It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to work out what Junípero Gin is about. The spirit, made by Anchor Distilling (now known as Hotalin & Co) in Portrero Hill, San Francisco, is a sublimely classic affair, and while – in this modern age, particularly – it may not seem to sound the sirens that alert something new wave and off balance is about to hit your tonsils, it is still a pioneering gin in many senses of the word.
Launched exactly 20 years ago in 1998, Junípero Gin truly was one of the first of the craft gins to hit the market. In fact, when founder Fritz Maytag opened up the distillery in 1993, it became the very first to create pot-distilled American whiskey. This ballsy moved showed others that the possibility of operating at a smaller scale was a very real one and, much like Sipsmith did in England, set off a chain of dominoes that saw craft distilling take off. Basically, if you’re looking for anyone to blame for the Gin boom over the Atlantic, Maytag would be a good place to start.
Anchor Distilling is the sister company of the Anchor Brewing Company, a firm whose history dates as far back as 1871. The brewery was held by its founder, German brewer Gottlieb Brekle, for around 25 years before it was taken over by another German (along with his son in law). The company had a slightly cursed feel about it thereafter, with both owners dying a year apart in 1906 and 1907. A fire in 1933 raised the brewery to the ground, and then – the cherry on the cake – mass produced beers came along, taking the company to near redundancy in both 1959 and 1965. It was until Maytag, a young graduate at the time, took over that a radical transformation took hold.
When Maytag heard that his favourite beer company was on the edge of extinction he rushed to its aid, crafting away to create a range of now legendary beers that didn’t just revive the company, but completely revitalised it. Arguably, this work could be argued as that which helped propel the craft beer movement in the USA, and while the distillery is run as a separate affair, the story seems to echo itself quite well. Create some craft beers, watch an industry wake up around it. Make a craft gin and craft whisky, watch the craft spirits industry not just splutter, but explode back to life.
Maytag was hugely inspired by the history of gin, so juniper was always going to sit at the very heart of the Junípero. The other known botanicals involved are, allegedly, angelica, aniseed, cardamom, cassia, coriander, cubeb, grains of paradise, lemon, orange (both seville and sweet) and orris root.
Junípero Gin to taste…
Juniper on the nose, taste and finish comes as an obvious part of the tasting so the real question here is whether it is one dimensional and singular. Gladly, Junípero Gin is not. The citrus eases in proceedings just enough, while cassia, grains of paradise and cubeb all add a fair amount of botanical heat to the spirit, which at 49.3% is hot to say the least. It’s a traditional gin, more than a bit boozy and while many will look past it because of that, it’s in the classicism that lies both the beauty of Junípero and the best way to work with it in a G&T or other cocktails.
Given that Junípero Gin was very much styled on the history of the spirit, it should come as no surprise that when it came time to experiment with variants, the distillery went down the Old Tom path.
Anchor Old Tom Gin takes its sweetness from a blend of star anise, liquorice root and stevia. It’s the first time we can think of stevia having been distilled for such a purpose, but given how sweet this style of gin is supposed to be, it seems almost an obvious choice. The resulting gin is, as you may expect, as saccharine as can be.
Anchor Old Tom Gin to taste…
There’s an amazingly dusty and soft nose to Anchor Old Tom. There a soft, thick mouthfeel to taste, that’s warming overall, but never has too much of a peak of either spice nor citrus. It’s like the base note in a musical ensemble, not the entire chord and to continue on the analogy, it’s as if there was a double bass player just setting a timbre and a tone – not trying to riff yet nor really accompanied by anything else. Smooth, hypnotic, but singular.
Overall, it’s missing all the top notes, the dancing citrus, the flicker of florals, the booming spice. That’s not a bad thing and there’s no off notes, no miss-hits keys, not awkward contrasts – just a mesmerically simple and effective base tone, baritone in its nature and pulling you through, charming you along the way.
Is the stevia any sweeter than using sugar after? Not really no, but it does allow for a more saccharine sweetness compared to the earthier elements of liquorice root (and adds sweetness in a more interesting way than plonking a load of sugar would do), while also helping the juniper to come through in a more verdant way on the finish.
Both spirits are served up in fat little wine bottles, with Junípero Gin’s purple cap and edging speaking of the gin’s core botanical. It’s a vast improvement on the plane old original bottle, and while it may not be the fanciest, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about it that means it’s never quite shunted to the back of our gin cabinet. Curious and pretty, it’s one that feels as though it could speak to many an audience. Non-gendered, not aimed at any particular age… it’s just accessible and clean.
In 2010, Maytag retired from the business, handing over the reigns of both Anchor Distilling and Anchor Brewing to a business partnership that included industry experts Tony Foglio and Keith Greggor, as well as London wine shop Berry Bros & Rudd. The company changed hands again fairly quickly when, in 2017, Anchor Brewing Comapny was sold. Whilst the distillery wasn’t part of the sale, it gave up its rights to the Anchor name, becoming Hotaling & Co, a reference to San Francisco legend A.P. Hotaling, who took advantage of the American Gold Rush and became a huge spirits dealer.
Meanwhile, Junípero Gin just continues on to exist. It has survived changing hands and ever-increasing competition. It has watched Gin become this huge, weird thing. It has seen a thousand and more varieties of the spirit come to life and through it all it’s barely blinked. Junípero Gin will continue to exist for many more years ahead. It’ll continue to look at all of the madness happening around it, shrug its shoulders and keep walking. It isn’t gong to play any games (we hope), it isn’t going to beg you to love it (you will) and Junípero Gin isn’t going to chase you for your affection, but you should probably chase it and when you get a chance, have a pour yourself a double.
For more information about Junípero Gin, visit their website: www.anchordistilling.com
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