It's been more than a year since Ballast Point Brewing's head brewer Yuseff Cherney began tinkering around on the new distilling equipment in the corner of the San Diego brewery's warehouse. A few weeks ago, Cherney released the brewery's fist spirit, Old Grove, a dry London-style gin. A handful of Los Angeles bars and liquor stores have already received a few bottles (the list is after the jump). Cherney shared the trials and tribulations of ethanol alchemy with Squid Ink.
Squid Ink: How did you develop Old Grove's flavor profile?
Yuseff Cherney: After tasting a lot of gins, it was distinct flavors like the rose petal in some that I really liked. But some of the rose you find in gin is more like a potpourri that has been around a little too long, not something that you want to drink. So I had to go back and figure out how to get those flavors individually.
SI: What was that process?
YC: After a few batches, I realized I needed to break down the individual components of the gin like the way a chef makes a sauce. You can't dump ten ingredients into a dish, not know what each tastes like on its own, and then go back and figure out how to fix it. So I distilled each ingredient in a gallon size. It made me aware of things I liked, but also those I didn't, like orris root. When distilled on its own, orris root tastes like fresh carrot juice, which didn't fit in with the gin profile I wanted.
SI: Once you settled on the dozen or so ingredients, what next?
YC: There's no aging with gin, so its whole essence comes from the botanicals. Many distillers use a compounding technique and distill each flavor separately, then combine them to make this kind of Frankenstein gin. That's basically just a guy sitting in a lab and combining flavors. I didn't want to do that.
SI: So how do you make your gin?
YC: I vapor distill, which is much more like making a perfume. You literally collect the pure essence of the flavors from the vapors. I like the whole art form of grinding my fresh coriander and mixing it in with the rose petals and putting it in the top of the still. The blending of flavors happens as the ethanol vaporizes. You get a much more subtle, complex flavor, not one of those gins that's smacking you around with one dominant flavor.
Ballast Point Spirits: 10051 Old Grove Road, Suite B, San Diego, (858) 695-2739. Cherney has shipped a few bottles of Old Grove to Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood and Verdugo Bar in Glassell Park. Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa and Beverage Warehouse in West Los Angeles also received limited quantities. Cherney recommends heckling your local bartender or liquor store if they don't carry Old Grove yet (the tipsy version of supply and demand works quite well here), and check back for updates on the Ballast Point retail website.