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Review

Spy Hop Gin

Distillery

Richard Anderson, Suzanne and Hawkins Pingree of San Juan Island Distillery, Near Roche Harbour, San Juan Island, Puget Sound, Washington, USA.

Website

San Juan Island Distillery.

History

In the mid 1990’s newcomer to the island, Rich Anderson, saw the local climate was very similar to the famous apple growing area of Southern Normandy in France (for making Cider and Calvados Brandy). He decided to plant 16 different varieties of cider apples (not great for eating) on his 2 acres of land (around 1,000 trees) with a view to producing hard cider. His endeavors led to founding the successful award winning Westcott Bay Cider.

In 2010 neighbors and longtime island residents Suzy and Hawk Pingree became partners with Rich, with a view to extend the operations, including a distillery producing Gin and Brandy. Thus San Juan Island Distillery was born, becoming the 32nd Craft Distillery in Washington, and production started in January 2011. A tasting room was made for early summer 2011 and new products are being continually added to their portfolio.

Production

Using a grain based neutral spirit (sourced from Pacific Distillery, Woodinville, Washington, USA.) they produce very small 7-gallon batches of Gin at a time, using a 30-liter Portuguese pot still. The finished product is presented in tall clear cylindrical bottles with clean simple black and white labeling.

Category

New Western Dry Gin.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

42% (84 Proof).

Price Range

$$$$$. Available at the distillery and several other places on the Island. There is limited availability off of San Juan, with only a few retailers supplying on the mainland, in Washington State and SW Canada. For us it’s just the excuse we need to go back to the island with its wonderful climate, great vista’s, fresh clean breathable air…and Gin.

Botanicals

Although some remain a secret, the botanicals (about half are wild and hand foraged from the island) include: blackberries, cardamom, juniper berries, lavender, lemon peel, madrone bark, orris root, pine needles (Douglas Fir), roses and star anise.

Name

The waters surrounding San Juan Island are teeming with marine mammals including Orcas (or Killer Whales), making it a haven for whale watching – yet another reason for visiting in our book. They come so close to shore, you can enjoy their antics with the naked eye. One such antic is where the Orca whale curiously raises itself partially out of the water, sometimes up to the front dorsal fins, with its nose pointing upwards to have a look around above the waters surface. This movement is known as “spy hopping” and so it is of no surprise to people familiar with the island that this Gin should be called Spy Hop.

Tasting Notes

On the nose is pine-like juniper, floral and citrus with faint fruit notes. On the palate the juniper leads first before being overtaken by floral lavender and citrus (lemon). The finish lingers with light woody spice notes and fades with the reappearing juniper bite and a soft backdrop of floral lavender and lemon citrus. This has elements of a classic London Dry Gin and soft aspects of a New Western DryGin, while showing nuances of botanical complexity found in many of the best Gins.

This is great in a Martini – it is our go to Gin for this drink – and good in a Gin and Tonic. Unfortunately we have not tried this in other Gin based mixed drinks for one simple reason, when you find something in short supply that “works” (for us, a Martini) one is loathe to “try and fix it” in anything else! This is smooth but not ultra smooth and that smidgeon of roughness, (we believe) adds rather than subtracts greatly to its overall character.

The trio of makers have looked for the Gin to evoke a taste of San Juan Island and we cannot but think of San Juan whenever we take a sip – we have particularly fond memories of the island restaurant Duck Soup Inn where this Gin was served. We have a hard time not being biased towards Spy Hop because we like Gin with lavender as a botanical (e.g. Aviation Gin). Even so, this is one of the best, if not the best, American made New Western Dry style Gins we have tried – a strong, firm, favorite with us – highly recommended.

Awards & Accolades

Silver Medal, American Distilling Institute, 2013.



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