It’s a great time to be a gin drinker. There are more gins out there than ever, and exceptional new bottlings are appearing all the time. The boom has opened the door for gin-focused bars like Scofflaw in Chicago, which stocks its shelves with a curated selection of more than a hundred different gins. While every true juniper enthusiast should make a pilgrimage to Scofflaw and start working their way down the list, the more casual gin lover can get by with a few recommendations for under-the-radar gins from Scofflaw bar manager Luke DeYoung.
Made in Cognac, France, by Cognac producers on Cognac stills, this pioneering gin paved the way for other Cognac producers who wanted to venture into paler pastures. Though it’s been around for years now, Citadelle is still relatively unknown. “It’s never been intensely marketed,” DeYoung says. “When it came out, it was more radical in its flavor profile, but now not so much. It has fun floral notes; it takes you on a journey. At first sip, you get juniper but then it finishes super spicy, like baking spices. It’s super soft—they use French wheat.” DeYoung likes to use Citadelle in easy-drinking Martinis (“beginner Martinis”) as well as any sour cocktail like a French 75 or Gimlet.
Made in the Cotswolds region in England, this unfiltered gin is made with locally grown lavender as well as botanicals like juniper, bay leaf and citrus. “It’s one of my hands down favorite gins,” DeYoung says. “It’s a great example of taking the essence of a London Dry and adding things, while keeping things well balanced.” He likes the gin’s oily texture and how its flavor changes as it dilutes. “The first time I tasted it, I was like, dang, this is what I’ve been waiting for,” he says. It’s especially good with tonic water or in any shaken gin cocktail, but you can also drink it on its own.
We’ve already waxed poetic about J. Rieger’s Caffé Amaro, but the gin holds its own as well. “It’s one of my new favorites for sure,” DeYoung says. “I think it’s one of the best examples of an American London Dry style gin. And there’s a fairly obvious reason why: The ex-master distiller of Tanqueray consulted and created this recipe for them.” The recipe includes just five botanicals: juniper, angelica, orange peel, licorice and coriander. “You can’t just rattle off the ingredients of most gins,” he says. “I respect that a lot.” This is his go-to for Martinis.
“They only produce gin,” DeYoung says. “They came on the market with that one product in mind, and you can tell they really care about it. The name says it all; it’s everything you’d expect out of a semi-classic London Dry gin times 1.5. It’s all of those classic flavors amplified.” He recommends it to anyone who usually drinks Beefeater and is looking for a change, and he encourages folks to try it neat. “It’s not often people come in and ask to sip on a London Dry gin, but for those who do, this is a fun one,” he says. “It’s also good in a Gin Old Fashioned. The flavors can fight through bitters and sugar.”
This tiny Chicago company produces some amazing, powerful gins. “I’m jealous of everything they do,” DeYoung says. “I kinda have a crush on them all.” While Letherbee’s seasonal bottlings are consistently exciting, DeYoung always comes back to their flagship offering. “Flavorwise, it’s juniper up front, but it has a strong pepperiness to it that goes hand in hand with some cinnamon notes,” he says. “We use it any time we do shaken drinks with Angostura. It plays well with additional spice.” In the wintertime, DeYoung also likes to use it in a Gin Hot Toddy. “It invokes Christmas for me,” he says.