The 21st-century gin boom (not to be confused with the far more debaucherous 18th-century Gin Craze) has unearthed loads of styles we never knew we were missing beyond the classic, pine-y London Dry. It was only a matter of time before someone thought to remove the essential gin ingredient, juniper, and focus on everything else gin is known for – those herbaceous botanicals. This is what Sage sets out to be: a low-proof, herbal libation that can only be called "gin-like."
Art in the Age, the Philadelphia-based spirits maker known for reviving old-timey recipes focused on a single flavor (its first release, Root, is based on 18th-century root tea), has captured the essence of gin in a complex spirit that is full of, as its name implies, sage. This booze is based on the post-colonial, pre-industrial tradition of "garden gin," a homemade liquor that is steeped in herbs from the garden, to individual taste. Like those garden spirits, Sage is not technically a gin – it doesn't have the requisite juniper – but instead it has a crisp, clear spirit steeped in angelica, fennel, licorice root, and pine, as well as elderberry, lavender, spearmint, and rosemary.
The result is a crisp, clean liquor that is just right for a simple cocktail. At 80-proof, Sage is mild enough to sip neat (a trick most gins haven't learned), or taken with some simple mixers. Douse it with tonic water over ice, and it's an uncanny gin-and-tonic upgrade. Shake it with lemon juice and a little sugar, top it with soda, and presto, you have a uniquely herbal Tom Collins. On a hot day in the sun, we enjoyed it the way garden gins were most often taken – on the rocks. Available August 25, 2012. [$30; artintheage.com]