Review: Young Hearts Distilling Gin

When opening a new distillery, gin is a pretty common place for folks to start. It’s an unaged spirit, meaning you can sell it immediately as soon as it comes off the still. But a problem with gin is that the common recipe is… boring. Most distilleries seem to follow it especially for their newer releases, though, mostly because it’s time tested and appeals pretty broadly. So I really appreciate when a distillery takes a chance on something different, like the Young Hearts Distillery in Raleigh, North Carolina has.


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History

Woody Lockwood and Chris Powers met as bartenders in Raleigh, NC in 2000 and became fast friends. Together they dreamed of opening their own place, a dream they eventually realized once they partnered with David Meeker in 2008. The doors to their new bar opened in 2009, with the Busy Bee Cafe being their everyday establishment and an upstairs nightclub called The Hive showcasing the best beer from around the world.

The trio didn’t just want to open yet another bar, though, they wanted to showcase the best of what Raleigh, North Carolina could produce. To that end, they wanted to start their own local craft brewery — which they did in 2013 when they opened the Trophy Brewing Company. Business took off, jumping from 600 barrels per year in sales to over 2,700 in about three years. The tiny brewery quickly ran out of space and moved to larger environments, opening a restaurant in addition to the typical taproom.

During the pandemic, the business took the opportunity to renovate their original brewery location on Wilmington Street and convert it into a distillery. The business re-opened its doors on August 14, 2021, utilizing a copper hybrid still located in the entryway of the building to produce a range of unaged spirits.

Product

There are a few different ways to make a gin, but I’m not getting a whole lot of detail about which specific option this distillery has utilized.

Traditionally, with a gin, what we have is a re-distilled spirit. Gins tend to start as a neutral spirit of some sort (usually grain based, which is confirmed on the front label in this case) that is distilled elsewhere and trucked into the facility. Herbs and aromatics are added to the spirit, along with some water, and the results are re-distilled to produce an end product that maintains the essence of those added components but without the coloring.

From the design of the still onsite, I’m going to guess that the botanicals are directly added to the spirit before distillation rather than infused using a basket process. There’s also no discussion of the specific botanicals used, which leaves us guessing. The only hint we have is that this is a “combination of old world and new world flavors”… which makes me think that while there’s probably some juniper in here, it’s less than you’d get in a London Dry style gin.

Packaging

The shape of the bottle here is familiar, but there are some notable distinctions.

The body is shaped like some of the medicinal-inspired designs that we’ve been seeing increasingly used by craft distilleries — specifically, a bulbous body, sharply rounded shoulder, and short neck construction. Where this differs from the rest of the pack is that the base seems to have a significant indentation in the bottom, almost like what you’d expect on the base of a champagne bottle. It’s an interesting choice — it does add some depth to the bottle… but it misses out on the opportunity for better lighting and presentation. Popular bottle designs these days use a thick glass base, which makes the bottle light up beautifully on an under-lit bar shelf.

I do like the label. It’s a bit large, but there’s not really much need to see the contents of the bottle when you have a clear spirit. There’s a floral theme going on in the branding; a light and refreshing motif that almost feels like a 1960’s flower child throwback. I’m not sure if that necessarily conveys Raleigh’s vibe as a city or if it’s somehow related to the brand history, but it looks good.

Neat

At first whiff, you’ll know immediately that this isn’t quite a London Dry gin. In a London Dry, you’d get an intensely juniper aroma, but here what we have is an aroma that’s much more floral and citrus forward. Lemongrass is the first thing I’m getting, followed by a bit of lavender, some rose petals and floral blossoms, and then at the end is when I finally pick up on the juniper.

And while the juniper was hinted at in the aroma, I don’t think it’s even in the mix when you take a sip. There’s a good bit of star anise that comes in first and develops into this very floral, lavender flavor, while still having an earthy and root-like undertone. That eventually becomes the dominant note of earthiness, developing into almost a sarsaparilla root beer note. This could be the result of some spices in the mix — something like a coriander or a cardamom adding another shade to the already complex mix of flavors.

It’s flavorful yet smooth, with a good balance between all of the components all on its own, finishing with a bit of a spice note that lingers for a couple seconds after everything else is all said and done.

On Ice

Ice can be a bit of a challenge, especially for a gin. Usually, the added chill and dilution kicks out the bulk of the flavors, which can lead to an unbalanced and unfortunate flavor profile for the spirit. But in this case, I think everything actually survives.

There’s definitely a little bit of dilution going on here and the flavors aren’t quite as vibrant as they were when taken neat, but all of the things I saw before are still here. Even that little bit of spice on the end sticks around. If anything, the only difference is that somewhere in the middle of the flavor profile, I’m starting to see a bit of the juniper peeking out and making itself known.

Cocktail (Negroni)

The negroni is a tough cocktail, primarily because of all of the competing mixers that you throw in. Campari is a very strong and bitter substance, and to be able to provide any kind of counterpoint (let alone a balance) is a challenge. But it’s a challenge one that I think this gin actually rises to overcome.

In this case, the trick is that the depth and richness of that earthy root component is really what’s doing most of the heavy lifting. Instead of being a primarily light and floral spirit (like most gins), this takes a darker turn that I really think is paying off here. It doesn’t completely balance the Campari necessarily, but it provides enough of an opposition that it makes the remaining bitterness almost enjoyable.

Fizz (Gin & Tonic)

I think the addition of the tonic water was finally enough dilution to knock most of the components out of the running. There aren’t nearly as many flavors in here as before, but there’s still enough to make it interesting.

At this point, I’m now seeing the juniper as a prominent flavor, accompanied by some star anise, lemon citrus, and floral lavender. I don’t get nearly as much of the spices as we had before, leading to a slightly less complex flavor profile overall. Even so, thanks to everything else in the glass, this still works as a cocktail with a nice balance and a good bit of earthy complexity.


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Overall Rating

I really like that this is a different take on a gin. There are some unique aspects here that you don’t often see, especially at a younger distillery, and it’s a gamble that I think has paid off nicely. This spirit works really well either on its own or in a cocktail, but be forewarned that the unique flavor can also provide some complications. You might need to tweak some cocktail recipes to account for the darker tones.

If I could improve one thing, I’d like more transparency regarding the ingredients and manufacturing process — but I don’t think I’d change the recipe.

Young Hearts Distilling Gin
Production Location: North Carolina, United States
Classification: Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $36 / 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: 4/5
A darker, earthier, richer take on the traditional gin.


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