Hardshore Original Gin
Maine, on the very northeast tip of America, is one of New England’s proudest States. It’s home to an astonishing coast and a unique dialect, spoken and policed by its residents, themselves a notoriously protective bunch. All non born-and-bred-ers, no matter how long they’ve lived in the state, are refereed to as “from away”, so when Hardshore Original Gin’s New York grown creator Jordan Milne wanted to name his Maine-made gin, he was very careful not to rile his neighbours.
“We have friends who have lived in Maine for 50 years,” Milne explains. “Their friends still refer to them as from away. If we named ourselves Maine Distilling Company or something like that, a lot of locals would have said “wait, you’re not from Maine! Why are you calling yourself Maine?”
Instead, Milne chose to focus on the terrain: “The thing that we fell in love with about Maine is the uniqueness of the coast (it’s all rocky, with very few sandy beaches) and the legacy of people here building enterprise and industry from what was essentially the woods and sea and snow. That wasn’t an easy thing to do, but that struggle is what makes this state so much more special.
“There’s a saying my grandpa used to use: The toughest climb leads to the best view. This is certainly true in Maine. We huddle together to brave the cold winters, but when spring and summer hit, it’s the most spectacular place on Earth. The shoreline is jagged and rocky, but if you cruise around and look hard enough, you’ll find a little spot on one of our thousands of islands where you can put in and have the most spectacular afternoon overlooking the Atlantic all to yourself. So, Hardshore: A subtle homage ‘from away’ to our new home.”
Milne is Gin’s number one fan boy these days, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, his first foray into spirits was somewhat Whiskey oriented. He used to make the spirit on a small column still in his apartment in New York. At the time he worked in the finance/tech industry, so spirits were merely something he played with in the midnight hours.
While he liked Gin enough, he’d never given it much thought. His father-in-law, however, was obsessed, particularly with Bombay Sapphire – so much so that he even named his boat The Bombay. He decided to look into what it takes to make a gin, absorbing all the production details he could find from books and online. He went to a local food co-op, picked up some juniper berries, coriander and anise and made… well, a pretty gross spirit. Still, the idea was there.
It might be fair to say that happenstance played a small role in Hardshore Distilling’s story too; when Hurricane Sandy roared into New York at the tail end of 2012, Milne and his wife, Lindsay, went to stay with family in Maine. They fell so deeply in love with the place that they decided to abandon Manhattan for a life in the sticks.
It was around then that Milne broached the topic of opening a distillery. Lindsay was encouraging from the get go, telling him to put a plan together and go for it. Since then, Gin has been a big character in their lives. “I knew I wanted to make Gin and Bourbon.” Milne explained. “What I didn’t realise is how much focusing all of my energy on Gin would pay off. A lot of people make it, but it’s not their focus. I thought we’d be barrelling bourbon in year one to bottle in seven or eight years. I haven’t distilled a drop yet. I love making Gin and giving it all of my attention has allowed us to make something that stands apart.”
Milne decided to go all in, beginning right at the very beginning by producing his base alcohol from scratch. The wheat he uses is gathered from a farm owned by his family in Upstate New York. Huge consideration has gone into even the core details, so when making the base he cuts the fermentation process short to leave a little sugar in the wash. This softens it, allowing the botanicals to unfold slowly on the palate.
The neutral alcohol is fermented in open top tanks “to let the Maine in,” Milne told us. It is run up to around 96% on Hardshore Distilling’s 1,200 litre Arnold Holstein column still, then cut to 60% using Portland tap water, which is pulled from a local lake – Sebago.
The neutral spirit is carbon filtered, then macerated with the botanicals – of which there are just five – for around 36 hours. Juniper, coriander and orris are placed in one tank, rosemary and mint in another. At first, the botanicals were all run through the still together, but Milne rushes his juniper distillation to keep the pine as fresh as possible, and this meant that the rosemary and mint almost disappeared. Rather than slowing down the process (and dulling the way he extracts his juniper notes in the process), Milne puts the rosemary and mint through a separate 7-foot column still that he built years ago when living in New York.
A perfectionist to the last, Milne tests each distillate for louching and any that show signs of clouding are chill filtered. After this all distillates are blended together and cut down to 46% ABV.
The recipe for Hardshore Original Gin took Milne a great deal longer to work out than he anticipated. In fact, he argues that “saying we picked the recipe is about as far from the truth as it can be.” He insisted on cubeb as an ingredient and tried dozens and dozens of times to build a recipe that incorporated it. It was, as Milne puts it, a square peg. “We liked it in our minds and became anchored to it. After a few dozen batches we decided to try one batch without it and the resulting gin improved greatly. After that, we had to return to all the recipe iterations we had thrown out and cut the cubeb berries.”
Hardshore Original Gin to taste…
A new make, whisky-esque smell pops out as soon as the bottle is open. That creamy, malty base dominates the nose, though hints of coriander seed and juniper tickle at the nostrils. It’s surprising just how much of the creamy undertone has emerged here given the combination of reaching 96% ABV on the column still, carbon filtration and (sometimes) chill filtration – but in someways, it gives Hardshore a distinctly American, more progressive aroma.
The grain of the base acts as a sixth botanical to taste as well, bringing wheat-y cereal-like tones throughout the journey. It plays a huge role upfront, along with the coriander, to which the creamy qualities of the base has attached something of a jetpack, encouraging it to lend all of its lemony nuttiness to each sip.
Juniper and rosemary bring a rush of green, green pine and the mint has been used with such scarcity that it’s leafy, rather than cooling, waiting until the finish to present itself. Hardshore Original Gin certainly feels American in that it’s not as juniper forward as a classic “London” Gin, though the rosemary does enough to keep an element of pine in place and ensures that traditionalists are kept satisfied. The lack of evident citrus makes it an interesting proposition too (as so many gins are overburdened with it), while the combination of rosemary, juniper and mint gives it a distinct fresh herbal finish that plays particularly well with the wheat undertones.
With tonic is where it really comes into its own. The slight spirit burn evident when sipped neat disappears immediately, replaced by a juniper and rosemary pine and cooling swathes of mint. It’s quite unlike anything we’ve tasted before, but has a totally welcome flavour, tiptoeing around the edges of gin but showing just what else the spirit could and can be.
It’s always a bold decision to create a gin with no citrus and while Hardshore Original Gin doesn’t feel dressed down for lack of it, a slice of lemon in a G&T certainly wouldn’t be remiss. Milne, for his part, suggests a wedge of grapefruit to garnish, which we agree with wholeheartedly.
As individuals who have never been to Maine and contemplating this Gin from a different continent – we are as “from away” as it could get. Perhaps it’s a nostalgic projection, but the overall feeling is that Hardshore Gin is what we’d quite like to envisage Maine to be like. Probably rainy and outdoorsy but quite refreshing, pine needles and moss hanging in a briney atmospheric air, with an easy going undertone that’s surprisingly layered if you care to look further than just a quick experience. Whether that’s the reality of the place or the impression the gin gives – there’s an evocative sense of place captured in the bottle.
Hardshore Original Gin comes in a decidedly beautiful bottle, with grey-blue tinted glass continuing the coastal theme. This continues through to the lid, which, in all honesty, made an absolute tit of us as we fought to open it. Like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone we managed eventually, though our reward was not a kingdom but a tasty G&T. The label – printed on thick, white paper – is simple enough, though the ragged bottom pays tribute to the Maine shoreline. Each bottle wears a Medallion around its neck, which bears the Hardshore Original Gin logo – an extra touch that nudges the gin in a more premium direction.
Hardshore Distilling’s aim for the year is 2,000 cases, though with their production capabilities this can reach 10,000. Currently they’re selling in Maine and Massachusetts, but if they get to New York and – fingers crossed – find their way into international waters, that capacity will do them well. Hopefully this isn’t too far off: “We’re in full scale growth mode,” Milne said. “We’ve streamlined our production, we have our brand message and now we’re focused on making ourselves available. Distribution deals are our number one focus.”
Milne has a lot to be proud of already – he’s got a great raft of achievements under his belt, from assembling the still with his father, to drinking the first Negroni made from Hardshore Original Gin, to writing his first employee’s pay check.
We have no doubt big milestones await in the years to come, although perhaps nothing will rank as highly as the opening night in October 2016, though, when Milne saw just how excited the project was making Lindsay. “We invited all of our friends and many of her colleagues,” he told us. “As they came through the door and saw the still, I watched her buzz about telling them how we make the gin and how much effort went into getting everything together. That was the moment I realised just how proud of what I was doing she was, and how much it all meant to her.”
The “From Away”-ers have given the state of Maine a truly exemplary product. Hardshore Distilling’s from-scratch ethos is brave and brilliant. The product has everything a newbie gin needs to make a splash: integrity, family, branding and a quality than transcends county lines and will surely bring them many new fans as they continue to expand.
For more information about Hardshore Original Gin visit the website: hardshoredistilling.com
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