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June 21, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
After experimenting with excess mash wheat and barley, three New Haven microbrewers decided to turn a side project into a business. That business quickly turned into a gold mine — of medals that is.
Jerry Meyer, Tom Anderson and Ralph Haynes shared a goal when they decided to found Pinckney Bend Distillery in late 2009: to make whiskey. Knowing that the spirit takes time to age in barrels, the three decided to start with gin, a clear spirit that could be ready quickly.
They spent the next year filling out legal paperwork for the distillery. Then all they had to do was create the right recipe for a perfectly balanced gin, but the task was far from easy.
After nine months of experimenting and reworking the recipe, their gin won a gold medal at the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards in California just as it was being released to the public. The gin, which is available at Hy-Vee, Grindstone Liquor, Patricia’s Foods and Schnucks, has been on Columbia shelves since May. Bleu, Grand Cru and Mackenzie’s Prime were the first local restaurants to sell drinks with Pinckney Bend gin.
Patricia’s Foods sold out of its first order in the first month. Seth Schelich, manager of the liquor department, attributes some of the sales to the gin’s Missouri origin.
Chris Thompson, owner of Mackenzie’s Prime, says he tries to stock his shelves with mid-Missouri spirits if possible and notes that this gin is refined and stands apart in flavor. “The flavors are a little crisper,” Thompson says. “The juniper berries really come out in it. It’s just got a little better bite, a little cleaner bite.”
After seeing the spirit’s initial success, Haynes says the distillers wanted to test the gin on a larger scale to see how they stacked up against their major competitors: Tanqueray, Bombay and Beefeater. “Let’s put on the big boy pants and see how we stack up,” he says, so the trio decided to “enter the big one.”
The “big one” was the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, one of three major spirits competitions held in the U.S.
“If you win any one of them, or if you win all of those, then you know you’re the top of the heap,” Haynes says. “But all you have to do is win a gold at any one of them, and you only have to do it once in your lifetime. Lo and behold, we won a gold. It was like Christmas and New Year’s and your birthday all rolled into one.”
The San Francisco World Spirits Competition awards double-gold, gold, silver and bronze medals to winners chosen from more than 1,000 entrants from 61 countries. Pinckney Bend received the second highest ranking of American-made gin at the 2012 competition.
To gain distinction from other gins, the distillers handle each flavor differently until it’s time to mix them together. Pinckney Bend gin uses nine botanicals, including juniper berries, lavender and coriander seeds, and three citruses.
“The flavors are equal to musical instruments, and you want this orchestra,” Anderson, vice president of product and development, says. “You don’t want to hear one note above the other; you want this blend of flavors just like you want a perfect blend to make a perfect harmony. Each instrument is a flavor, and you create this harmony that is gin.”
Although Pinckney Bend gin works fine for a classic gin and tonic or a basic martini, Rich Trippler, the bar manager at Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar, recommends a Vesper, author Ian Fleming’s original James Bond martini.
3 ounces Pinckney Bend gin
1 ounce Stolichnaya vodka
½ ounce Lillet Blanc
Add ice to a cocktail shaker. Pour the vodka, gin and Lillet, a French aperitif, into the shaker. Shake for approximately 5 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.