Written by: Jonathan Shikes
Photos Courtesy: Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, Clover Gin
If you don’t like gin, then you haven’t found the right gin. That’s what P.T. Wood tells customers who step into Wood’s High Mountain Distillery in the rugged town of Salida, Colorado.
“We run into people all the time who say that,” he says. When they do, Wood and his staff reach for their three different styles of gin and show any doubters the list of spices, herbs, fruits or other flavors in each one. “That’s one of the things we really love about gin. As a spirit, it’s a blank canvas and the palette of colors you get to play with is virtually endless.”
That blank canvas has led to a resurgence, or “ginaissance, for the juniper-based spirit in the past few years as premium and small-batch versions, typically flavored with a wide variety of herbs, spices, fruits and other “botanicals,” have attracted a younger, cocktail-focused crowd.
Worldwide, the gin market grew from about 400 million liters in 2012 to 833 million in 2019, according to the Statista market research firm. Things trailed off in 2020 and 2021 as no one was going out for cocktails during the pandemic, but the number is expected to begin climbing again this year and gin producers believe it will reach 934 million liters by 2025.
In the United States, things are a little different. While the volume of gin sales decreased by 10% over the past twenty years – and gin still trails vodka, whiskey, rum and tequila when it comes to consumption – total revenues have jumped by more than 15%, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. That means that the popularity of what’s known as “high end premium” and “super premium” brands has surged.
Among those premium brands are the new wave of gins made by craft distilleries such as Wood’s High Mountain. Its Mountain Hopped Gin, for instance, is infused with Colorado-grown organic Cascade hops, elderflower, and other “exotic spices,” while its Treeline Barrel Rested Gin is aged in new American white oak barrels to give it vanilla, oak and caramel notes.
P.T. and his brother, Lee, founded Wood’s a decade ago after P.T. was inspired by a days-long rafting trip through the Grand Canyon during which he and his friends drank through a variety of bottles. Although the original driver for Wood’s High Mountain was whiskey, the distillery’s first product was a London-style dry gin, known as Treeline. That’s because, unlike whiskey, which has to be aged – sometimes for years – gin can be distilled and bottled quickly.
Treeline Gin, is still Wood’s best seller, and it veers more toward a classic gin, but with a few modern touches: P.T. backed off of the juniper and pumped up the more subtle botanical notes from anise, cardamom, coriander and lemon so each one could be noticed.
It goes particularly well in Wood’s High Mountain’s Apple-At-Cha cocktail, which is made with lemon, apple cider vinegar, agave, smoked apple salt and house bitters. The Barrel Rested Gin, on the other hand, stands up well in a Mickey Finn, which has candied lemon and vanilla.
To be called gin, a spirit has to be made with juniper berries and maintain a certain alcoholic proof. Most gins are also infused with botanicals, particularly spicy coriander and orange or lemon peel, in order to achieve some flavoring and balance out the juniper.
The most popular gin style, historically, is London dry, in which the spicy juniper flavors are very strong. Some of the most recognizable versions of this style are made by Tanqueray, Beefeater and Gordon’s. But there are other styles as well, including Old Tom, which is often sweeter; Plymouth, from a specific region in the U.K.; Navy Strength, which has a higher alcohol content; barrel-aged gins; and contemporary, or “new American” gins, which emphasize the botanicals. Well-known producers here include Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s.
It was the botanicals in the contemporary style that got three Belgian sisters, Nanouck, Charlotte and Ann-Sophie Ickroth, interested in gin about six or seven years ago – so much so that they decided to team up with a friend to make their own.
They started small, first designing a recipe that they could all agree on – not an easy task for three strong-willed siblings. “We did several tastings with friends and family, which was fun. They came over to blind taste and have free drinks,” says Ann-Sophie, the youngest sister.
Then they produced 2,000 bottles of what is now the flagship product at Clover Gin, a gin with pear, lavender and black pepper that were sourced in Belgium and macerated for four to ten days before being added to their copper still. “We thought it would take a few years to sell out, but it all sold in six weeks,” says Nanouck, the eldest of the Ickroths.
After that, they installed a new still in an unused stable on the countryside property north of Antwerp where they grew up, and began attending “gin fairs,” around Belgium, offering tastings and getting customer feedback. Demand grew and before long, they had to find a new location for a larger still and added a second product: Clover Lucky No. 4, which is made with green tea leaves, bergamot, clementines and coriander seeds. The clover on the logo of their beautifully designed bottles represents the three sisters, all similar, but all different, they say.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, the hype over gin has died down somewhat in Belgium and many of the small producers that started around the same time as Clover have closed, Nanouck explains. “Only the strong survive… and today, competition is a little bit less.”
But the market is still very competitive in the rest of the world, which is where Clover is headed next. The company began exporting to the Netherlands and Luxembourg two years ago and then moved on to Japan before expanding to the United States, where it is imported by DeVore Signature Spirits. Clover, like Wood’s High Mountain, is distributed in Colorado by Elite Brands of Colorado, which also handles a number of other gin brands.
In addition to the high quality of its products, Clover’s gins also stand out because of the family’s backstory and the fact that it was unusual a few years ago for women to be involved as owners of a spirits company, Ann-Sophie says. “Today, there are more,” she adds.
Her favorite cocktail right now is a Clover mule, made with lime juice, ginger beer and mint, but that could change over the summer to something like Clover’s own Pure & White, which is made with lemon juice, milk, hazelnut syrup, Bailey’s Irish Cream and ice.
Recently, both Clover and Wood’s High Mountain have both begun experimenting with new products that are based on their gins. Clover’s is an aperitif called Limonetta, which isn’t yet available in the U.S. while Wood’s High Mountain has rolled out a canned gin cocktail.
Ready-to-drink cocktails like these are a popular new category in the beverage world as more and more beverage companies come up with their own versions. The twelve-ounce canned Wood’s version, which comes in at 9 percent ABV, is made from organic black tea, cardamom that was ground in-house, lemon peel, a touch of cane sugar and its Treeline Gin
But the best part is that the recipe was developed in the tasting room where the distillery’s bartenders are “talking to people” and tweaking recipes on a daily basis. “They are proven in the real world,” P.T. says, and then people can “take them out on their adventures.”
Full Gin Portfolio
39 North Spirits (Colorado)
- #70007 – Gin – 6/750ml
Blind Tiger Handcrafted Gin (Belgium)
- #25082 – Blind Tiger Imperial Secrets – 6/750ml
- #25081 – Blind Tiger Piper Cubeba Gin – 6/750ml
Clover Gin (Belgium)
- #25083 – Clover Gin – 6/750ml
- #25084 – Clover Gin Lucky No. 4 – 6/750ml
Darnley’s Gin (Scotland)
- #10003 – Gin – 6/750ml
Gilliam’s Gin (Belgium)
- #25086 – Gilliam’s Gin – 6/750ml
Old Town Distilling (Colorado)
- #77033 – Mountain Avenue Organic Gin – 6/750ml
Sonoma Brother Distilling (California)
- #15120 – Gin – 6/750ml
Spirit Works Distillery (California)
- #97002 – Sloe Gin – 6/750ml
Wood’s High Mountain Distillery (Colorado)
- #10187 – Treeline Gin – 6/750ml
- #10188 – Treeline Barrel Rested Gin – 6/750ml
- #10189 – Mountain Hopped Gin – 6/750ml
- #25085 – X-Gin – 6/750ml