From its early origins in the Renaissance as herbal medicine to one of today’s leading spirits, gin has withstood the test of time by finding ways to stay interesting for more than 500 years. Greenbar Distillery set out to let gin lovers taste the evolution of this spirit, from its oldest to newest incarnations, with its CITY Amber and CITY Bright gins.
One simple ingredient sets gin apart from its close relative, flavored vodka. Without the addition of juniper, you’d be drinking vodka (which is OK, too). With a limited number of edible juniper species, distillers rely heavily on the common juniper, Juniperus communis, for the drink’s crisp, piney flavor. Beyond juniper, distillers are free to choose the rest of the botanicals, which explains gin’s constantly changing nature.
When it comes down to it, though, the give and take between juniper and the rest of the botanicals defines almost all gins. The international style that today’s big brands created focuses heavily on juniper. The contemporary style favored by craft distilleries emphasizes other botanicals, sometimes more familiar, like lemon, but often more exotic, like pink peppercorn. There’s a third, nearly forgotten quality, that influences a gin’s character: how flavor gets into alcohol in the first place. Gins macerated with whole botanicals, an exceedingly rare technique, possess richer flavor because the gin isn’t distilled a second time. Those distilled with botanicals, known as dry gins, have stronger aromas.
Greenbar Distillery uses all of these levers to make its CITY gins.
CITY Amber gin, which Greenbar Distillery released in 2008 under its TRU brand, is a stylistic journey back to the 1500s, when gin was made as medicine throughout Western Europe. The flavor and amber color is derived by steeping ingredients in spirits. It bears a strong, more complex taste than dry gins. This is a gin that occupies the very deepest end of the flavor pool — with enough oomph to easily balance Campari and sweet vermouth in equal-parts Negronis, work as a sipping gin or the base for complex drinks, like farm-to-glass. Greenbar Distillery spends up to two months making CITY Amber gin by slowly steeping 14 organic botanicals into a neutral wheat base. It’s a high-wire act of balance and constant adjustments to ensure a consistent, finished flavor….which explains why few other distilleries have tackled this style of gin.
On the other hand, Greenbar Distillery’s newest installment, CITY Bright, takes gin lovers on a bold, modern journey into LA’s vibrant immigrant food scene. Ingredients like Sichuan peppercorn, Ancho chiles, kaffir lime, star anise, black cumin and peppermint, among 24 ingredients in all, place a giant spotlight on the city’s Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants. These are balanced, of course, by juniper and a few of the founders’ favorite California botanicals for this complex yet light take on defining a sense of place through the flavors of its cuisine in the guise of a gin. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but so is this gin.
Though just two examples, City Amber and City Bright gin touch upon extreme similarities and differences in one small, exciting and increasingly hot category of spirits the world over.