We have two favorite liquor stores in Cambridge. Cambridge Wine and Spirits is a big, clean, well-kept, well-lit grocery store with great inventory and cheap prices, basically the best imaginable discount liquor store. It’s where we went when we were stocking up, or when we knew what we were looking for. Pemberton Farms is where we went when we wanted to explore. Pemberton Farms is a garden store, which added on a high end farm stand, which added on a gourmet specialty store, which added on the deli with the best sandwiches in the neighborhood, which added on a liquor store with the most carefully curated, interesting selection of spirits ever.
Shortly before we left town, Pemberton held its Summer Spirits Spectacular, an event that lived up to its name: an extensive, impressive, entirely free tasting event of (mostly) regional spirits. Steph and I had a blast. We talked with all of the distillers, tasted as much as we could handle, and then chose two bottles to take home. In all of the moving craziness, we never had a chance to taste our prizes again at home.
A rainy Saturday gave us the perfect opportunity. Inspired by Eat the Rich’s locals-only happy hour, we thought it would be even better to mark our move to a new locale by trying out some new local gins from a promising DC liquor store as well. Thus, this Saturday afternoon became our regional (and one California) gin (and one vodka) taste-0ff.
- Greenhook Ginsmith’s Old Tom Gin: Greenhook is a distiller in Brooklyn. Old Tom is a mellower, slightly sweeter throwback variety of gin that’s been having something of a resurgence in popularity recently. Old Tom in general is a nice option when you are in the mood for gin, but want it to be smoother than gin tends to be. This particular Old Tom is quite pleasant. With its strong hint of cinnamon, it was more pleasant sipping straight then most gins are, even with its atypically high alcohol content (50% instead of the more typical 40%). It was great with tonic too.
- St. George Green Chile Vodka: neither a gin nor local by any measure in either of our homes, this one is kind of just tagging along at the Gin-Off. And it’s a flavored vodka to boot; we generally find them to be an unnecessary use of shelf space. But we’re big fans of St. George’s gin and we bought it in Cambridge and thought it would be good to know a local distiller for the times we visit Steph’s California family; so we thought we’d give this vodka a fair shake. When we talked to the St. George rep at Spirit Spectacular, he basically admitted that they were bowing to the pressure to make flavored vodkas to extend their product line; but he also said that they promised themselves that if they were going to do it, they were going to do it right. And they did. The vodka is crisp and clean. The chile flavor tastes like actual chile, not some artificial version of it. And as an extra bonus while the peppery flavor is quite strong, it’s not actually hot. We’ll definitely use this in our spicy drinks; up until now, it’s been hard to get the flavor right while keeping the temperature palatable. And if you’re looking for an interesting twist on the Vodka Tonic, here’s a good way to get it.
- Green Hat: this is the very gin we had as a gin and tonic at Eat the Rich. When we sipped it straight, we found it to have a very complex front end taste; there was a lot going on, and it was good. However, it was a little more viscous than we like our gin, and it had a long, kind of harsh pine back end to it. With the tonic, though, it was great. Somehow, we actually found the thicker mouthfeel to be a welcome change of pace from the norm; and the piney back end was significantly softened, creating a pleasingly eventful overall taste experience.
- Ivy City: this one, distilled right here in the District (as is Green Hat) was our favorite. The Old Tom is probably still a better choice for sipping than this, but this too was surprisingly good straight. It had a smooth, clean, crisp taste. Like the Green Hat, it had a pine finish, but one that hit just the right note for us. And with the tonic, it was delightful, so flavorful and so easy-drinking it was almost dangerous. We didn’t try it, but we guessed this would make a truly excellent martini.
All four of our bottles were well worth trying, both straight and with tonic. And DC’s local offerings really impressed us. Thanks to Schneider’s, Green Hat, and Ivy City for helping us get over the fact that we might very well miss next year’s Summer Spirit Spectacular. And we know what we’re going to do the next time we have a rainy Saturday: head on over to Ivy City’s distillery for a tour and tasting.