Big Chief Botanical

Big Chief GowanusIt would be almost disconcerting to note the juxtaposing traits of extreme calm and constant movement that Allen Katz (read Robert Simonson’s full story on him here) seems to possess. Almost, because he’s such a lovely guy that it’s impossible to feel ill-at-ease in his presence at all, or when consuming his extremely well-made spirits, for that matter. So we’re happy no moss gathers under his quick feet. While his initial duo gins take the world by storm (he just started exporting to England, for Pete’s sake — American gin asked for in England!), and we await the release of his Rock and Rye and rye whiskey, there is yet another jigger of spirited intrigue on the horizon from New York Distilling: Chief Gowanus gin.

When I stopped in to check it out at Katz’s Williamsburg-based distillery, he told me it was a New Netherlands-style gin, and I kind of scratched my head – I’d never of it. “That’s because we made up the name,” he smiled.

Sort of. Katz’s friend, cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, uncovered an early 19th century recipe (although, in all likelihood, he notes, it’s probably much older than that) from Dutch immigrants who’d come to the New World. It used myriad local ingredients to recreate their homeland’s style of gin: Netherlands or Holland or Genever-style, a gin that tends to be more slippery on your tongue, fuller, malty, richer. If you’ve never tried it, think of it like a more robust style of the spirit than the delicate botanically bright umbrella-titled London-style gin or more recent citrusy New West style gins.

“The kicker for us, though, is the recipe is based on a rye distillate — and we have plenty of that,” says Katz. So he and his partners, Tom Potter and Bill Potter, use the rye they source from Pederson Farm in upstate New York for the grain base, along with the traditional juniper and the unusual addition of Pacific Northwest hops (hops used to be ubiquitous in New York; we’re hoping they’re on their way to being so again). And the name? Gowanus, while possibly more well-known in Kings County for its namesake canal, was actually the Native American chief of the Canarsie indians (hence the rendering on the label).

Chief Gowanus is aged for three months in used whiskey barrels, giving it a pale straw hue and rounding out its spicy, herbal flavors. I loved it. Now to wait like Linus in the pumpkin patch until September to get it …



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