Happy New Year! The only thing dry about my January (or, as I like to call it, Ginuary) is my gin, so I’m using that as an excuse to write about unusual local takes on the spirit. Let the fun be gin!

I’ll start with Hardshore Distilling Company on Washington Avenue in Portland and its North Oak gin ($36.99/bottle), which took home a Double Gold Medal from the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Rested in new American oak barrels, its oak finish and amber hue reminds me of whiskey. Hardshore loves it in a Rosemary Paloma: Add 1.5 ounces North Oak gin, 0.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juice, 0.5 ounce fresh lime juice, and 0.25 ounce smokey mezcal to a glass with ice, top with grapefruit soda, add a dash of grapefruit bitters, and garnish with a rosemary sprig and a grapefruit wedge.

Round Turn Distilling in Biddeford also puts an unusual twist on gin with its Bimini Coconut ($34.99/bottle). Black Cow bar manager Liz Smith introduced me to it. It has just the right balance of coconut flavor, so it doesn’t taste like suntan oil is running into your mouth. Round Turn’s favorite use for it is in a Negroni – the coconut brings out both the bolder citrus notes of the Campari and the floral notes of the sweet vermouth.

While on a rum sail organized by Portland Schooner Company and Three of Strong Spirits, I managed to sneak in a taste of Portage gin ($34.99/bottle). It’s not surprising that Three of Strong, a distillery that focuses on rum, uses a sugarcane spirit instead of the usual neutral grain base for its gin, giving the spirit a richer, creamier, sweeter taste than most. Three of Strong loves using it in a classic martini and in gin-based tiki drinks.

Maine Craft Distilling’s Chesuncook is a gin-adjacent botanical spirit. Photo courtesy of Maine Craft Distilling

Recently, I stopped by Maine Craft Distilling on Washington Avenue and discovered with delight that, after a long absence, my favorite spirit of theirs was back in stock. Chesuncook ($33.99/bottle) is a carrot-based botanical spirit that definitely qualifies as gin-adjacent, and it’s far too interesting and delicious not to mention here. Don’t let the carrot base intimidate you – Maine Craft’s website offers six different ways to use Chesuncook in cocktails.

In sniffing out some other local gins, I came across the multiple-award-winning Back River ($28.49/bottle) out of Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery in Union (with a tasting room in the Old Port). It uses Maine blueberries as one of the botanicals and tastes great in a gin hot toddy. To be clear, Back River is not a blueberry-flavored gin. Sweetgrass does, however, make a cranberry-flavored gin ($28.49/bottle) using Maine cranberries.

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Stroudwater Distillery at Thompson’s Point also produces a gin ($34.70/bottle), using two different styles: London Dry and a more citrus-forward gin in a 2:1 ratio. As a result, the juniper and citrus flavors are both present, but with a lighter mouth feel. It works particularly well in an Aviation.

My final discovery was Jigger and Jones ($28.99/bottle), currently the only product of The Devil’s Half Acre in South Berwick, which prides itself on being the only veteran-owned-and-operated distillery in Maine. Is it wrong for me to hope that the owner is a retired gin-eral?

As you do your own research into which local gin is your favorite, remember: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try a gin.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while making as many puns as her editor allows.


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