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Written by Gin Foundry

This team of small, hand crafted spirit producers have created a mightily BIG GIN

There are now a lot of craft players in the US gin scene. St George’s Gin, FEW Spirits, Greenhook Ginsmiths and NY Distilling Co, to name a few, have all created products that in some way, have pushed gin as a category forward. So, when we read that Captive Spirit’s BIG GIN was on The Gin Is In’s (a gin blog with an emphasis around American gins) top 5 new releases of 2012 – we were excited to taste it. In the years since, it may not have become as “big” a name as some of its peers internationally, but this is a gin you should not miss out on.

Launched in March 2012, BIG GIN is the first product from Ballard-based distillery Captive Spirits (just outside Seattle). Allegedly the name came from both the flavour profile of the gin as well as distiller Ben Capdevielle’s nickname for his dad, Big Jim, a craft distiller in Wisconsin.

The process of opening a distillery however, all started 4 years earlier around 2008, when Capdevielle developed an interest in gin distilling. Seeing a gap in the market for robust flavoured gins he and his fiancée Holly Robertson decided to create their own. With a family history steeped in distilling and working in the bar industry, the pair spent their spare time researching and visiting distilleries.

Craft distilling culture may be celebrated and popular, yet it remains a risky business in which many fail to turn a profit or even get started. In order to avoid this fate, the couple took the time to learn the tricks of the trade – for example a lot of gin distilling is not something you can just read about, but something that is more akin to trade secrets handed from one distiller to another and the only way to find out is to visit distilleries and trial out various botanical distillates and gins. During this research and preparation stage, they brought in a third partner, Todd Leabman, a former builder who controls the team’s bookkeeping and navigates Captive Spirits through what we can only imagine to be a myriad of bureaucratic hurdles and red tape.

Distilled from a corn based spirit in what can only be described as a seductive looking 100-gallon Vendome-made pot still, BIG GIN was always intended to be a gin that doesn’t shy away from the juniper. We asked Captive Spirit’s Holly Robinson to explain a little more – “We spent a lot of time tasting gins we admire, then pulled out their best characteristics, as much as we could. We also spent time individually distilling each botanical & discovering at what temperatures & times the best flavours prevailed. Ultimately, what we are striving to produce (and feel like we do!) is a domestic dry style gin made for people who enjoy the traditional flavour of gin.”

BIG GIN to taste…

With nine botanicals (juniper, coriander, bitter orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, cardamom, orris, Tasmanian pepper berry), BIG GIN has a relatively traditional lineup. To the nose there is a definitive aroma of juniper, accompanied by peppery spice. To taste, the name says it all. BIG GIN is big on the juniper. There is also a lot of spice too – pepper, angelica and grains of paradise all follow a slightly waxy juniper note. This is big, bold gin. (At a guess the corn based spirit may be the reason for this) – there’s a slight underlying sweetness that underpins the flavours and in a G&T, the sweetness and warm citrus notes come out to balance out a classic tasting gin. The fact that it is balanced makes it good all round, but definitely one for those who like more traditional tasting profiles. Think modern take on Beefeater or Junípero.

Whilst we always make a note of the overall ABV of a gin, we were genuinely surprised to see that BIG GIN was at 47% ABV. It is so smooth and gives little spirity nose or alcoholic burn. It’s a full-on gin lover’s gin, but mainly because of the flavour profile asserting itself rather than the spirit.

As is always the case with small batch American producers – availability is always their Achilles heel, especially for gin fans outside of the USA. Small production runs and mountains of legislation aren’t exactly the most distribution friendly obstacles to contend with. From what we’ve understood, BIG GIN is available all over Washington State and now also Illinois and Nevada. The fact that they are growing fast is a testament to the quality of the gin and it bodes well for fans overseas. However, despite many people’s best efforts to get some imported into the UK, so far – things haven’t quite fallen into place for the distillery yet and three years on, it still remains hard to come by. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait much longer for wider distribution.

So, other than world domination, what’s next for the team at Captive Spirits? “We enjoy making gin and have been dabbling in different styles. We are currently getting the label approval finalised with the feds for our bourbon barrel aged BIG GIN, which has a softer side than the straight BIG GIN.” Holly Roberston answered. Whilst she didn’t mention it at the time – we have also heard talk of the team creating a whisky, a feat that would make a lot of sense given the family connection to distilling Templeton Rye during prohibition.

It’s hard not to like the Captive Spirits story and product; a third generation distiller sets up craft distillery with his young family, produces a gin that doesn’t shy away from the category’s heritage and is in the mist of creating new exciting products. With the addition of the Bourbon Barrel Aged Gin to their line up in late 2013, with it’s soft oaky notes and slightly more pronounced spice, it seems that the team keep going from strength to strength.

Those who like juniper lead “traditional” gins will enjoy BIG GIN, both the original or barrel aged and whether they just want it in the glass or want to dig a little deeper and discover their story. We’ve been testing it out straight, in Negroni’s and many other drinks – it mixes well. Subtle enough not to overwhelm, but assertive enough to not be drowned out.


For more information about BIG Gin, visit their website:  www.captivespirits.com

Say hello on Social media:

Twitter: @CaptiveSpirits

Instagram: @CaptiveSpirits

Big Gin Bottle