Finn’s Gin is one of the products carefully made on the very popular stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, in North Western Chicago’s achingly hip Logan Square area by Chicago Distilling Company. With its tall bottle, fervent supporters recommending it and cheeky halo on the logo – we were intrigued to take a closer look.
Chicago Distilling Company was founded in 2010 and is family owned and operated by the DiPrizio family (Jay and Noelle are married, and they are joined in this adventure by Jay’s brother Vic). While a relatively recent addition to the craft distilling scene, the story really begins in the Wisconsin North Woods, nearly a century ago. Noelle’s family has a long history of moonshining (but not if the Feds ask… then it’s just talk). Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, she had no idea of her family’s past. It was only once her husband Jay, discovered it spending time with her family, did the idea start to take seed.
The trio were not looking to recreate what their forefathers were cooking under the moonlit skies, during often cold and bleak nights – they are simply honouring the past and building something for the next generation. The idea of generations incidentally, is a recurring theme given both their whiskey is named after Noelle’s Grandfather Shorty, and their gin after Finn, their son’s middle name. Thankfully for all you gin fans – unlike their forefathers, they don’t mind at all if people see them at work. In fact, they quite like it!
During the process of applying for a permit to distil within the realms of Chicago, they realised that the potential of a having a tasting room would be greatly beneficial to the business as a whole. With permits and licences fraught with red tape in the US, this proved no easy task and even once granted, there were many strings attached. For example – in the state of Illinois you cannot brew and distill and are not allowed to hold both licenses together. So, when they first opened up their distillery tasting room, they would have to turn away a dozens of people each day who were looking for beer, as their permit only allows them to serve what they produce.
The first two and a half years of the business was spent proving the concept of a craft distillery would work, and more importantly, spent laying as much whiskey to rest as possible. They used the tasting room for events and while still waiting on stock to mature – they were only allowed to serve white whiskey. Understandably, this lead them to thinking about expanding the portfolio of spirits they produced, including making a gin and other botanical spirits such as Absinthe. This would not only allow them to sell these as well, but doing so would also open up a range of tasty cocktails they could offer at the bar.
With an interesting challenge set and the need for new products apparent, Noelle developed a Gin in the space of 6 months. To make it, she decided to buy-in a corn based NGS from a separate distillery and macerate, Sichuan peppercorn, dried orange peel, green cardamom, hibiscus, juniper, coriander, cassia and cubeb amongst other botanicals.
After a quick steep, around 40 gallons of compounded gin (at 50% ABV) is loaded into their customised old Christian Carl still. Incidentally, the still was brought into the modern era by the US branch of Kothe, who adapted the still to add steam jackets rather than relying on the wood burner! The evidence of its former life can be seen and adds some character to the set up, as well as a timely link back to how the old guard might have done it all those years ago. Each batch currently produces around 20 cases of gin per run.
Finn’s Gin to taste…
To the nose, piquancy issues an immediate attack; Szechuan peppercorns are not ones for polite knocking, instead they kick the door down and jump straight into the action. Hibiscus brings a subtle floral hint if you are attuned to the flavour, but it is the green cardamom that is as present as if you were rolling a seed pod between your fingers.
The botanicals rush for the tongue all at once, treating the drinker to a fiery, slightly floral cacophony. Citrus comes through, but cardamom heavy spice dominates. The spirit is undoubtedly well made and smooth at 45% and there is some juniper in there, but it’s on the progressive, modern side of Gin if you will…
We found that the fiery Sichuan pepper and cardamom hit were well suited to an orange slice in a G&T, but also made Finn’s Gin an interesting choice in a Gimlet. The gin’s slightly higher proof and pronounced flavours carry well in both.
Barrel Finished Finn’s Gin to taste…
As with many US based craft distillers who are pushing the borders of what gin can be and experimenting with interesting new ideas, in 2016 Chicago Distilling released a barrel aged variant of Finn’s Gin. To create it, they mature the gin in a combination of virgin & ex bourbon casks for a duration of between 30 and 90 days,. The results are then blended together.
The barrels come straight through on the nose, accompanied by a piquancy that, though far from aggressive, makes its presence felt. The wood has imbued a sweetness to the smell, which lends expectation to the tongue. Don’t be fooled by your olfactory organs, though… the Szechuan peppercorn and cubeb leap to the fore, while the citrus and cardamom character of Finn’s Gin mingle beautifully with the sugary, vanillin heavy char from the barrels. Juniper chimes in at the back and that, along with the charred wood, is the lasting effect.
This is a very enjoyable gin and a pronounced wood version in the Cask-Aged genre. It is one that ought to be slung over a handful of ice cubes and sipped neat, though if you’re in a cocktail mood, it will sit just right in an Old Fashioned with some orange bitters.
It’s worth mentioning the branding as both bottles have strange presence to them. They are deceptively cool and with a uniquely bright touch, really pop on a shelf. We’ve seen them on a few shelves in the Chicago area and each time, they’ve called to us… and that’s before we consider the contents!
For those looking to see all of this action themselves, Tours are available at the “full-service” craft distillery in Logan Square. The tasting room is a 1,700 square foot facility serving the spirits they make on the premises and is dedicated to education about the craft of distillation practices. Book ahead though – it can quite busy!
With change in the air, it would seem that Chicago Distilling company managed to establish themselves just in time. They recently survived the laborious city wide auditing process – where all Chicago distilleries were under an audit for the last year and half. While the consequences for them mean a few more building permits and some additional paperwork – the wider conclusions will have an impact on their future.
There will be new constraints on where distilleries can operate in the city of Chicago. There will be a much higher barriers to entry, making it tougher to open within the city limits, while the rest of Illinois it mostly comes down to local municipalities. This may well mean that for those looking to visit distilleries in person, the current crop of gin makers may well be the last for a while. While it’s not great news for spirits fans in general, as meeting makers is often the best way to create advocacy, this change may well help Chicago Distilling as an individual distillery. They can use it to establish a bigger voice and help them to consolidate their message regarding their urban provenance, without having to bat off competition at every street corner.
Outside of their own premise – Finn’s Gin is only really available around the Chicago and Illinois area at the moment, although they do export further afield. However, with quality on their side and a growing reputation for their whiskey’s – the gin will grow steadily. Also, Chicago’s increasing influence within the wider drinks industry will no doubt play its part – the Second City is becoming known for its cocktail and bar scene and that can only help with local brands.
Don’t expect to see it in many export markets just yet however, the team are focused on slow and sustainable growth. There is a very conscious effort to build something for the future here – for the next generation – and to do it right. We enjoyed both Gins and feel like they have enough quality to make it – if you see them around, pick one up and give it a try!
For more information about Finn’s Gin, visit their website: www.ChicagoDistilling.com
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