Le Gin de Christian Drouin: Calvados barrel-rested gin

I seem to travel a lot these days, and I’ve begun to make a point of picking up a bottle of gin when I journey out of town. Not some random mass-market gin, mind you, but a bottle of something available only locally whenever possible. Whatever you may personally think of gin, I’ve found there’s no other liquor that more effectively expresses the unique profile of a region. The French call it “terroir”: The flavor of the earth, basically. The craft gin explosion of the past decade has created a wholly new category of gin that deviates from the standard London Dry/Old Tom styles in favor of flavors that integrate local botanicals, and I love it.

I’ve found that the craft gins of every region I’ve sampled tastes distinct. The gins of northeastern Midwest (e.g. Michigan and into Canada) tend to have a certain flavor that’s radically different from the gins of California’s wine country, which are distinct from Pacific Northwest gins, which in turn stand completely apart from the (often quite excellent) gins I can buy here in North Carolina, which are nothing at all like Japanese gins. Ideally, a locally made bottle of gin makes a great souvenir of a place—it expresses that location’s unique botanical makeup and has an ephemeral quality. Because eventually, you finish the bottle and have only your memories.

Fittingly, I’m finishing off one of those bottles as I type this: The Christian Drouin Calvados Le Gin that Cat bought for me when we visited France last fall. She wanted to pick up a uniquely French gin for me while we were there, even though France gravitates more toward whisky—I’ve read the French have the highest per-capita consumption of whisky in the world, loving it only second to their wine. But they do make a few gins, and this one is pretty unique.

I was already familiar with Christian Drouin for their Calvados, an apple brandy that is one of Normandy’s trademark products. We keep a bottle of Christian Drouin on hand for when I delve into the more exotic pages of the Savoy Cocktail Book. But, as most distillers do, Christian Drouin bottles its own gin in addition to its famous Calvados. Alas, I haven’t tried their standard gin—I only had room in my luggage for one bottle, and this variant version seemed far too enticing to pass up. This is the standard Christian Drouin Le Gin that has been rested in barrels that formerly housed Calvados. It is spectacular.

I tend to be a little wary of barrel-rested gins. Some of them can be quite good, but they don’t always work out. For example Distillery 209 in San Francisco offers a few gins that have been rested in various wine barrels, and they’re really not my speed. I love me some gin, and I love me some Cabernet Sauvignon, but the two together? Mmmm… nope.

This, on the other hand, has been fantastic. A smooth, flavorful gin for sipping on the rocks. You can see how the gin picked up the color of the Calvados and barrel wood, and it tastes exactly like it looks. A lot of barrel-rested gins taste like a halfway stop between whiskey and gin, whereas this is much lighter and fruitier. The tart sharpness of apple blends remarkably well with the piney quality of the base gin. I’d almost describe it as the platonic ideal of the “appletini,” except that implies a cloying sweetness that this gin absolutely lacks. The woody and apple overtones are strong here, but after that first hit of fruit you can taste the juniper and other earthy botanicals of the base gin. They help ground the flavor and give it a much-needed complexity.

Spending a week and a half in France last year was one of the high points of my life, and I definitely want to return someday. But next time, I’ll leave room in my luggage for two bottles of gin—one of these, and a non-Calvados version for comparison.