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Small-Batch Northwest Gin

Gin equals grin


As summer heats up, there's nothing more refreshing than an icy gin and tonic on the back porch or a cool gin martini on a misty bar patio. The first two gins in this week's tasting shy away from the juniper-dominance that turns off many drinkers in favor of a complex blend of botanicals, while the third is made in a more traditional gin style. Added bonus: All three are crafted in the Northwest.

Aviation American Gin, $26.95

Ranked the No. 1 gin in Wine Spectator's Top 50 Spirits Awards in 2012, Aviation has quickly become a bartender's staple. Crafted by Portland, Ore.'s House Spirits, this gin is made by steeping juniper, dried orange peel and a handful of spices in neutral grain spirits then redistilling into the final product. The result is the least "gin-like" of the three, with a muted juniper nose; smooth, viscous mouth feel; and not-too-boozy finish.

Oola Gin, $44.95

Based in Seattle, Wash., this small-batch distillery also makes a bourbon-style whiskey and a line of vodkas. The gin is crafted using Oola's Northwest wheat-based vodka as a base and seasoning with juniper berry, coriander, cardamom and citrus. The nose was the roughest of the three: --almost moonshine-y up front: --followed by a citrus bomb on the palate that one taster described as "chewable vitamin C." This gin calmed and expressed itself nicely in a vermouth-heavy martini.

Voyager Gin, $26.95

This gin was far-and-away the panel's favorite. Distilled in a copper alembic pot still in Woodinville, Wash., Voyager is the most traditional of the three gins, favoring the London dry style over the West Coast style. Blending a heavy dose of European juniper with lemon, orange, angelica, orris root, licorice root, cardamom and cassia, Voyager's juniper-dominated, almost floral, nose fades sweetly with a smooth finish. Drink this on the rocks.