Nearly all the gin consumed in the United States is produced in what's known as the "London Dry" style, in which a neutral spirit (vodka) is distilled with a mix of botanicals. Juniper — the berry of a cyprus tree, and a required component of all gins — is the primary flavoring, and crisp citrus peel is the note most people next notice.
However, the local makers of Wigle Whiskey have a new release — Wigle Ginever — based on a traditional Dutch style of gin called "genever."
Wigle's version begins with unaged whiskey, which has a heftier flavor and mouth-feel than vodka. But while juniper still serves as the backbone, it's not as flavor-forward as in London Dry gins. Instead, the botanical mix features some fairly exotic flavors.
Wigle's Meredith Grelli is cagey about the precise list of ingredients. But she will disclose that it features nine botanicals, including some lesser-known ingredients. Cubeb, a pungent, aromatic pepper from Java, provides punch; cardamom infuses a candied earthen flavor, while lavender adds floral, herbaceous notes.
Why distill such a quirky spirit? Grelli says Wigle is taking its cue from craft brewers, who have long been known to focus on innovative and unexpected creations, rather than aiming for homogenized flavors.
This blend of unaged whiskey, quirky botanicals and applied history fits neatly into Wigle's MO. "We found recipes from 1800s Pennsylvania farmers who were making this style of gin with their famous Monongahela Rye Whiskey," says Grelli. "So it seemed appropriate that a Pittsburgh distillery would bring this style back."
Grelli hopes Ginever, with its whiskey base, "will bridge the divide" between whiskey and gin drinkers. It's certainly smooth enough to be sipped on the rocks like a whiskey, but also blends nicely in a simple cocktail like a Gin Fizz: Mix ½ oz lemon juice and ½ oz simple syrup with 1 oz Wigle Ginever. Stir with ice and top with bubbly water (perhaps a blast of Pittsburgh Seltzer).