Most spirits are designed to be sold directly to consumers. Companies spend a ton of time on marketing, branding, identity, all that good stuff. This isn’t one of those spirits. Designed from the ground up specifically to make cocktails in one specific bar in San Diego, these bottles of Saturnalia gin from You & Yours weren’t necessarily intended to see the light of day as their own standalone product. Thankfully, though, an opportunity was recognized and these are available for purchase at the aforementioned bar (and only at that bar).
Laura Johnson is a woman driven by the desire to be a distiller.
She first was bitten by the distilling bug when on a trip to Cuba with her father when she was 18 years old, standing in awe at the Havana Club distillery when Johnson says everything just clicked for the first time. Since then, she has devoted her life to learning the craft and the business of distilling spirits, graduating from the University of San Diego with a degree in business and subsequently training at Dry Fly Distilling, the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and the Distilled Spirits Epicenter Master Distiller’s program.
Even after all of that education and training, she found it difficult to get an apprenticeship at a distillery and break into the industry. So she said the words that every great entrepreneur says at some point: “F*** it. I’ll just learn everything else along the way.”
Johnson decided to simply open her own distillery, and in 2017 after three years of planning and fundraising, she opened the doors of You & Yours Distilling in San Diego, California. Her vision was to create a distillery that combined the quality of the products with the quality of the experience at the distillery to make a truly unforgettable brand. The brand has flourished in their downtown San Diego location, and Laura has even started a scholarship to help other women get their start in the field of distilled spirits.
- Learn More: What Is Gin?
This is a slightly odd one for us — normally, we review spirits that you can buy online or in stores. But this bottle is really only available at one location and in limited quantities. Specifically, this bottle was custom distilled by You & Yours in San Diego for a local bar called Mothership.
Mothership is a high-concept sci-fi bar that feels like it is set in the crashed remains of a spaceship on an alien world. It looks amazing, the cocktails are delicious, and (as you’d expect from a bar of this caliber) they have their very own gin that is custom made for them by You & Yours.
This gin takes a distinctly Californian twist straight off the bat — instead of using grains, the base spirit for this gin is made from grapes. The grape juice is pressed from the fruit, fermented to convert the natural sugar into alcohol, and then distilled to make the initial batch of neutral spirit for this gin.
As an “American Gin”, this follows some of the same familiar conventions as its more traditional London counterpart, but with significantly less juniper and more of a citrus focus. An array of ingredients are added to the spirit and allowed to steep like a fine tea, and those ingredients are helpfully listed on the back of the bottle:
- Meyer lemon
- Buddha’s hand
- Pink peppercorn
- Spruce tips
Once properly flavored, the spirit is then re-distilled in the single hybrid still that the distillery operates in their back room, proofed down, and bottled for shipment up the street where it is promptly turned into fantastically delicious cocktails.
The overall shape of the bottle is a common design we’ve seen from a couple newer distilleries (and for good reason — it looks pretty great). The straight cylindrical walls of the body curve sharply inward at the shoulder, leading to a medium length neck and capped off with a wood and cork stopper. It’s a modern take on the traditional spirits bottle, and one that perfectly accompanies the modern chic ambiance of the distillery itself.
Something that really works in this bottle’s favor is that it wasn’t originally designed to be sold. Technically, it was already sold the moment it left the distillery and traveled up the street to the bar, so the design on the front doesn’t need to stand out and doesn’t need to be flashy. Instead, what we have for the labeling on this bottle is a pencil thin outline of the Mothership bar’s logo on the front, the “Saturnalia” name in small letters above that, a matter-of-fact list of the ingredients, and the smallest legally possible government warning about the contents of the bottle. It is the definition of minimalism — something it can get away with since no one really expects to see anything on here except that logo on the front.
Needless to say, I love it. I think it’s a great modern, sci-fi take on a bottle of gin.
This is a pretty citrus-forward gin — unlike a London style gin, where you’d expect a Christmas tree to be shoved up your nose with the first whiff due to the overwhelming juniper content. With this gin, the citrus is actually the first thing I notice; specifically, the lemon aroma that is coming in clear as a bell. That’s supported by some of the pine tree kind of aromas from the juniper and spruce tips along with some other herbal notes like rosemary. Definitely crisp and clean, like a winter forest.
While the aroma might be light and airy, the actual flavor packs a significant punch (as far as gins go, that is). The very first thing I get is the distinct taste of salt, like that pink Himalayan salt that my wife likes so much. That mineral salinity is quickly followed by an almost root beer flavor of cloves and cinnamon, providing a rich and well saturated earthy tone with a hint of a spicy kick. That spiciness develops and evolves into a defined black pepper spice on the finish, with the root beer flavor persisting for quite some time.
This is intended to be used primarily as a cocktail spirit, but honestly this is surprisingly enjoyable all on its own.
Usually with a gin, the addition of a bit of ice is the start of its downfall. Despite being a spirit almost entirely designed for cocktails, the typical flavor profile consists of a few lighter and botanical components and a whole bunch of juniper — and once the ice is added, the juniper is all that remains. Thankfully, that’s not what happens here at all.
The most prominent flavors in this gin are the same ones we saw before: the earthy clove flavor and the spicy cinnamon. Those two are still doing a fantastic impression of a root beer even with the added ice, which should give us a nice base for the cocktails we’re about to enjoy.
Around this is a smattering of juniper and a bit of lemon citrus, but they are smaller supporting components at this point. There is enough of the juniper and spruce tips to continue giving that pine tree forest impression, though, which is crisp and enjoyable.
Fizz (Tom Collins)
What’s clear as day to me in this cocktail is the earthy clove flavor and the cinnamon. Those two elements (still coming across like a lighter version of root beer) add a depth and a complexity to this cocktail that isn’t really seen when prepared with other gins. Typically, the only real uniqueness I find is when someone has done some funky barrel aging to their gin, but here it’s the raw ingredients that are doing a great job all on their own.
The juniper and spruce tips are here as well, and provide a deliciously crisp and light balance to everything else in the glass. I’d like to think that I get the lemon as well, but that could also be from the liberal application of straight lemon juice into the glass that is called for in this cocktail.
This is where this gin truly shines. Normally by this point the gin is out of steam and barely able to keep its head above water, but I think in this negroni we can really see the true potential of this gin and why they made these stylistic choices.
The very first thing you’ll notice is that the root beer flavor of the clove and cinnamon components does a fantastic job balancing out the Campari in this cocktail. It isn’t perfect, and there’s still a bit of bitterness in here, but the flavors are clearly identifiable and the Campari is far less shout-y than usual. That, in my book, is already a huge win.
As the flavor develops, you’ll notice that the meyer lemon is there as well. It provides another citrus note to add to the complexity and interesting flavors of the cocktail. And mixed in among all that is the juniper and spruce tips, which add just a touch of crispness and freshness to an otherwise dull and bitter cocktail.
I think it’s neat.
Before I move on to the final thoughts, I did want to note that the Mothership bar has a specific cocktail that they use this gin in on their menu. I have included the ingredient list here for you to tinker with, as they don’t really give you any suggestions for what proportions to use. But, to me, that just sounds like a fun afternoon of experimentation with a big bottle of orgeat.
While this might not be a bottle available at their distillery, I think this might be the best thing that You & Yours have produced yet. This is a deliciously flavorful bottle of gin that works great in cocktails of all kinds, and even functions perfectly well when taken neat. There’s a depth and a saturation to the flavors that allows it to be visible even through the most annoyingly loud ingredients, and yet there’s enough citrus and herbaceousness to give it a light and crisp tone.
This is one bottle of gin that I’m definitely keeping on my shelf.
|You & Yours Saturnalia American Gin
Produced By: You & YoursProduction Location: California, United States
Classification: American Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 90% ABV
Price: $47 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
A simple but effective gin that makes for some delicious cocktails.