The local gin blues

North Carolina, astonishingly enough, churns out some pretty excellent gins. Considering the harsh liquor laws here, which require spirits to be sold in government-run shops with awful selections, that’s a small miracle.

But the lack of really interesting exotic imports hurts less when the locals pick up the slack so effectively. North Carolina gin creations run the gamut from a great high-proof London Dry-style gin called Master Bobwhite to the anise-and-citrus-heavy Cardinal to… whatever this is:

I recently stumbled across Cape Fear Distillery’s Maritime gin (which appears to have debuted at the beginning of the year) and naturally picked up a bottle. I make a point of sampling each new NC gin I come across as it makes its way into the ABC store system. You never know what you’ll find! Some North Carolina gin are very good, and some are… not.

I’m not sure how I feel about Maritime. It barely tastes like gin. It reminds me of another local gin, Mother Earth, in that it seems to be embarrassed to be a gin. There’s hardly a hint of juniper to be found in the flavor of this stuff. Instead, it’s decidedly non-piney. It’s also a pale blue in color—not like Bombay Sapphire, which is clear but ships in a blue bottle. This stuff has the color of watered-down Scope. 

But that’s not what it tastes like. Honestly, I’m at a loss to describe it. There’s an overwhelmingly floral quality to the flavor. But it’s also vaguely minty, but the aftertaste is reminiscent of almonds. It’s really strange and hard to explain. The only other gins I’ve had with this particular flavor element are Aviation and Blue Whale, but the weird thing is that neither of those gins appear to share any botanicals in common with one another—besides juniper, of course. Cape Fear doesn’t provide information on their botanical mix, so I can only guess what powers this drink. Lavendar? Almonds? Wiper fluid? I really don’t know.

When I picked up this bottle, I immediately cracked it open to share with my family. They’re not much in the way of gin drinkers, but we all shared the same reaction: Uhhhh what?? This is a strange drink, and it does not pair well with standard gin and tonic. It also behaves poorly in the gin-based cocktails. I spent a few days casting about for a use case in which Maritime did work well, and I finally came up with something decent: Paired with Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic and a wedge of grapefruit, it’s pretty tasty. Both the tonic (which is crafted to taste like tonic and a splash of Angostura) and the fruit bring a bitterness to the mix that does a lot to counteract the strangely floral quality of the booze.

Oh well. You win some, you lose some. I don’t see myself picking up another bottle of Maritime once this one’s done, even if I do enjoy the novelty of pale blue gin. But there’s so much great gin in NC that a lackluster oddball selection doesn’t have a place on my crowded liquor shelf.