Gin doesn’t age in barrels like bourbon or Scotch, picking up golden color and rich characteristics from wood. But just because it’s see-through doesn’t mean it’s not as structurally complex as any brown spirit. Instead of deriving flavor from a limited mixture of grains, gin gets its flavor from an array of botanicals. In Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ new line, there is always the backbone of juniper, plus multiple levels of citrus—lemon, lime, grapefruit. But each edition relies on diversity—lavender, cubeb berries, peppercorn, coriander, rose hips, so many others—combined in proportions that are closely guarded secrets.
“We can discover flavors by varying ratios of the botanicals we use—how they relate to each other and how to combine them for balance,” says Chris Weld, founder of the distillery, originally an offshoot project of his farm. “It is the perfect application of my background in biochemistry and my interest in agriculture.”
“Our structure is predicated on taking advantage of the Berkshire terroir. When I rebuilt the 1950s barn for the original distillery, I put up three silos so I could store local grains.”
Name: Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Location: Sheffield, Massachusetts
Known for: , San Francisco Spirits Competition gold medal winner
Owner/distiller/craftsman: Chris Weld, 53
Product: Ethereal, Berkshire’s new craft gin
HOW CHRIS WELD MAKES GIN
1. Ethereal gin starts with a neutral base spirit—a highly concentrated high-proof ethanol. Weld produces his own using regional grains: about 70 percent corn and about 30 percent wheat grain bill, distilled four times and about the cleanest slate he can get.
2. The botanicals are macerated (rather than heated, which is called an infusion) in the neutral spirit at room temperature. It takes about 18 hours for the ethanol to soften the botanicals and release their chemical flavor compounds. Some distillers add the botanicals at intervals according to the extraction timing each might require. Instead, Weld plays with the proprietary ratios of the botanicals. They go in at the same time.
3. The spirit is re-distilled in stainless tanks, coming off at 160 proof and then proofed down to 86 percent with filtered water from the farm, now trucked to Weld’s new distillery, about five miles away, before being bottled and labeled.
“The cornerstone of spirits is a wonderful water source. We draw granite spring water from our property at the peak of a mountain range surrounded by state land. Believed by Native Americans to have healing powers, our springs were once part of a 19th-century health spa, attracting Manhattanites who traveled here to rusticate and take in the waters as a tonic for city life. We became the first commercial use of the water since 1901. It’s also what we drink at home. If the spring runs dry, we turn off the washing machine until the cistern refills itself.
“We went through about 50 different recipes to develop Greylock, so it only took a few micro-distillations of Ethereal to give us a pretty good gestalt of how the botanicals would affect the product. Now we do the recipes by the seat of our pants, inspired by what we feel like drinking.”
This appears in the September 2018 issue.