Genius takes a bold, calculated approach to crafting Texas gin
Mike Groener, CEO of local spirits company Genius Liquids sees his flagship product Genius Gin (which hit Austin shelves late last month) contributing a much-needed new point of interest to the American gin conversation.
“We will be the best American gin, and we will have one of the most prominent aesthetics for anything made in America. I fully believe that. You can confine it to gin, but I implore you to take any other American gin and say our product doesn’t look better or taste better than that.”
The broad and quickly growing spectrum of American gin runs the gamut flavor-wise. Yet after extensive travel and market research, Groener says couldn’t find one that completely nailed what he believed gin should taste like. So he decided to make one that would match that vision.
“We are a reaction to the industry, more than we’re trying to be a part of it,” he explained. “[New Western Gins] are not good in a martini or anything that calls for the gin to stand out on its own. We wanted a gin that was complete, but versatile enough to impart dryness, with a citrus and floral body as well so that you can drink it straight.”
Groener says he and business partner Charles Cheung approached the recipe development with two things in mind: they wanted to incorporate their appreciation for the culinary arts into the recipe, and they wanted to produce the spirit from start to finish using mostly local ingredients.
They started by developing their base liquor from scratch, something not many Texas distilleries do (instead, they buy neutral base spirit in bulk and complete the process from that point). From there, they looked at the ways different botanicals react to different levels of heat, just like a chef might approach seasoning a dish. Seven of the primary botanicals, including lime peel, lavender, rose hips and elderflower steep in what he calls “a cold process.” The liquid is then re-distilled, and juniper and cardamom are vapor-infused during a secondary hot steeping process. This way, the botanicals that might be more sensitive to heat won’t be over-cooked, and the ones that can withstand more heat can reach their full potential without damaging the others.
Flavor-wise, Groener said he wanted to stray from the darker sarsaparilla or heavy anise personality that many West Coast American gins promote, opting instead for what he describes as a “pastoral” flavor with earthy, organic flavors.
“It tastes sophisticated, but smells like fresh juniper masked in a soft citrus. There’s a wonderful marriage that happens during the cold process that creates fattiness from the lavender and lime peel. It almost comes across like a soft light vanilla note.”
Once the original recipe was perfected, Groener started tinkering around with the idea of releasing a higher proof version of the liquor. Genius Gin Navy Strength, the 114 proof expression is one of only a small handful of Navy Strength gins out on the American market (Royal Dock, Leopold’s, and Plymouth are a few that can be found locally).
The name Navy Strength refers to the British Royal Navy, when ships transported high proof gin across the ocean. According to an article in the New York Times, the “reason for the high alcohol content was that that was the proof level at which the ship’s gunpowder could still be fired should it accidentally get soaked with booze.” Navy Strength gins are typically over 100 proof, whereas most bottled gins land in the 80-90 proof range. At the higher proof, all of the characteristics of the liquid are amplified, leaving little room for poor production quality.
“If you have the right flavors you should push them,” Groener said. “There’s a much wider mouthfeel, with good oils left intact. Even more bold in cocktails.”
After spending some time with the original, I agree that Genius has the entire fresh juniper personality one might expect from a gin, but it’s enveloped in a soft, silky lavender cloak with bright moments of citrus, and a lingering finish that hints at black pepper and cardamom. The mouth feel is broad and encompassing.
I also tasted several cocktails made with Genius at the spirits’ recent launch party at Drink.Well American Pub. Check out the recipes below. My favorite was the Antica drink, with the opulent sweet vermouth, and bold, warm Navy Strength. Notes of dark chocolate and orange swirled with lavender and juniper, making for an after-dinner drink that I plan on revisiting in the future.
1.5 oz. Genius Original
.75 oz. Cocchi Americano Rosa
.75 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
.25 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
.75 oz. Gran Classico
Absinthe Spray (Tenneyson preferred) Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.
.75 oz. Lime Cordial (Rose’s)*
1.5 oz. Genius Navy Strength
.75 oz. fresh lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Lime Peel for garnish. *Drink.Well makes their own house lime cordial at the bar. Rose’s is relatively easy to find at liquor and grocery stores for the home drinker.
2 oz. Genius Navy Strength
1 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet/Red Vermouth
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon peel.