Cold River Gin was first released in August 2010 by Chris Dowe under Maine Distilleries in Fryeburg, Maine. Like many craft distilleries, Maine Distilleries pride themselves on their handcrafted approach and artisanal nature that starts, according to them, right from the ground up. Harvesting potatoes that they grow on their own Green Thumb farm allows them to control the quality and base of each of their spirits.
When far too often in America huge corporations own businesses, it’s good to see something small and locally owned becoming increasingly successful and established. For Cold River Gin, there’s no third party nonsense here. Keeping the family-run farm alive and doing so using a sustainable farming model is something which strikes a chord of admiration in itself. They have not compromised on expertise either, Chris – alongside three other partners who founded Maine Distilleries back in 2005 – heads the team as Master Distiller bringing with him his experience of having worked in the design of brewing facilities across America.
Whilst two of the four partners take more of a hands-off approach, keeping to their original day jobs, Chris and Donnie Thibodeau directly deal with, and manage, the distillery and farm together. It is Donnie’s farm potatoes that are used to make the neutral spirit. Coming from an agrarian background and generations of farmers, Donnie was concerned about the decrease in potato farms in his home state of Maine. Producing potato vodka and gin means that he can at least do his bit to attempt to keep this native industry thriving, and gives the gin a certain quality in comparison to grain spirit. Furthermore, last winter they even went so far as to spread their passion for potatoes by donating a pound of Green Farm potatoes for every bottle of Cold River that was sold. Due, unsurprisingly, to its success they are doing the same again for winter 2013. While it wasn’t a deciding factor on why to use potatoes, interestingly, due to this choice base – Cold River Gin is Gluten free.
The idea of a potato based spirit is without doubt unusual. However, it’s not uncommon as one might think with a half dozen other US gins opting into using spuds as their base. In the UK the team at Chase distillery have long been distilling their produce and have an award winning potato vodka. To name another prominent star from the US state where Cold River is made, Maine Craft Distilling launched in 2011 and also uses potatoes to create their neutral spirit… Yep, they’re crazy about spuds out there!
Chris and Donnie like to ensure that their spirits are all triple-distilled in their copper pot still before water is added from the nearby Cold River, where the gin gets its very name. The Cold River starts by winding itself down the White Mountains and ends 17 miles down stream, coming out of a glacial-cirque by the picturesque Cold River camp ground. Fortunately, there is a Cold River Aquifer at the Green Thumb Farms, allowing them to obtain huge volumes of locally sourced water. They use this water to lower Cold River Gin‘s ABV to a bottling strength of 47%.
The botanicals are steeped in potato spirit within the pot for several hours which allows the spirit to seep into each and every part of the botanical and take on the individual flavours. Then the solution is triple-distilled. Keeping to a previous gin tradition in which gins were bottled in various coloured bottles, Cold River is packaged in dark green glass with an attractive label that has the Latin names for the botanicals circling it. These bottles are also then hand batched and numbered before being sent to their customer’s door.
Cold River takes inspiration from traditional British gin recipes, and whilst keeping themselves as an American gin with their farm-grown potatoes – they state both sources proudly. With it’s seven botanicals including that of juniper, coriander, lemon and orange peel, cardamom, angelica root and orris root, it’s easy to see the inspiration of the London Dry style gin that is touched upon. However, with cardamom being used it adds a sweet twist to the old traditional gin profile and – you guessed it – the potatoes are certainly adding their part to make the ensemble unique.
Cold River Gin to taste…
On tasting Cold River Gin, it kicks-off with an assertive strong juniper hit, complemented by coriander and citrus notes titillating behind. Rooty and cardamon laden spice also plays it’s role to bring the gin to a peppery finish, all of which playing around on what feel like a creamy base. It’s a more traditional London gin than new American style but it manages to be both unique and captivating. One for those who like “ginny” gins for sure.
Maine has recently had a huge influx of craft distilleries establishing themselves. It is this close-proximity of location and similarities in the distilleries productions (base spirit, artisan scale) that means that each will need to keep innovating if they are to survive and thrive. Cold River has it’s work cut out to be the best in it’s own back yard, let alone across the US and abroad, but the product is good, the back story authentic and with craft ethos now embedded into everything they do – they are in a good position to continue growing. Their ethos remains community orientated, and it is seen not only in the distillation process but also through their potato giveaways. Whilst there are a few potato based spirit gins on the market, they are still very much in the minority and there is no reason why they should be when they are as good as this.
For more information about Cold River Gin, visit their website: www.coldrivervodka.com/gin
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