I’m a sucker for anything aged in oak barrels. My wife is a sucker for both Cape Cod and gin. So when we heard about South Hollow Spirits new barrel aged gin, we thought it was too good to be true. A single spirit that we both could enjoy, that had the complexity of a good whiskey and the fruity brightness of a gin? We needed to investigate further. And thoroughly. Very, very thoroughly. Many drinks later, I think we’ve formed an opinion.
Truro Vineyards, founded in 1992 and owned by the Roberts family since 2007, is a winery in the small town of Truro on the far end of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A good location combined with a delicious product proved to be a successful formula, and in 2013 they decided to invest that good fortune into opening a distillery called South Hollow Spirits.
Operated by the eldest son of the Roberts family, South Hollow Spirits styles itself after the bootleggers that were common during prohibition along the coast of Cape Cod. They are currently producing various versions of gin and rum in Truro, Massachusetts in their 250 gallon copper pot.
My parents are preparing to retire to Wellfleet, a town just south of the distillery, which makes this one of the more popular attractions every time my wife and I come for a visit. We were there this past weekend, enjoying some of their new products and some beautiful fall weather. The winery and distillery is located on a scenic plot of land (which is easily accessible from Route 6 with ample parking) including an original farmhouse that has been refurbished into the tasting room and shop. The front yard has a number of picnic tables and, during the summer months, a food truck offers lunch for sale and the small building (“The Hollow”) at the far end prepares mixed drinks and tastings using the South Hollow spirits. There’s also a patio and rows of wine vines behind the house.
The South Hollow Spirits flagship gin is their “Dry Line” product, named after a geographic climate quirk that encourages the growth of Eastern Red Cedar trees near the distillery whose juniper berries form the base of the spirit. After the juniper berry juice is distilled it is blended with angelica root, grown using discarded grapes from the winery itself.
This specific product, the Barrel Reserve Gin, is placed in American and Hungarian oak wine barrels and aged for one year, giving it an almost caramel color more like a whiskey than a gin.
The Dry Line gin line is bottled in various different quantities, but all of the bottles have a square body that tapers to a rounded neck and ends in a cork and wood cap. I personally enjoy the clean design of the square bottle, it differentiates Dry Line a bit but still looks classic on your liquor shelf.
The label is a relatively clean design, a slim rectangular sticker that wraps three quarters of the way around the bottle. Each bottle is marked to identify which batch produced it, and includes some information about the product and how it was made.
The Barrel Reserve version of the spirit sports a black label instead of the typical white label. Most of the markings are in white ink, with some accents and lettering in a reflective bronze color.
To me, gin tends to be a very bitter spirit. Something that is better used in a mixed drink than by itself for sipping. This version of gin, however, might be good enough on its own to win a seat as a sipping spirit.
This Barrel Reserve Dry Line gin retains all of the tastes and aromas of the original spirit. Underneath the usual juniper taste is a spice and complexity that comes thanks to the angelica root flavoring, but the barrel aging adds some of the warm oak notes that one might expect out of a whiskey.
Something else that the barrel aging does is mellow the gin. Instead of the sharp kick that their normal gin provides, the barrel aging produces a smooth spirit that is easy and even delicious to drink. It’s a crisp and clean taste, a brighter flavor than whiskey or rum but with some of the same sippable qualities as the other spirits.
Usually the addition of some ice will tone down the harshness of a spirit, but in this case the Barrel Reserve gin is already smooth enough that what you’re doing instead is masking some of the more delicate flavors. The oak from the casks is much less distinct with a couple ice cubes, instead the gin reverts to its normal juniper flavors. I’d avoid putting this spirit on ice if you can.
A gin based mule is called a “London Mule”, apparently. The recipe is simple: gin and ginger beer. I usually prefer a 1:1 mix, but the wife prefers a more easy going 1:3 mix between gin and ginger beer.
I feel like some of the benefit of the barrel aging is lost when you start adding the ginger beer. The point of the mixer is to mellow out some of those harsher qualities, but the barrel aging has already done that for you.
That said, there’s no doubt that this is a delicious drink. A little sweetness and tanginess from the ginger beer perfectly complements the spirit. What’s nice about the barrel aging process is that it removes the usual bitter taste of the gin, meaning you can tinker with the proportions of gin and ginger beer to try and get a better representation of the gin’s flavors instead of simply drowning them out with the ginger beer.
Even with a mixed drink there are definitely benefits to the Barrel Reserve version over the standard version.
I’m a whiskey guy. I like the darker, richer, more caramel flavors in my spirits. This is definitely a gin with the brighter and lighter taste, but it incorporates some of those tastes I enjoy as well and the end result is a product that is versatile and delicious.
Dry Line Barrel Reserve Gin
Owner: South Hollow Spirits
Production: Truro, Massachusetts, US
Aging: American and Hungarian oak wine barrels, one year
Proof: 45% ABV
Overall Rating: 5/5
I like it. Probably because it’s a gin that they treated like a whiskey.