The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2013

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The Gin Restoration Project No. 209 GIN CELEBRATES ITS HERITAGE G The Ginerator, Arne Hillesland and COO Joe Fairchild at historic Distillery 209 in St. Helena. 136  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2013 story and photos by John Curley in has been around for a long time, and so has Distillery 209, in the beautiful, but perhaps unlikely, wine country town of St. Helena, CA, in the heart of Napa Valley. The distillery is only the—you guessed it—209th to be licensed for business in the United States, and it began operations in 1888. But it had lain dormant until the Rudd family, the prominent wine country clan that also owns gourmet purveyor Dean & DeLuca, decided to embark on a spirits voyage. And what better day to celebrate heritage and the number 209 than on . . . 2/09, the early part of February, when the land is fallow but the sun is still warm enough to enjoy a walk around the historic property. Leslie Rudd was on just such a walkabout when he noticed the faded, peeling letters on the outside of the old distillery building on the property that he had bought from the Martini family in 1999. Curious, he set about restoring the building and researching its history. The original distiller had a patent on the use of a steel vacuum pump, and he made brown spirits of sufficient quality to be awarded a medal in Paris in 1889. Not long after the restoration project had begun, a visitor arrived and said that he had something that Rudd would most certainly want: the very medal from the Paris competition that the original distiller had won. Today, there is much going on. The winery building on the property is also being restored. Everything on the property is biodynamic, and Arne Hillesland, the crafter of No. 209 Gin, (he's called The Ginerator) also gathers bay leaves from the estate to use in the kosher version of the gin, made from sugarcane instead of prohibited grain, that is released for Passover. To this day, neither Hillesland nor anyone else will reveal exactly how many botanicals are used in 209's preparation. "It's somewhere between eight and eleven," Hillesland says enigmatically. Hillesland devised a comparison test for his two final two versions of the gin. He served them both side-by-side neat; then he made a Gin and Tonic and a classic Martini. The gin that tasted best neat was not the one he decided to produce. His final recipe was the one that made the best cocktail. No. 209 might not be the preferred gin for those who taste their liquids in hermetically controlled environments, but Hillesland knows his gin is going to be the life of the party. "It's all about who's going to be good in a bar, who's going to be good in a cocktail," Hillesland says. Like their No. 209 Gin, Fairchild and Hillesland play pretty well with others, too.

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