Waterloo Gin combines traditional gin botanicals with a decisively Texan twist. With the American state fast accumulating a reputation for innovative craft spirits, watch out for this boldly flavoured gin flying the state’s flag on its march into bars across the US.
Founded by Daniel Barnes in 2005, Treaty Oak Distilling (formerly named Graham Barnes Distilling) originally started their foray into craft spirits with Treaty Oak Plantation Rum before moving into other spirits. Six years into their journey – in late 2011 – the team decided to create a gin. There are now a few gins that hail from Texas, but Waterloo Gin was one of the first, and with a barrel aged version now part of a complete spirits portfolio, the distillery is one of the more interesting craft distillers for gin fans to keep an eye out for.
The Treaty Oak name was chosen for the distillery from a local and ancient oak tree which was part of the original council oaks, revered by local Comanche and Tonkawa tribes. Stephen F. Austin signed a border treaty with Native Americans under its broad branches. Back in 1989, the tree was poisoned with velpar. After tiresome and continued efforts by local botanists, the tree survived against slim odds, even though more than 50% of it had died. It is still large and healthy today, although it currently sits at only half of its original size since 1989.
The Treaty Oak’s strength in overcoming this incident inspired Daniel Barnes, and its place deep in Texas history roots made it the perfect basis for the company, so Barnes named his burgeoning craft distilling endeavour after the landmark.
Back to Gin! Head Distiller, Chris Lamb, allegedly experimented with almost 50 different recipes before they found the exact flavour profile they liked. Using a neutral base spirit made from corn and wheat, Waterloo Gin is made with a mix of Texas-grown botanicals such as lavender, rosemary, pecans, anise, citrus from the Rio Grande Valley (grapefruit, lemon and orange peel) along with juniper, coriander seeds, ginger and licorice root.
The name Waterloo, is derived from the original name for Austin. In 1837, settlers arrived in Central Texas and founded the village they called Waterloo on the banks of the Colorado River. It was the first permanent settlement in the area and by the year 1839 the community had adopted the name Austin in honour of Stephen F. Austin – also known as the “Father of Texas.” It’s a fitting name for a gin that combines both local and traditional botanicals and the possible double interpretation for a British audience whose historical reference of Waterloo is drastically different (even if unintentional) with a nice nod to the origins of Gin and the Navy.
Waterloo Gin has the up-front juniper punch of a traditional London Dry style with a little Texas on the palate. The lavender, grapefruit and pecan are a departure from traditional gin recipes for sure, but they give Waterloo Gin a Texas twang. Bottled at 47% ABV, it’s a big junipery gin that is softened by the presence of grapefruit and lavender. To taste, there is a warming resinous juniper that’s lengthened by the waxiness of rosemary, but anise and lavender combine to accentuate both the spiced and floral elements in equal amounts too. It’s surprisingly sweet and leaves a piquant finish, overall it’s a gin that is incredibly complex and layered. The grapefruit is evident throughout too and a pink grapefruit peel would be our advice for what to use as a garnish in a G&T.
They have also released a barrel aged version named Waterloo Antique Barrel Aged Gin. Incidentally, with only Few Spirits’ aged gin coming close in terms of colour, Waterloo Antique is by far the darkest Barrel Aged Gin we’ve seen yet, with a decidedly brown colour rather than the pale yellows or light ambers from other offerings. From a flavour perspective too, it is also the most woody of the aged gins we’ve tried to date.
Waterloo Antique Barrel Aged Gin is made from a blend of aged gins, each of which have been aged different lengths of time ranging from a few months all the way to two years. It’s quite an uncommon technique for aged gins, with most distillers either releasing a barrel at a time or combining multiples barrels together, which have been aged for the same amount of time.
As fans of aged spirits and gin geeks, Waterloo Antique Barrel Aged Gin’s unforgiving juniper forward and woody flavours were always going to appeal to us. It’s full blown, big flavours and exactly what anyone expects from a state that is known for being larger than life and impressive in every way.
That said it’s fair to say that because it is very barrel aged, the amount of woody and cedar like aromas overwhelm the lighter botanicals making it a somewhat more singular experience than their un-aged gin. Juniper followed by oak, with a charred finish are the primary aromas at 47% ABV. It takes a bit of contemplative sipping to start to coax out the flavour of citrus and the lighter floral elements like lavender, although they do become apparent long after the gin has disappeared, with a cheeky floral finish to the gin.
With a dash of water it’s easier to appreciate the layers of flavour in Waterloo Antique Barrel Aged Gin. The sweetness is accentuated by the vanillin’s leached from the wood in the ageing process and compliment the already anise like, liquorice root and resinous flavours already in the gin.
The big charred notes make for an intriguing proposition in their own right, but also make it a unique cocktail gin. It’s worth seeking out for those looking for something different and who want to try gin neat or in cocktails other than a G&T (Martinez, Negroni, Gin & It). A Waterloo Antique Barrel Aged Gin Old Fashioned (using orange bitters instead of Angostura) is a delight.
Both Treaty Oak Distilling and their Waterloo gins are proudly local. While this is unique from a flavour perspective, it also means that with their focus having being concentrated in Texas for many years – outside of the state it is still hard to get hold of a bottle, let alone a reliable steady source.
With no real website and no distribution outside of USA, it’s also hard to take the “drink it because it’s not from England” side of their advertising. “All hat no cattle” is the idiom that comes to mind given they don’t really compete on the same stage. That said, if they ever do grow to a size where they can export, we suspect that they are sure to gather many fans of their juniper forward and distinct gins.
The flags they have created as well as their labels are amongst some of our favourite design work created for any brand, they not only reflect the regionality of Waterloo Gin and the heritage of the county, but they are as bold as the gin they have made.
The team and distillery have been growing steadily for years and this looks set to continue. In 2013 Daniel Barnes was elected President of the Texas Distilled Spirits Association. The organisation played an instrumental role in crafting the bill SB905, which was passed and went into effect 1st September 2013. The law allows distilleries to sell product, bottles and cocktails directly from their distilleries. This was a big bill to pass as it allows for a direct route to market, but with continued legislation freeing up opportunities for innovation, Texas is now flourishing as a location for exciting and distinctive spirits.
For those of you who like sipping barrel aged gin along side a beer, there is even a craft ale aged in old Waterloo Antique Gin barrels! Yes, the half dozen people in the world who do that, you know who you are and you are now in luck! What, is it just us..? OK then. On a more serious note however, keep your attention firmly set on the state as it’s a region we will hear a lot more about in the months to come and a distillery whose gins are worthy of attention and much wider appreciation.
For more information about Treaty Oak Distilling, visit their website: www.treatyoakdistilling.com
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