The Earth is currently in the midst of a mass extinction of various species, and humans are unsurprisingly the cause. If that seems like a strange first sentence to begin a gin review, then I can only apologize—but only briefly, as this is more than relevant. Among the species that are seeing historic die-offs in 2019? One of the ocean’s largest, in the form of the Gray Whale, which are being found dead on West Coast beaches at a rate not seen for 20 years, with climate change as the most likely culprit.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help, there are conservation organizations that would greatly appreciate your donation. Or, you know, you can just buy a bottle of Gray Whale Gin—that works too. The product of California’s Golden State Distillery, Gray Whale Gin is a “new western”-style American gin with a focus on sustainability, designed with such features as organic paint and a 100% biodegradable cork. The company also participates in the 1% for the Planet campaign, donating a portion of every bottle sold to the conservation organization Oceana. It’s all good stuff, and we applaud them for it. But now let’s talk about the gin itself.
Gray Whale Gin is a so-called “contemporary” or “new western” gin, typically noted for reducing the overall role of juniper in their botanical blends, and instead accentuating impressions of fruit and sweetness. In profile, however, Gray Whale doesn’t really go overboard—it stands as an approachable middle ground between gin styles. Perhaps this is thanks to its relatively smaller roster of California-sourced botanicals, which include juniper, kombu, almonds, limes, fir tree and mint. In an era when a lot of craft gins brag on having a dozen or more botanicals involved, a mere six seems notably focused.
On the nose, Gray Whale Gin is actually fairly classical, with no shortage of fresh juniper berry notes and piney-ness, no doubt accentuated by the presence of fir tree as another botanical. It expresses some mixed notes of grapefruit citrus zest, elderflower, wildflowers and a slightly saline/sea air quality, along with a moderate suggestion of sweetness.
On the palate, this is indeed a bit sweeter than your classic London dry gins, but by no means as crazy saccharine as many other new western-style gins, such as the much-maligned New Amsterdam. It features some pretty well-balanced flavors of ruby red grapefruit and Kaffir lime leaves, along with mixed peppercorns and the warming sense of chamomile tea. All in all, it’s not lacking in character, but nor is it really trying to reinvent the wheel. Alcohol heat is moderate, dialed in to about where you’d expect for the 43% ABV (86 proof). Tasting it side by side with some Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin I happened to have in my home, its profile is sweeter and fruitier, but also milder, less spicy and arguably less complex. But what it lacks in complexity and assertiveness, it simultaneously gets back in approachability.
It sounds like a cop-out, but in the end, Gray Whale Gin is just a solid American craft gin that feels comfortably familiar. You could presumably use it wherever you use, you know … gin. And you’ll do a bit to help some whales, along the way. Not a bad bonus.
Distillery: Golden State Distillery
Style: New western gin
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $40 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident spirits geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.