An upstart distillery in Auburn received some news that made its year. Darjeeling Gin, produced by Ed Arnold at California Distilled Spirits, took “best of show” for gin and a platinum award at the World Spirits Competition, against such major brands as Tanqueray and New Amsterdam, a subsidiary of E. and J. Gallo Winery.
Arnold has only made gin for a few months, crafting fewer than 1,000 bottles. He’s also planning to produce a bourbon and brandy, but for now he’s focusing on making more gin to satisfy the steady increase in business. Here’s what Arnold had to say about his gin and the big competition win:
Q: What inspired you to enter the spirits business?
A: As I told Darrell Corti, he was one half of the inspiration. In the mid-1980s he did a single malt (whiskey) tasting, and I took my dad and brother-in-law. It opened my eyes to what a huge range of flavors was available. At the same time, RMS Distillery in the Carneros district (of Napa) had the first brandy distillery outside of France. They talked about being able to produce a product that was as good or better than France, but could do it in half of the time because of the superior aging characteristics of the climate out here. Those two things got me thinking about distilling and and what happens to produce those flavors.
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Q: When did you start distilling your first batch of gin?
A: I first did some mechanical runs to clean everything out and make sure everything was working. We started recipe-testing in July and by the beginning if September the recipe was nailed down. The recipe went through about 10 different iterations.
Q: I know the blend of botanicals in your gin is a secret, but can you give us some clues?
A: It’s a combination of nine botanicals. Two-thirds of the botanicals you see in a lot if gins – juniper, citrus, some mint – but the name (Darjeeling Gin) tells you one of the secret ingredients. It’s a unique ingredient, and I think is responsible for that extra depth. The process at this scale is very hands on. The water is very good in the Foothills. When we distill, we do things a little differently as far as the charge levels, or the amount of alcohol in the kettle. I think it produces that softer, richer result.
Q: What cocktails or mixers do you think work best with this gin?
A: Just about anything with a lemon or acid component to it, like your classic Tom Collins. In a French 75, the champagne provides a nice acidic complement to it. I’ve found many people, myself included, end up drinking it on the rocks because you can treat it like a nice whiskey. An easy mixer is Limonata soda. Carbonated, sweetened lemon juice makes for a quick and dirty mixer.
Q: What was the process like for entering the competition, and when did you get the news you’d won?
A: I found out a couple days ago. Back in October I sent five bottles to a place in Florida where they amalgamated all the North American entries. There wasn’t a whole lot of contact in between. I was just wondering, one, did they get it? And two, did they like it? When I was scrolling down at the winners in each class, they weren’t all tiny upstarts like myself. Most were large, multinational companies. Bacardi was distillery of the year.
Q: For being a new company, you must’ve been pretty thrilled to receive this award.
A: Obviously I was surprised and delighted, and all those things. It was really quite over the top, for right out of the gate to do something like this. Everyone’s liked it over here, and I was pleased to see the Europeans liked it as well.
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.
owner of California Distilled Spirits of Auburn.
Arnold, an upstart distiller, found out in December that he can compete with the big guns of spirits companies. His Darjeeling Gin was named “best in show” for gin at the World Spirits Competition.