Review: Sutler’s Spirit Co. Gin

This year, I moved from my home of more than a decade in Austin, Texas to a new spot in Raleigh, North Carolina. Part of the fun of moving to a new location is exploring all of the local businesses — and especially the local distilleries. And I’m starting with the one recommended by one of my new neighbors: Sutler’s Spirit Co. Gin out of nearby Winston-Salem.


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History

I’ll be honest — I didn’t see this one coming.

Scot Sanborn started his career as a male model, spending 17 years in front of the camera. That’s a relatively long career for a model and when nearing the usual point of retirement, Sanborn realized that he didn’t want to try his hand at photography and get behind the lens. Instead, after years of distilling spirits sub-rosa in his garage, he wanted to try something completely different for his next career.

With a little help from the folks behind Carriage House Apple Brandy, Sanborn set out to create the first legal distillery in the Winston-Salem area in at least 200 years. Inspired by that long and historical dry spell (as well as his interest in historical battlefields), Sanborn settled on naming his distillery Sutler’s — the name for the civilian merchants who traveled with armies throughout the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and other engagements, and provided the soldiers with provisions such as whiskey.

The distillery started operation in 2014, with Sanborn and his shaggy-haired master distiller Moose (his dog) by his side first producing rum and gin with whiskey on the roadmap.

Product

The website doesn’t go into much detail, but I was able to glean some information from some news sources and put together an idea of how this stuff is made.

Gin is a somewhat unique spirit because the majority of producers don’t actually make the raw materials. Gin producers tend to start with “neutral grain spirits” (typically mass produced high proof raw alcohol without any flavoring whatsoever) sourced from a larger distiller and shipped into their facility — and that’s where the real work starts.

By definition, a gin is a spirit that has been flavored and then re-distilled. The typical way that this happens is that a distiller will take a handful of botanicals and other flavoring elements, put them in a giant teabag, and let that soak in their batch of neutral spirits for a while. Once properly infused, the spirit is then re-distilled to remove any color or unwanted elements that may have been picked up. The resulting product is the finished gin, which can be proofed down and bottled for sale.

In this case, we don’t know exactly what elements they used for flavoring — but their marketing materials say that the recipe includes lavender, coriander, juniper, lemon, and orange.

Packaging

Clearly, Sanborn picked up a few tricks regarding aesthetics during his modeling days — this is a great looking bottle of gin.

The overall shape of this bottle is bland and boring, but I get the sense that’s intentional. It’s shaped like a normal bottle with a rough cork stopper, and there’s enough going on with the lettering that the simpler shape keeps it from feeling overworked.

Usually, when I can’t see the contents of the bottle, I get cranky. I like to see what I purchased and show off that liquid on the shelf. But in this case, the choice of a ceramic bottle is appropriate to the theme of the distillery. They are going for an older vibe, leaning into that 18th and 19th century merchant concept, so the ceramic material makes these bottles feel period appropriate. (I also appreciate the use of natural materials, which has a reduced impact on the environment.)

On the surface of the black bottle are the usual information for the distillery in brown painted lettering, appearing to have been placed there with a stencil. Again, it gives off a sort of utilitarian feel that one might expect from a mobile provisioner for an army on the move. And the letters are styled in a way that continues to evoke the era, mimicking some of the labels from the time period.


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Neat

At first sniff, this appears to be a nice and simple version of a gin. The juniper is clearly present — but instead of feeling like you shoved a pine tree up your nose, it’s more of a collaborative component alongside some citrus notes with lemon and orange peel adding a bright and zesty lift. There’s also some softness and roundness to the aroma, likely contributed by the lavender floral notes and the coriander spice.

Taking a sip, at first I could barely taste the juniper. It seems to be styled very much like an American gin, with the citrus and spicy components taking center stage and the juniper in more of a supporting role. Immediately, I’m getting some coriander and orange peel, a bit of vanilla, lime juice, and then the flavors transition smoothly into a very floral lavender before the juniper finally arrives.

In the end, that juniper almost makes you feel like you just ate a particularly strong mint — in a good way. It gives the spirit a distinct lift at the end, which I personally found invigorating.

On Ice

When sipped neat, this is a pretty light and delicate gin. There aren’t any components that are particularly “punched in” and well saturated. It’s good and in balance… but that always makes me a bit nervous for how it will react when some ice goes into the glass, and I definitely can see some changes here.

It starts with the aroma, where the only thing I’m getting at this point is a little hint of juniper. The complex and intricate aromas are all squashed and have disappeared, leaving the pine trees to stand alone.

Surprisingly, though, the flavors are actually still pretty good. There’s not quite as much volume on any particular note, but I’m still getting a mostly accurate version of the taste. I get the coriander spice and citrus notes, followed by a bit of floral lavender, and then at last the lift from the juniper all present and accounted for. All said, it makes me hopeful for how this will handle a little bit of tonic.

Cocktail (Gin & Tonic)

The big challenge with a G&T is the added dilution from the tonic water. There aren’t any big flavors in the tonic that need to be balanced out or battled, it’s just a fight for survival in a glass… and unfortunately, I don’t think this one went the distance.

At best, what I’m getting is a flash of juniper up front, a tiny hint of citrus, and then absolutely nothing. The tonic water has completely washed out what was left of the flavors, and even that delightful lift on the finish is gone.

It’s not a bad cocktail, it’s just unfortunately bland.

Cocktail (Negroni)

While the G&T might have been a low bar to clear, the negroni is a tough challenge. The components in this cocktail give it some big flavors and bold bitterness — things that a light and airy gin typically can’t handle.

What counts as a passing grade is if I can still taste the gin, and if it makes for a drinkable cocktail. Based on that rubric, I think this scores acceptably well — the juniper is present, and there’s a little bit of the citrus helping to balance the other flavors, but it isn’t balanced by any stretch of the imagination. This is still bitter enough to need some serious assistance from simple syrup in my opinion, but that’s also par for the course with this cocktail.

I was honestly expecting this to fare much worse. It’s not bad, but it’s not making me a fan of Negronis either.


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Overall Rating

Gin is a deceptively difficult spirit to make. It seems simple: throw a bunch of stuff in a pot, distill it, and see what happens. But getting the flavor balance and saturation correct is challenging even for experienced distillers.

For this bottle, the flavors are on point and delicious when taken neat. It’s a great sipping spirit, and I’m definitely going to hold onto the bottle for that reason alone (okay, and it looks cool on my shelf). But things start to slip when adding this to a cocktail, which is probably where most people will use it. The flavors are good, but not saturated enough to stand up to ice or Campari.

So that leaves this as a three-star bottle — and by our standards, three stars is a perfectly good review. We use the entire range here, and three stars for us means “I’d happily pay that much money for that bottle again in the future”. For a brand new distillery making their first spirits, that’s not too shabby — I personally can’t wait to check out future bottles to see if they continue to improve as they grow.

Sutler's Spirit Co. Gin
Produced By: Sutler's Spirit Co.
Production Location: North Carolina, United States
Classification: Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $31.95 / 750 ml
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: 3/5
A delicious citrus-forward gin in a nifty, themed bottle.


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