Review: Aviation American Gin

We’ve been focused on two things here at Thirty One Whiskey as of late: 1) highlighting a different spirit every week, starting off each Monday with a “What is <insert spirit here>” article and 2) going back through all the reviews we’ve done of celebrity-owned/endorsed spirits to talk about what works and what doesn’t. And today’s review is the perfect marriage of both topics, since this week’s spirit deep dive is on gin, and Ryan Reynolds owns a brand of it.


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History

While Ryan Reynolds might be the most recognizable name behind this brand, in reality it was around for nearly a decade before he got involved.

Christian Krogstad had a background in brewing, having spent 13 years in breweries and the beer business. In 2002, one of the breweries he was working at decided to invest in a small still to make whiskey out of some of their beers, and in that process Christian had a bit of an epiphany and decided that distilling was the life for him. Together with business partner Ryan Magarian, they founded House Spirits Distillery in 2004 in the small town of Corvallis, Oregon. The pair quickly moved their facility to Portland in 2005, opening a facility on Distillery Row — an area that boasts the highest concentration of craft distilleries in the world.

While whiskey production was the eventual goal of the distillery, they also needed to make money in the meantime. As with most small distilleries, they turned to making unaged spirits and one of their first products was Aviation Gin. Introduced in 2006, the brand quickly gained popularity and became the distillery’s flagship product and enabled them to move to an even larger facility in 2015 in Portland’s industrial district.

The following year, in 2016, the brand was purchased by New York based distributor Davos Brands, but continued to be produced by House Spirits Distiller (accounting for a reported 40% of the distillery’s total production). Actor Ryan Reynolds later bought a portion of the ownership stake from Davos Brands in 2018, which is when his involvement in the branding began. The brand was further sold to the British spirits giant Diageo in 2020 with Ryan Reynolds reportedly maintaining an ongoing ownership stake, but the size of that stake is not disclosed.

Aviation Gin is reportedly still produced exclusively in Portland, Oregon by House Spirits Distillery.

Product

Gin is a spirit that hits just the right balance between an easy production processes and a delicious end product, which is why distilleries tend to start by producing this for sale while their aged spirits sit in the warehouse.

Aviation Gin starts with a neutral spirit, which really means raw whiskey that has been so highly refined that there’s almost no flavor left in it — just pure alcohol. Typically a minimum of 95% alcohol by volume, in fact, leaving very little room for any other flavoring.

For gin production, there are a couple different methods of adding those flavors, and Aviation Gin decided to go with maceration. What that means is they basically make a gin tea: they take all of their botanicals (cardamom, coriander, French lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla, juniper, and two kinds of orange peel), put it all in a big bag, and suspend that in the neutral grain spirit for 48 hours. This allows the flavors from the botanical components to seep into the neutral grain spirit.

Once the spirit has picked up all the right flavors, it has some water added and is distilled in a copper pot still, which removes all of the coloring, leaving behind just a highly refined spirit that now has flavorings from all the various components. The gin leaves the still at about 142 proof (less than the legal limit for whiskey, which is 160 proof) and is bottled at 84 proof.

Packaging

I love what they’re doing here with the look and feel.

The bottle is an elongated hip flask design, with a curve to the back and front of the otherwise square bottle. Along the back there are embossed ridges in the glass, which is a good call — otherwise there would be no texture or other visual element to the bottle really, since the spirit inside is simply a clear colorless liquid. The ridges also remind me a lot of the corrugated metal ridges you find on the wings of older airplanes, which is an older technique used to stiffen the structure without adding weight.

Capping it off is a plastic screw-on cap that is painted a metallic silver. I think I would have preferred this to be actual metal, but I can appreciate that they saved some cash on the material while maintaining the right look.

Labeling here is also done excellently. It’s mid-century minimalism done right, with just the right level of illustration to accentuate the theme without being overpowering and annoying. (I should probably also confess that I’m a licensed pilot, and I’m likely partial to any label with a plane on it.)

Neat

When you think of an American gin, you usually expect the juniper to be significantly reduced. American gins tend to take a more modern approach, but here it’s like you are getting a COVID-19 test using a Christmas tree branch. The juniper is front and center in the aroma — almost overpowering the rest of the botanicals — but I can still get some lemon and orange peel citrus, coriander, lavender, and a touch of anise.

But while the aroma was juniper forward, the flavors definitely favor the other components. The first thing that hits me is the orange peel, bright and full-bodied almost like I’m drinking some orange juice. There’s a bit of citric acid up next as it transitions into the more herbal notes, specifically the lavender and coriander that make up the majority of the flavors you get out of the glass. On the finish is really where we see the juniper returning to add a bit of color, and a touch of black pepper is the last thing I can detect before the flavors start to fade away.

On Ice

Gin is one of those spirits that is particularly susceptible to ice, with the delicate botanical notes tending to be negatively impacted by the addition of some ice and some dilution. I think that’s going on here as well, but thankfully the primary notes that we saw at first stick around despite losing some of their supporting cast. of flavors

Primarily, what you’re losing is the juniper on the finish. The orange peel and coriander are still there, and I think a bit more of the anise is coming out now with a very light licorice flavor that almost doubles as vanilla. But the juniper is almost completely gone — just a ghost of its former self.

The fact that the flavors are sticking around this well, however, does bode well for using this in a cocktail.

Cocktail (Negroni)

There’s a lot going on here between the vermouth and the Campari, so the goal of the gin is really just to make itself known. And I think this is one instance where the lack of juniper really holds the gin back from making a great cocktail. That juniper is typically the clearest component that comes through in a Negroni, but here I don’t really see it.

What you get here is an okay cocktail, with the orange peel and coriander really pulling their weight to make something a little more earthy and spicy than usual. It’s on the more delicate side of the spectrum when it comes to the flavors, though, so be aware that any time in a cocktail shaker will turn this into just a big glass of Campari bitterness.

Fizz (Gin & Tonic)

With a traditional gin, you’d expect that once more the juniper would be the most important component in the flavor mix. But with a more modern take like this, the herbal notes and the citrus really starts to shine through instead.

Just like with the negroni, the orange peel, coriander, and anise are really the flavors that shine through. I don’t think I particularly get the juniper at all actually, except maybe as a bit of an aromatic lift that you feel in your mouth that accompanies the fizzy bubbles. It’s a bit of a richer G&T than you’re used to, but that’s not a bad thing at all. I would happily drink this any day.


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Overall Rating

I’m usually the first to disregard a celebrity backed spirit, but this is one case where it’s actually a pretty darn good gin. Which I think has a lot to do with the fact that this was an already successful gin that Ryan Reynolds invested into — and not an ego project or blatant cash grab like so many other examples.

What I like most about this is the use of the orange peel and the other spices to give this gin a more earthy and spicy flavor profile, making up for the lost note from the juniper. It’s a different take on the spirit and I think it works really well either on its own or in a cocktail (especially the G&T).

Aviation American Gin
Produced By: Aviation
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: Oregon, United States
Classification: American Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 42% ABV
Price: $24.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Spicy and more earthy than you expect, this is a high flying gin that earned its wings.


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