Imagine you’re trying to make the most Texan spirit ever. Naturally, you’d probably turn to a whiskey first — big, bold flavors for a big, bold state… right? But if you went the other direction and tried to make something that embodied the spirit of the flowers and the open fields of Texas… well, then you’d probably head straight for a patch of bluebonnets, and that’s exactly what Calamity Gin has done.
Southwest Spirits (formerly Southwest Spirits & Wine) is a full service white label manufacturer of spirits based in Dallas, Texas. They own and operate their own distillery and bottling plant located near Dallas Love Field, but they also import spirits from other distilleries for blending and packaging.
While most of their business seems to come from re-packaging alcohol for other brands, they do have a number of in house brands that they have created and distribute themselves such as this bottle of Calamity Gin (named after the hard drinking sharpshooter Calamity Jane, of course).
- Learn More: What Is Gin?
There are few things more iconic and beloved to Texans than the beautiful bluebonnet flowers that appear on the side of pretty much every road in the state come springtime. These wildflowers are beautiful and have an attractive smell… but I can’t say I’ve never tasted them before.
Calamity Gin decide to use bluebonnet flowers as the star ingredient in their line of gin, adding it to a range of other botanicals and creating something that tastes and smells like Texas.
When it comes to the actual production method being used for this gin, there’s not much detail available. While Southwest Spirits does have a fully operational distillery and is capable of doing the whole process “grain to glass”, I get the feeling that this instead starts from pre-distilled neutral grain spirits that are trucked in from a bulk distillery somewhere else.
Regardless of the source, we do know that Southwest Spirits adds eleven ingredients to that raw spirit:
- Texas bluebonnets
- Lime zest
Again, we don’t have many details on how this was made so we can’t be sure the method used for that infusion. Was it macerated like a giant teabag of botanicals? Vapor infused like the traditional London gins? Or did they just buy a ton of essential oils and chuck them into the raw alcohol? We really aren’t sure.
After the mysterious infusion process, the infused spirit is re-distilled, removing all of the cloudiness and impurities and leaving behind only the properly flavored gin. That gin is then proofed down for sale and bottled for shipment.
The shape of the bottle is fairly unremarkable, with a look that you might find in any of a number of craft distilleries. This formula — flat bottom, cylindrical body, rounded shoulder, short neck, wood and cork stopper — is becoming more and more common for smaller distilleries, especially when they want to give off a particularly “crafty” vibe. It’s a good looking bottle taken on its own, but it doesn’t stand out on the shelves very much.
Where they seem to have spent the time and effort on packaging is the label. This looks like a piece of canvas that has had some watercolor wildflowers painted onto the label, with a very country-Texas style of lettering that feels like it belongs at a farmer’s market. It’s a nice blending of modern and antique vibes and helps set the tone for the brand.
Normally, I’d complain about a label like this taking up the entire bottle — but in this case, I feel like they used the space well. The spirit itself is a clear gin, so there’s not much to show off, and the label is a good design that is visually appealing and differentiates it on the shelf.
This certainly looks the part of a good gin, but the aromas are a bit interesting. It claims to be a modern take on a gin, which would make it less juniper forward than other versions… and that seems to be accurate — I’m getting more of the bergamot, grapefruit, cardamom, and orange in the aroma and almost zero juniper. I’m also not really picking up any floral bluebonnets, but they might just be hidden among the other components.
Taking a sip, this seems to be a bit more heavy on the spice than other components. I’m getting some juniper now, but it’s only very faint and on the finish of the flavor profile. What dominates the flavor of this spirit is the fruit — specifically the grapefruit, bergamot, orange, and lemon combining to make something fresh and appealing. Behind that is the spice, with the coriander and cardamom making an impact and adding some depth to the flavor. Near the finish you’ll get more of the floral characteristics peeking in like the lavender and rose, finishing with just a glimmer of that juniper.
I don’t think I actually see any of the bluebonnets coming through, but I’m not particularly mad. The spirit is fairly well balanced and interesting all on its own merits, and it doesn’t really need the floral bluebonnets.
With a little bit of ice, the spicy notes seem to tone down a bit and let this become a much more floral spirit. This is definitely not what I expected, since usually things happen the other way around once ice goes into the glass.
At this point, I think I can actually start to taste the bluebonnets in there, with a more floral component than usually seen in a gin. It makes this behave almost closer to a highland scotch whisky (only without the oak aging components like caramel and vanilla and with some added juniper).
Fizz (Tom Collins)
Usually, what I like to see here is the juniper coming through strongly and making this a lighter cocktail — almost like a boozy lemonade. But in this case, I’m getting a surprisingly balanced but more spice-forward version of the cocktail.
I’m getting almost zero juniper in this version of the cocktail. Basically none whatsoever. And the other floral elements have similarly run for the hills. But what is left behind is some of that bergamot, coriander, and cardamom. They all bring this earthy component to the flavor profile that balances things much better than you’d usually expect. There’s not as much of the bright and shouty lemon flavor as a result, but I think it’s a better cocktail for that change.
We use a negroni for a test cocktail not because it is easy, but because it is hard. There are a lot of bold flavors in the added mixers here, and typically what you’ll see is that only a bit of juniper or some spicy flavors can overcome them.
Unfortunately, in this case there just isn’t enough strength in the gin to make itself known among the other competitors. The gin is just completely wiped out here, with that decision to go light on the juniper meaning that there isn’t enough force to be relevant in this mixture. It’s just a glass of Campari and vermouth without any other elements.
In general, I like this American style of gin. It is less juniper forward, meaning it doesn’t feel like you just flossed with a Christmas tree every time you take a sip and it offers a more interesting flavor pallet to work with.
I think the decision to go with a more spice focused and citrus-y profile works well when taken neat, in a Tom Collins, or even a gin & tonic. Those classic cocktails benefit from the lack of juniper, allowing the other components to come out and interact in interesting ways. It doesn’t quite work in a negroni though, which is unfortunate but understandable since juniper is the key to unlocking that flavor profile in that cocktail.
What is the most disappointing is that I didn’t really feel like the bluebonnets were the star of the show. I think I was able to see them on the edges of the profile, but they weren’t a critical component. In a spirit that pushes the bluebonnets in their marketing, I’d prefer to be able to taste that floral component more.
|Southwest Spirits and Wine Calamity Gin|
Produced By: Southwest Spirits and WineProduction Location: Texas, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A good American-style gin: barely any juniper, more spice elements, and just a hint of Texas bluebonnets.