williamson, picks up on my hesitation about the blueberries, but assures me that the Maine-picked fruit adds a nuanced sweetness. First and foremost, Back River lets the juniper shine.

Though they don’t mix cocktails at the tasting room, Williamson pours a sample of Back River Gin with a side pour of Schweppes tonic water. I sip the gin neat and am hit with a gorgeous, fresh pine flavor from the juniper berries and other classic botanicals. After the juniper flavor settles, a refreshing sweetness from the blueberries hits the palate. I pour a little tonic into the gin sample, and enjoy the interplay of bitter tonic and piney, sweet gin. Back Cove Gin is a finely-crafted spirit with a slight Maine twist.

Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery

Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery

Heading up 295, my next stop is MAINE DISTILLERIES, LLC on Route 1 in Freeport. This distillery makes spirits from potatoes grown on Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg. You don’t get more Maine than that.

The Cold River Traditional Gin has won a smattering of awards for its smooth, accessible flavor profile. Tasting room bartender, Erin Bertoni, explains that it’s a London-style dry gin—citrus-focused with an astringent underbelly of juniper.

Bertoni mixes up a g&t with ice cubes, gin, Schweppes tonic water and a lime wedge. I take a sip through the black straw and my insides melt into a summery euphoria. This is a clean gin with beautiful lemon peel and orange citrus flavors, and just the right amount of pine bite from the juniper berries. This is the perfect gateway gin. It’s complex, but doesn’t wallop the palate with pine.

Maine Craft DistillingDrifting to my last stop, I head into the heart of downtown Freeport to visit MAINE CRAFT DISTILLING’s satellite tasting room. Their Alchemy Dry Gin is crafted from Maine-grown barley and is triple-distilled using coriander, cardamom, lemon peel, almonds, and, of course, juniper berries.

The cozy, two floor tasting room boasts striking wood beams and handcrafted tables with soft lighting from Edison light bulbs. When I belly up to the bar, James Frydrych, the tasting room ambassador, explains that Alchemy has more body than most gins from the addition of almonds.

Cold River DistillingIn a highball glass, he combines ice cubes, Alchemy Dry Gin, and Fever Tree tonic water, garnishing the rim with a lime wedge. There’s a bright floral aroma of citrus coming off the glass. I squeeze the lime wedge and drop it in. That first sip brings on lemon zest, big floral notes, all with an assertive herbal citrus presence from the cardamom and juniper. The Fever Tree tonic water gives a fresh bitterness to balance the bright aromatics from the gin.

This road trip taught me, above all, that each Maine distillery has its own distinct voice when it comes to gin. Branch out and try them all in a gin & tonic this summer on a day trip up and down the state or simply as you sway in a hammock in your own backyard.

— Text & Photos: Dave Patterson. Dave is a freelance writer, and author of Soon the Light Will be Perfect.

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