Chemist is an American gin from Asheville, North Carolina. A citrus forward gin inspired by Prohibition era Moonshine and the wonder of the Appalachian Mountains.
Price: ~ £40
Grains of Paradise
Sweet orange peel
In the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, famed for its history of producing Moonshine during the Prohibition era, founder Debbie Word, her daughter Danielle, and son-in-law James decided to join in the modern hobby of distilling Moonshine. From there, the question of how difficult distilling was, and with the incorporation of gathering medicinal herbs, another tradition from the mountains, their moonshining soon took a turn towards making gin.
Thus, inspired by the botanicals around them such as rose, peppermint, and lemon verbena, Chemist Gin was born. Named both after the fact that Danielle is an actual chemist, and as a wink to the role of chemists during Prohibition, who would regularly prescribe alcohol as a legal means of letting folks get their hands on it, the team are big on combining an appreciation for tradition with that of the modern American spirits movement.
Soon enough, Debbie had bought a vacant car lot in Asheville, (a town commonly referred to as ‘Beer City USA’) and went to work turning it into a distillery, but it was from an unexpected contact that one of the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Debbie and her sister had taken a trip to Scotland and found the then smallest craft whisky distillery in the country, run by Tony Reeman-Clark. Though their paths didn’t cross on that occasion, they were later introduced, and Tony ended up consulting on their gin making journey, eventually becoming Head of Production at Chemist.
Using Hoga stills from Portugal which are heated directly with fire, Debbie was keen to make sure this traditional production method was used to create the very embodiment of a new style of American gin. In this way, juniper is present, but more of a background flavour to allow the other botanicals to shine.
As you might expect, design is highly stylised to fit in with the early twentieth-century chemist aesthetic. The bottle is a deep vintage brown shaped very much like a chemist’s bottle and topped with a dark wooden stopper. The labels and wording are edged in deep metallic copper, along with the two logos. The background is a deep cream, with most of the wording in brown to reflect the glass. On top surrounded by citrus fruits sits the Bowl of Hygieia, a symbol of pharmacy, and at the bottom a bald eagle with flags on either side and the words ‘American Gin’ above and below. Front and centre is the brand name, proudly listed as American and around the middle the label is designed to appear almost like a ticket reel with a pale blue background. On one side is a sort of stamp of approval, with the brand details and founder’s signature, and on the other a similar design describing it as a tincture and giving a brief profile of the gin. There’s also a little stamp stating that it is ‘Woman owned and operated’. On the back is another label giving a little history of the chemists’ role during prohibition, and the distillery, as well as the usual info. Overall it’s full of detail and definitely stands out. I love it.
For all the talk of holding back the juniper to allow the rose, verbena, and sweet citrus notes to shine, the initial hit of aroma is still that of a classic gin albeit light and zingy. Juniper is certainly present, but bright citrus leads the charge and with the sheer number of peels in the mix that’s hardly a surprise. Beneath the bright, sharp citrus tang I get a definite sense of powdered spice, in particular the cinnamon and cassia for me. It’s sweet and a little woody, then a touch of earth comes through slowly and softly, before hinting at greener leafy notes that help bring me back around to the mild pine of the juniper. Overall I find it very pleasant and well balanced.
Neat, there’s a flash of classic gin, with juniper, coriander, and angelica flying past and out of sight. Immediately after that, a fairly heavy and bittersweet citrus comes through, packing quite a punch but remaining dry and quite astringent. For me it’s a lot greener than expected, less warming oranges and more punchy grapefruit, but hints of spice do add a nice level of interest beyond that, and underneath it all I sense a warm, soft, slightly stewed floral. There’s a lot of flavour, and a decent kick from the ABV, but it’s not quite as extensive a flavour profile as I thought it might be based on the botanical mix.
Water intensifies the flavours but reins in some of the harsher notes of the citrus. It remains fairly astringent, but immediately I feel I can appreciate the flavours more, and experience them more deeply, which is wonderful. There are more wood and earthy flavours for me here, but I also get a little more flesh on the citrus, and some grassier, greener notes. It’s very similar, but in my opinion improved by the dilution.
Finally, a G&T (3:1 Franklin & Sons Indian Tonic with a lemon wheel to garnish). The result is a wonderfully citrus-rich taste with enough juniper to remind you you’re drinking gin. This is definitely the most expressive the gin has been so far, and it backs up their claim that it was made very much with cocktails and mixing in mind. There’s a wonderful brightness for me, and plenty of sweet but tangy citrus. Most other flavours hang back, but remain present enough to form an established flavour base, with hints of dry earthiness and mild aromatic spice. It’s not super varied, but it’s delicious.
Chemist strikes me as a gin that gives as good as it gets. By that I mean the more you put into how you use it, the more rewarding the flavour you get out. It improved at every stage of the review, and I think it would make a great Martini, or Bees Knees. It’s well into the citrus end of the flavour spectrum, and the sweet side of that, but it still comes across as versatile. It’s very well made, fantastically presented, and I think is well worth a try!
Remove half a feather if you prefer your gin juniper heavy
Chemist is available via Craft Gin Club
All reviews are of the author’s personal collection, bought and paid for by the author, unless otherwise stated.