Among the dizzying array of craft gin distillers going wild with botanicals, it’s refreshing to find a new team hewing to tradition—the best version of it they can extract from their custom, cutting-edge stills.
Earlier this year, Loch & Union Distilling, located in Napa Valley wine country, introduced its first tipple, an American Dry Gin. Cofounder and master distiller Colin Baker bills the spirit as a “classic dry gin with an American twist,” but when pressed on the nature of that “twist,” he dodges with: “Our description of ‘American’ is more of an attitude and not a flavor profile . . . a pioneering spirit and focus on ways to take tradition to a new level.”
The grounding in traditional gin is no accident for the Loch & Union team. Baker met his cofounder, Matt Meyer, studying at the London School of Economics, and then the rest of the team when he abandoned finance for a master’s degree in distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. So while they spent just shy of a year experimenting with 150-some botanicals from around the world, for their American Dry Gin ($45), they settled on 12—the traditional triumvirate of juniper, coriander, and angelica root, plus warm spices (cardamom, allspice, nutmeg) and herbal and floral components.
At over 94 proof, this is not a shy spirit. And yet it’s balanced. There’s a freshness to the aromatics, possibly the result of running vapor through the botanicals in a basket as opposed to “cooking” them. Sweet notes lead into the interplay of forest, spice, citrus, and florals, with warm spice and orange dominating the finish.
With the tradition box checked, Loch & Union pivoted and is rolling out something new this fall—a Barley Gin ($75) that starts with a mash of 100 percent malted barley, which they distill much like you would a single-malt whiskey. It’s that distillate, not a neutral spirit, that’s the base for this botanical gin. And for this one, you have to leave your reference points behind. A savory herbal character and viscous texture underpin high-toned citrus and florals, while butterscotch and pronounced fruitiness mix with traditional pine.
Of course, there’s malt whiskey in the works for Loch & Union—maturing in barrels sourced from some of Napa Valley’s top wineries. But that’s a story for another day, two or three years from now.