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Review

Old Hollywood Ginn

Distillery

Napa Valley Distillery, Napa, California, USA.

Not to be confused with another Napa Valley Distillery, based in Benicia, California, who share the same trading name. As we understand the situation, both parties are looking for this issue to be resolved in due course, and suspect the outcome will result in one of them needing to rename their business.

Website

Napa Spirits

Not to be mistaken for the other Napa Valley Distillery

History

Arthur Hartunian has been a limo driver and a craps dealer in Las Vegas but most of his working life has been involved in the Financial Services Industry, which has included running his own business as an Insurance Agent for AIG. In 2008 with a poor economy, and perhaps fuelled in part by a mid life crisis, he had already thought about what he really wanted to do. He had been creating his own home made Limoncello using Meyer lemons and shop bought Vodka, and became inspired by the positive comments this brought from family and friends. So he moved with his family from Fresno, California to Napa, putting them in the heart of the famous Napa Valley renowned throughout the world for it wine industry. Arthur was now a man on a mission to make and sell his own liquor in Napa Valley.

Setting up a distillery is a costly venture, and to make spirits in any real degree of volume can require a minimum of half a million dollars start-up capital. This makes it a difficult proposition for the truly small-scale producer on a low budget, especially when faced with restrictive State legislation but this is where the true entrepreneur has to get creative. Arthur discovered distributors for the Californian State controlled Liquor Board would only be interested in large-scale producers to be included with the products they carry, however he could self-distribute if the liquor was Brandy based. This got him thinking… 

In 2008, in partnership with his wife Lusine (Lulu), they gained a retail licence and released their own Limoncello (winning a Platinum Medal at the World Spirits Competition in 2009) followed by their Napa Vodka Vintage Reserve (making the list for the “Top 50 Spirits in the World” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine). The Vodka is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes (getting around the distribution issue for the Hartunian’s) from a single vintage and estate (possibly making this the world’s first Vintage Vodka) and is bought from an undisclosed Napa Valley winery. This aged wine is then distilled five times and filtered 10 times by Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma (California) under contract for Arthur and Lusine. Since this time their line of spirits have continually grown to provide a burgeoning portfolio.

In 2009 they gained a rectification permit making them the first distillery in the City of Napa since prohibition. During 2015 they hope to become a full distillery and, with the addition of several copper pot stills, plan to bring their spirit production truly in house. Although they have a facility on Walnut Street in Napa, they expect to move to larger premises closer to their retail activities. Arthur is quick to highlight he is a blender of liquor and not a distiller and is seeking a distiller to support the process. Given his background – a businessman - Arthur primarily brings this skill to the enterprise, coupled with an enthusiastic passion for liquor and cocktails (not to mention cooking, cigars and tournament poker).

In 2013 they opened a shop at the Oxbow Public Market and besides their spirits sell a range of premade cocktails, bitters (around 300 at the last count), shrubs, syrups and vintage barware (not to mention tastings, following a change to the law advocated for craft distillers by Arthur). This retail side of the business has blossomed quickly and in 2014 they moved to an even bigger space within the Oxbow Market (found on First Street in Napa). 

In 2014 they launched Old Hollywood Ginn, their first Gin, although it doesn’t strictly meet the regulations to technically be called Gin. The spelling of Ginn with a double “n” is their effort to work within the regulations while being able to market what consumers might better recognize as a Gin.

Production

The recipe for this Gin is inspired from a mid 19th century American book, “The French Wine and Liquor Manufacturer” by John Rack, and uses techniques from this era. The base spirit is made from distilled grape wine to create an unaged Brandy, followed by the addition of absolute essences from 9 botanicals. The Gin is not redistilled (thus is a Compound or “Bathtub” Gin) but is rested and infused for 2 – 5 days (depending on the batch size) with lightly toasted medium American oak wood chips to provide additional flavor and a light golden color. This creates an impression of an authentic Gin from the 1800’s when this spirit would have been transported in wooden casks.  

The Gin is presented in a round squat light brown colored apothecary style half bottle with rounded shoulders. It has a dusky light green colored square label with red, black and white colored text and sports an image of a black & white frame from an old movie in the center.

Category

Compound Gin or Brandy Hybrid. Although this contains more than just juniper berries as it’s botanical flavoring, it could be considered closely related to Borovička from Slovakia (and surrounding countries) in Europe.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

40% (80 Proof).

Price Range

$$$$$$ - $$$$$$$. Available at their Distillery, Retail shop and Website, or from select outlets in California, USA.

Botanicals

Uses 9 botanicals including: bergamot, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, Douglas fir, juniper berries and blood orange. The remaining two are undisclosed and while added in the smallest quantities (compared with the juniper and bergamot) they provide a distinctive flavor note to the Gin. Despite this, and rather frustratingly, our palates have not been able to identify them!

Name

The 1920’s to the 1940’s were a time of cocktail boom and this old style “Yellow” Gin would have been found at its epicentre. In California, and shared on movie screens across the Globe, this was also the Golden Age of Hollywood with stars and starlets celebrating their success with cocktails. It seems fitting for a Californian made Gin to be named in honor of this time and place. We enjoy their use of phrases like: “A scandalous blend of botanicals” and “Lights…Camera…Ginn!”

Tasting Notes

On the nose is strong juniper with some “green” notes and a faint hint of peppery spice. On the palate this full-bodied spirit has strong juniper with a clear grape base presence plus smoky bergamot and a bitter dryness displayed through the green herbal vegetative notes. The end continues with this juniper “green” blend plus a long peppery cardamom and spicy cinnamon finish including a warm but not entirely unpleasant alcohol burn. This is a Gin with some complexity yet with a degree of in balance in its overall flavor profile.

This seems to be a Gin that people either like or dislike, with no in between. It is definitely “quirky”, a label applied to Hendricks Gin over a decade ago and yet now considered mainstream, so who knows how Old Hollywood might be seen in the decades ahead, meanwhile it certainly should take the crown as “a most unusual Gin” today. We thought the combination of the brandy base, strong juniper and Douglas fir to be responsible for the “green” taste and then considered what the two undisclosed botanicals could be and how they might be responsible. Our guess was wormwood and an anise/liquorice flavor but we have been told from the “horses mouth” that this is incorrect…oh well, back to the drawing board for more guesswork.

In general we found this Gin to do better in long drinks and the best mixer proved to be ginger ale rather than tonic or any citrus drink. However, our favorite was a wet Martini using the increased Vermouth to mellow the strong flavors and quell any harsh alcohol burn at the end. Although not tried by us we understand this works well when used in an Aviation and suspect this may be due to creating a good match with the Crème de Violette. This is certainly a Gin for people seeking an adventurous experience and wishing to be awoken from any “Gin rut” they might find themselves in.

Awards & Accolades

Unknown.



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