In the millennium since it was first produced as a medical elixir, gin has been subjected to a number of experiments involving cucumber (Hendrick's) and tea leaves (Beefeater 24), but no one bothered to question the use of a neutral spirit as the juniper-flavored liquor's base until now. Enter Jonathan Barbieri, an American-born painter who – after a year of experimentation distilling traditional gin botanicals with his Espadín mezcal – has invented a mezcal-gin of almost psychedelic complexity.
Barbieri is no distillation dilettante. For the last 30 years, he has lived in Oaxaca, where he produces hyper-artisanal, small-batch mezcals under the brand name Pierde Almas. His new mezcal-gin, dubbed Pierde Almas +9 (the U.S. Alcohol Bureau doesn't like double designations, though by U.S. legal standards, it is both mezcal and gin), starts with double-distilled mezcal made from long-roasted agave hearts. That rich base is distilled a third time with gin botanicals, including juniper, coriander, star anise, fennel, orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, orris root, and nutmeg.
"Mezcal is the product of one of the most massive intersections of human movement in history," says Barbieri, referencing the 16th-century introduction of distillation to agave juice-drinking Mexicans post-conquest. "It seemed natural to segue into another centuries-old distilling practice, gin – a true merging of flavors and history."
PA +9 hits the nose with the familiar juniper, but adds warm Asian spices rather than just the lone cool pine of a classic London gin. The mezcal brings its own complexity to the party – ripe fruit, tropical flowers, gentle smoke – and its almost creamy mouthfeel carries flavor like a French butter sauce.
This is the rare gin you'll first want to sip neat to appreciate. But this summer, we'll just be generously splashing it into Tomr's Tonic, a rare mix of citrus, cane sugar, and quinine from organic cinchona bark, to create a new, breezy classic. [mezcalpierdealmas.com]