San Francisco-based Distillery No. 209 has a lot of things going for it, starting with some legitimate history–the original 209, at a winery in St. Helena, California, dates back to 1882. The owners, as you might expect, have some background in the wine business. They own Rudd Oakville Estate Winery and previously owned famous gourmet chain Dean & Deluca. And apparently looking to make a statement, they constructed their new facility–complete with alembic copper pot still–out over the water of San Francisco Bay, right near the ballpark.
But unless you’re a spirits historian or looking for some gin to sip after a ballgame, this may not matter much. What does matter: how their gins taste. And they’ve got five of them, mostly based on the same botanicals, but with some significant experimentation going on.
It’s an interesting experiment to taste them horizontally, so let’s get into it.
NO. 209 GIN
Distilled five times from American corn, this is every bit a New World gin. You’ll get only a whisper of juniper, as lemon, cardamom and coriander take center stage. It’s slightly boozy on the nose, with a big hit of citrus. The slightly oily mouthfeel works perfectly with the aromatics, yielding a surprisingly long, pleasant finish. This will do the trick in a drier-style Martini or in an Aviation. 46% ABV / $34.99
CE Rating: ★★★★
NO. 209 KOSHER FOR PASSOVER GIN
There are plenty of kosher gins, but not many that are kosher-for-Passover, meaning that they’re subject to even stricter dietary guidelines. And that makes a big difference in how this gin is produced. First off, grain is forbidden, so they distill this gin five times from sugarcane, and use a slightly different botanical blend, including bay leaf. This is far more subtle on the nose, with a bit of rum character from the sugar. You might not even know it was a gin versus a vodka (related: they also make a kosher-for-Passover vodka). And it finishes immediately. Very little character comes through–just a tiny hint of citrus and herbs. Use it like you would any neutral base spirit. 46% ABV / $42
CE Rating: ★★
NO. 209 SAUVIGNON BLANC BARREL RESERVE GIN
Now things really get interesting, as they take their classic No. 209 gin and let it sit for 134 days in used sauvignon blanc barrels from their sister Napa winery. Here, the aromatics really pop out of the glass, with a dry, almost sherry-like quality in the background. On the nose, the vanilla and caramel from the oak threaten to overtake the citrus and spices, but never quite seal the deal, leaving a nice balance of pre-dinner and after-dinner character. As such, you could drop an onion in your glass and make an interesting Gibson with this, or put it in a Corpse Reviver No. 2, but leave out the Lillet. 46% ABV / $54
CE Rating: ★★★
NO. 209 CHARDONNAY BARREL RESERVE GIN
My favorite of the barrel-aged bunch, this one sees the inside of used chardonnay barrels for 119 days. Here, the nose is very pronounced, with a raisin-y, vanilla quality, almost like a late-harvest Riesling. But you’ll get nothing but dryness from its big mouthfeel. The oak really comes though, rendering it something like a whiskey on the front end, before resolving with a blast of citrus and cardamom. You’ll want to run not walk to make a Vesper cocktail with this. I did. 46% ABV / $54
CE Rating: ★★★★
NO. 209 CABERNET SAUVIGNON BARREL RESERVE GIN
The most wine-like and boldest of the three, this sits for 213 days in Napa Cabernet barrels. It’s not much darker than those aged in the white wine barrels, but you’ll find a bit of a port quality on the nose with all that time in wood. Here, I find that the red grapes really bring out the citrus on the front, although it finishes a bit quick, leaving nothing but a huge hit of tannin in its wake. Is that a bit of orange on the finish? Could be, although maybe I was just thinking about making a Negroni with it. Otherwise you could employ this anywhere you’d use an old genever. 46% ABV / $54
CE Rating: ★★★