Chemist Gin – just what the mobster ordered.
History tells us that most Americans showed the same respect for prohibition as Matt Hancock did for the pandemic restrictions he was instrumental in formulating: with backwoods parts of the country – such as the Appalachian Mountains – making a packet from producing moonshine spirits to keep the illegal speakeasy bars supplied.
As Juliet covered in her History of Cocktails, much of the alcohol was so rough that bar staff mixed it with fruit juice to disguise the taste; as well as trying to conceal the illicit liquor from the police raids. However, this month’s offering from the Craft Gin Club (CGC) explains how US pharmacists were far more blatant in flouting the ban on booze: supplying customers with bootleg whisky and bathtub gin “on prescription” in the form of special remedies or tonics.
“Bathtub gin refers to any style of homemade spirit made in amateur conditions. The term first appeared in 1920, in the prohibition-era in the USA, in reference to the poor-quality alcohol that was being made.”
Well, we’re happy to report that although the CGC did as usual recommend a couple of cocktail recipes, Chemist American Gin does not require any camouflage in order to consume it; though a decent tonic and ice does help extend the taste experience. And as with cough medicines or cold cures like “Night nurse”, at a muscly 45% it’s probably best not to have too many shots if you’re planning to drive or operate heavy machinery.
By coincidence it was a former car lot in Asheville, North Carolina, that the business’s founder, Debbie Word, chose to convert into a distillery; though it was up at the family’s mountain retreat that the idea of producing her own hooch came, because none of the local alcohols appealed to her.
Having started with a rum inspired recipe cooked up on her stove – along with a potato-based vodka she describes as a “Debacle” – Debbie eventually moved onto gin, which includes medicinal herbs traditionally grown in the mountains amongst her botanicals.
Part of the progression also came about when Debbie and her sister took a trip to Scotland where they toured a whisky distillery run by Tony Reeman-Clark. The visit introduced them to Portuguese Hoga stills and Tony became Chemist’s Head of Production.
The vapour infusion stills apparently allowed the makers to utilise a greater selection of botanicals, including an impressive array of citrus: lemon, orange, tangerine, sweet orange and grapefruit. Also present are bilberry, green aniseed and lemon verbena.
Rather than the tap room that rounds off many brewery visits back here in Blighty, the Chemist distillery in Asheville has its own speakeasy bar next door, given the appropriate name of Antidote, and whose mixologists have been routinely involved in the development of recipes.
Along with daughter Danielle, a qualified chemist and working pharmacist, Debbie Word has undoubtedly crafted such a striking gin that we think it is only right that it replaces the sarsaparilla flavoured American Aviation Gin in the GINblogger top ten. Our new Trans-Atlantic ambassador.
Chemist American Gin can be purchased from the Craft Gin Club for £37.99.