Article by: Paige Latham, ALCOHOL BY VOLUME BLOG, Feb 13, 2015
J. Carver Distillery of Waconia has recently released their barrel gin, an incredibly unique sort of pet project that has evolved into a bottle-worthy liquor.
The spirit is distilled from local grains including Minnesota wild rice and winter wheat, and is created using a melange of botanicals. One of those elements, which was actually developed near Waconia, is everlasting clover. When I visited J. Carver last month, I learned just exactly what that is.
The fascinating story of everlasting clover originates not far from the brewery itself, in what is now Victoria, MN, and begins with German immigrant Wendelin Grimm. “Grimm was the farmer who developed winter-hardy alfalfa, which after his death became known as Grimm alfalfa. It helped make Carver County a premier dairy belt, and became the basis of the alfalfa used throughout Minnesota, and across wintry North America.” – The Land
After bringing seeds with him to Minnesota, partners Bill Miller and Gina Holman explain to me, he planted them on his small farm. Much of the plantings died due to harsh winter conditions. But the ones that did survive, Grimm brilliantly harvested seeds from to plant the next year, in a form of naturally unnatural selection.
The significance of his cultivation was acknowledged in 1900, ten years after Grimm had died, and to this day, the majority of what we call “hay” in the U.S. and Canada is a form of Wendelin Grimm’s everlasting clover.
J. Carver’s Barrel Gin also contains cinnamon, sweet orange peel, star anise, and cardamom, but come on… none of those are as exciting as Minnesota’s special alfalfa.
The idea of letting gin rest in barrels isn't entirely a novel one. But to do so takes much skill on the part of the distiller, as certain botanicals can fade or become entirely noisy over time, especially with the unpredictable influence of wood. Particular care is needed to find optimal timing and ratios for something as complex as gin botanicals. Minnesota oak plays a critical role in the flavor development of this spirit.
Tasting this gin took me off guard. Significant elements of baking spice and even slight smoke so intrigued me that I didn't – couldn't – compare it to other gins, not even the others produced by J.Carver. I loved it immediately.
I will admit that, for whatever reason I can’t pinpoint, I was somewhat skeptical before my first visit to this distillery, housed in a former car dealership. All doubts lifted after a few moments talking with the owners and distillers, not to mention after tasting their product, especially Minnesota’s first barrel gin.
As of this post, their line of spirits has expanded to include three gins and two vodkas, all distinct from one another. Their cocktail room will open in a few months.