As The Guardian reported, 2016 was dubbed the year of gin, in large part due to a 16% increase in sales in the UK, with expansions seen in Spanish and U.S. markets. In 2017 the trend continued, with another 12% increase. The Telegraph likened this rising popularity to Downton Abbey and James Bond-inspired vintage impulses. Cultural media influences aside, it’s easy to understand why gin has been on trend more than vodka—unlike that ubiquitous clear spirit, which is typically distilled to have no flavor at all, gin is all about the juniper, along with whatever other botanicals the distillers decide to add to their recipe.
Distiller Ben Capdevielle, of Captive Spirits, should find this rising popularity encouraging, though he’s been a fan of gin for decades. He learned distilling from his father, and after 10 years working in the restaurant industry, he dove headlong into the distilling scene, and released the first bottle of Big Gin in early 2011, named after his dad, “Big Jim.”
Their signature gin leans heavily into the juniper with a slightly thicker mouthfeel than you might expect, with big notes of citrus, coriander, and a touch of vanilla and black pepper, characteristics that make it a fine example of why gin remains a more compelling cocktail base than vodka. In many ways, this craft gin feels targeted to compete with fans of legacy gin brands like Beefeaters and Tanqueray.
Gin skeptics—and there are many—meanwhile should be encouraged by Captive Spirits’ two other barrel-aged releases. Their Bourbon-Barreled Big Gin drinks almost as if gin and whiskey had a baby. Think sappy pine notes and a swirl of spice on a strong backbone of juniper, bold at first, then mellower spices with hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and wood. It’s ideal to reinvent your classic bourbon and whiskey cocktails like an Old Fashioned, and adds a great touch of complexity to a Negroni.
The Peat-Barreled Big Gin follows a similar formula, taking their signature spirit and resting it for four months in wooden single-malt barrels. It drinks like a mellow scotch/gin hybrid, with notes of bitter orange, a touch less spice, and a bit more woodiness. The distiller suggested using it to take the Last Word—equal measures gin, green Charteuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice—in a spicier direction, but it also sips well over ice or in a martini (shaken or stirred).