Handcrafted artisan gins are making a mark across the country

Handcrafted artisan gins are making a mark across the country

Like a field of grain after a good rain, craft distilleries have sprouted from San Francisco to Maine, in Midwestern towns and East Coast capitals.

Most are family organizations that trade quantity for quality and bigger profits for the chance to keep their hands dirty. With copper stills and hand-picked ingredients, they've resurrected forgotten recipes and age-old alcohols: grappa, applejack, eau de vie, black currant cordial and moonshine.

And, in the past several years, gin.

The sweet juniper juice that once stood among America's most popular cocktail staples is making a comeback among smaller, regional distilleries with secret recipes and bold new ideas.

"We do everything by hand," said Sonja Kassebaum, who co-founded North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff, Illinois. "One of the fun things about having a still is being able to make whatever you want."

New ingredients are added. Recipes are tweaked. Unique flavors result.

Lacking the resources to reach a wide audience, nearly all small-batch businesses have opted to make a big impact within a small radius. America's reputation for gin is being re-forged not by a consistent thread, but by a patchwork of regional tastes.

Columbus joined this artisan gin movement in December when Watershed Distillery's first bottles trickled from state warehouses to liquor stores, then to local bars and restaurants.

"We are certainly gaining some momentum," said Greg Lehman, co-founder of the Grandview business. "When we walk in the door at restaurants and introduce ourselves, more people say, 'I've heard of you guys.'"

His hooch balances a piney juniper punch with gentler citrus notes from orange and grapefruit peels. Local bartenders have used it to create original cocktails and revive Prohibition-era libations.

"We set out to create something that was a little different," Lehman added. "It's been really cool to see people take it and run with it."