Bar Guide: Not abstaining this year? Make it a dry ginuary instead

Good year! The only thing dry about my January (or, as I like to call it, Ginuary) is my gin, so I use that as an excuse to write about unusual local takes on the mind. Let the party begin!

I’ll start with Hardshore Distilling Company on Washington Avenue in Portland and their North Oak gin ($36.99/bottle), which won double gold at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Rested in new American oak barrels , its oak finish and amber hue remind me of whiskey. Hardshore loves it in a Rosemary Paloma: Add 1.5 ounces of North Oak gin, 0.5 ounces of fresh grapefruit juice, 0.5 ounces of fresh lime juice and 0.25 ounces of smoked mezcal to a glass with ice, top with grapefruit soda, add a pinch of grapefruit bitters, and garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a wedge of grapefruit.

Round Turn Distilling in Biddeford also puts an unusual spin on gin with its Bimini Coconut ($34.99/bottle). The manager of the Black Cow bar, Liz Smith, introduced him to me. It has just the right balance of coconut flavor, so it doesn’t taste like suntan oil running down your mouth. Round Turn’s favorite use is in a Negroni – the coconut brings out both the bolder citrus notes of Campari and the floral notes of sweet vermouth.

While on a rum cruise hosted by Portland Schooner Company and Three of Strong Spirits, I managed to sneak in a taste of Portage gin ($34.99/bottle). It’s no surprise that Three of Strong, a distillery that focuses on rum, uses a sugar cane spirit instead of the usual neutral grain base for its gin, giving the spirit a richer, creamier and sweeter than most. Three of Strong loves using it in a classic martini and in gin-based tiki drinks.

Maine Craft Distilling’s Chesuncook is a botanical spirit adjacent to gin. Photo courtesy of Maine Craft Distilling

Recently I stopped by Maine Craft Distilling on Washington Avenue and was delighted to discover that after a long absence, my favorite spirit was back in stock. Chesuncook ($33.99/bottle) is a carrot-based botanical spirit that definitely qualifies as gin-adjacent, and it’s way too interesting and delicious not to mention it here. Don’t let the carrot base intimidate you — Maine Craft’s website offers six different ways to use Chesuncook in cocktails.

Sniffing other local gins, I came across the multi-award-winning Back River ($28.49/bottle) from Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery in Union (with a tasting room in the Old Port). It uses Maine blueberries as one of the herbal remedies and tastes great in a hot gin toddy. To be clear, Back River is not a blueberry flavored gin. However, Sweetgrass makes a cranberry flavored gin ($28.49/bottle) using Maine cranberries.

The Stroudwater Distillery in Thompson’s Point also produces a gin ($34.70/bottle), using two different styles: London Dry and a more lemony gin in a 2:1 ratio. As a result, the juniper and citrus flavors are both present, but with a lighter mouthfeel. It works particularly well in an aviation.

My latest find was Jigger and Jones ($28.99/bottle), currently the only product from The Devil’s Half Acre in South Berwick, which prides itself on being Maine’s only veteran-owned and operated distillery. Am I wrong to expect the owner to be a retired general?

As you do your own research to find out which local gin is your favorite, remember: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try a gin.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while doing as many puns as her editor allows.

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