Melissa Katrincic has always been headstrong. As a child she was fiery enough to incur frequent dressing downs from her grandmother, who’d tell her, in the way only a grandmother can, “don’t have a conniption.” Conniption, for the uninitiated, is a uniquely American term, translating to something of a mammoth hissy fit.
Melissa grew up as a gin fan, inspired by her grandfather, who’d sneak her the olives from his nightly Martinis when she was a child. The Martini interest was clearly hereditary, as once she became old enough to enjoy alcohol herself, it became Melissa’s go-to drink, stirring the childhood embers into a full-blown gin obsession.
This interest turned into a business plan quite randomly one day, when Melissa turned to her husband, Lee, with fire in her eyes and said “let’s make gin.” His initial reaction, it’s fair to say, was not quite the one Melissa desired: he laughed. A lot.
Melissa, though, with over two decades experience in marketing, is a persuasive woman so it wasn’t long before she had her husband on side; after all, as a pharmaceutical chemist who spent a vast amount of his time making medicines on a rotary evaporator, the idea of creating botanical distillates on the same piece of equipment really played to his interests, albeit without the fetching white lab coat.
The dual use of copper stills and a rotary evaporator to make a gin, along with their scientific background, really sets them apart from the rest of the American market. The most traditional gin botanicals (juniper, coriander, angelica and cardamom) are placed in the still to be vapour infused, while the more delicate ingredients (honeysuckle and cucumber) are cold distilled in the rotovap, thus preserving their light, fresh tastes and preventing any bitterness from seeping in.
To our knowledge, Durham is the only distillery in America that currently uses this dual distillation method, and it is that which not only helps it stand out, but keeps its owners interested. “For us,” Melissa said, “it’s that gin is the combination of art and science.” Durham Distillery describes its gins as “modern classics and gins of the New South.” Melissa and Lee are respecting the history of the spirit by using traditional methods, but acknowledging progression by blending the resulting liquid with distillates made on the most sophisticated technology. So what does the New South taste like?
Conniption American Dry Gin to taste:
Conniption American Dry is incredibly impressive in that it is everything it sets out to be; history and gin heritage is instilled into each sip but the honeysuckle and cucumber ride ahead, bringing that modern American, new wave gin feel with them. The cucumber and honeysuckle work in tandem to bring a bright, fresh smell, taking it in turns to rotate the nose between achingly sweet and crisply vegetal.
That sweetness carries through to the tongue, as the honeysuckle announces its presence with little modesty. Cardamom and coriander bring heat giving the spirit some swagger, while juniper whispers quietly in the background with an assuring touch, reminding you that you are safe hands and that its piney presence will see through gin O’clock. Overall, it is the cold distilled botanicals that really shines through, particularly at the end when cucumber comes across so clearly that it’s as if you’d bitten into one, fresh out of the fridge. At 44% ABV, the residual flavours carry long after the sip but the overall impression is that of a smooth, accessible gin.
As a gin, Conniption American Dry does a wonderful job of showcasing the links between science and creativity. Like a cartoon scientist crouching over a still, Lee has brought together the left and right hand side of the brain, using logic to create liquid art that is a fine example of American Gin – that which is brave and explorative and unafraid to try new things. Gin aside, simply achieving the clarity of honeysuckle and the true to life nature of the aroma is an impressive feat in its own right, especially given the delicacy of the botanical. Take it from us having tried to do so on our own apparatus here a Gin Foundry HQ – it’s all too easy to ruin the flavours of the flower during distillation.
Thankfully for gin fans, American Dry isn’t Durham’s only offering either…
There’s also a Navy Strength, which isn’t a ramped up version of their flagship offering, but a gin with a wildly different botanical lineup: coriander, caraway, rosemary, cardamom, juniper, cassia, citrus and fig (the latter two are distilled in the rotovap). The gin packs a hell of a punch at 57%, though this strength is belied by its smoothness and cleverly cloaked behind its prominent botanical intensity. In a blind lineup, there would be few you would instantly identify it as being NAVY strength. High yes, but that smooth for 57% – no way.
As with American Dry, it is the distillates created on the rotovap that shout louder than any other. To nose, a bright and candied citrus rings out, redolent of a crispy chocolate lime sweet. It dominates the senses, though the high ABV adds heft to the cassia and caraway in particular, giving gravitas to the spice.
The fig smells fresh, rather than stewed, meaning it brings a green, grassy sweetness. The taste, neat, comes close to sensory overload. Sherbet-like citrus and earthy spices rush the tongue, with the caraway and cassia conspiring momentarily to dominate the palate. The citrus performs a hostile takeover, though, coating the tongue with its strong and loud sweetness, before the freshly plucked from-the-tree-fig taste jumps in to round out the taste.
Much like their American Dry, the Navy strength variant plays with the concept of what gin can be, using it as a base concept for its spirit but very much working with other botanicals outside of the traditional trio which suited to a modern palate to take it in a new, modern direction.
The use of dual distillation apparatus may not be unique on a global stage (Dodd’s Gin use similar methods for example), no-one seems to have made as efficient use of what each methods brings to the flavours of botanicals as Conniption. Figs would not be as bright and would have caramelised in a hot copper still. In a rotavap they are much fresher. So too is the cucumber and the honeysuckle. It’s this understanding of how to extract and then combine flavours by processing them in a particular way that set Durham’s gins right up there as some of the very best in the world.
Given the quality of the spirits we’ve tried, it’s of little surprise that since its inception three years ago the distillery has won 21 awards, the most recent of which was the honourable title of No. 2 Craft Gin Distillery in the US, as judged by USA Today. That this coincided with the one-year anniversary of Durham’s launch made the award even sweeter, as it demonstrated just how welcoming the community has been to their gin and about enthusiastically engaging with them to further their growing business.
Take it from us, this is a couple of gins you simply cannot afford to miss out on. They are sublime. After a mighty start, the Katrincic’s are looking ahead; next year they want to get Conniption distributed further than the US, and within the distillery they want to explore the many sub-categories of gin, which would mean expanding their space, as right now they don’t have quite enough room to fit an Old Tom or a Barrel Aged on the rack.
“Our goal,” said Melissa, “is that when people think of gin from the American South, Conniption will be the first that comes to mind.” A bold endeavour, undoubtedly, but one that is well within their grasp.
For more information about Durham Distillery, visit their website: durhamdistillery.com
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry