Wheelhouse Gin is one that I was really looking forward to, seeing as it’s the closest thing I have to a hometown spirit. Its maker, Gold River Distillery is located in Rancho Cordova, very near by The Ethanol Spirit’s home town. Everyone loves things from their home town, like restaurants, sports teams, radio stations, and celebrities (hi Smosh!). Craft brewing is having quite a boom these days, but it seems distilling is not, so I was quite excited to discover Gold River was making distilled liquor right next door.
Wheelhouse Gin has rather interesting packaging; the front label is mostly transparent, letting you see through to the back label, which has an artist’s rendition of the American River. The requisite background paragraph recalls the times of prohibition, when people would sail up and down the American River as bootleggers, providing bathtub gin to the people of the area.
One issue I had with Wheelhouse brand spirits is that there are currently two, a vodka and a gin. The gin I was able to find with no difficulty, it’s available at more than one major chain and it wasn’t at all hard to find, but the vodka has turned out to be quite elusive. I might have just taken a drive down to the distillery, except that at the time of writing they were currently not able to sell directly to the public. (That is no longer the case, but I do like to keep myself on something of a timetable where this blog is concerned.) I had wanted to write about the vodka and gin in one article, or at least release an article for each on the same day, but that wasn’t possible.
When I did finally buy a bottle of the gin, I waited for a while to open it, still thinking that it would be better to taste the vodka and gin side by side, and see if there are any common traits between one and the other. But, I was just too excited to see what my local gin was like, and decided I didn’t want to wait any more. Much as I would have liked to see what a Vesper made with both Wheelhouse liquors was like, the time has not yet come.
Opening the bottle, Wheelhouse Gin didn’t smell out of the ordinary. The prominent odor was the piney scent of juniper berries, and there was also a scent like black pepper. There’s also something rich about it, but almost too rich; if too deep a nosing is taken in, it can catch in the throat and nearly make you want to gag. There was a vague bitter note, also.
Taken neat, Wheelhouse Gin is still nothing out of the ordinary. It tastes like pine, though less so than other gins. The pepper is second to the juniper in taste just as it is in odor. Its notable that this gin tastes very much like it smells; nearly everything you find in nosing is represented in taste in equivalent proportion. That is, except the bitterness. The bitterness that I smelled isn’t quite as strong as the bitterness I tasted.
On the rock, the pepper recedes, and the richness moves into its place. The bitter taste becomes something insidious here though. The colder the gin gets, the the more bitter it becomes. As the ice melts, it dilutes the other flavors, but the bitter taste isn’t weakened at all. When nearing the end of a glass, all you’re left with is an overpoweringly bitter drink; it becomes more and more unpleasant until its almost undrinkable.
Wheelhouse Gin makes a martini that’s overly savory for my taste. I made a few to test out different proportions of gin to vermouth, and found myself really only enjoying the olive at the end. I made one Pink Martini (just add a dash of aromatic bitters and there you have a Pink Martini,) but that didn’t really add anything. The bitterness wasn’t as much as an issue with vermouth adding more flavors, but a Martini shouldn’t rest mostly on the quality of vermouth in it, and that bitterness shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.
I ended up also making a few Gin & Tonics, and this was a good combination for Wheelhouse Gin. Refrigerated tonic with room temperature gin and no ice did quite well, but chilling it any more than that made the bitterness start to rear its ugly head again. The sweetness and flavor of the tonic kept the bitterness from being unbearable, but once again that bitterness shouldn’t even be there; A Gin & Tonic should not be held down by its gin. G&Ts are often garnished with a slice of lime, and squeezing the lime juice into an iced G&T did help a quite a bit. In the end, I liked a Wheelhouse Gin and Tonic heavy on the tonic and light on the gin.
I was a bit chagrined that I’d just run out of tonic when someone mentioned to me a warm Gin & Tonic, but seeing as the gin had tasted better the warmer it was, that didn’t stop me from trying out some warm G without the T. Warming a glass of Wheelhouse Gin in the microwave for about 15 seconds brought out the flavor that this gin should have had in the first place. The juniper came forward a little, as did the richness. The pepper subsided a little, and the bitterness was almost completely gone. Subtle (and I mean very subtly) mineral and fruit flavors developed, and the gin took on a long lasting lemony finish that I savored quite happily. Word to the wise: don’t try to make a warm Martini. The vermouth I used started to taste like the yolk of an overcooked hardboiled egg. Yuck.
I’m really quite disappointed that my hometown gin was such a letdown. Knowing that your local liquor isn’t up to snuff is like having a sports team that just keeps losing over and over (hi Kings!). But, at least now I know a good gin to reach for when I want to experiment with Hot Toddies. Cheers!