Chefs foraging for ingredients has become commonplace, especially during ramp season. It’s much rarer for distillers to collect materials in the wild, which is what makes District Distilling Co.‘s new spirit so intriguing. WildJune Gin, which launches at the distillery-pub on Friday, is made with wild red juniper berries harvested in western Texas by co-owner Molly Cummings (her brother, co-owner Michael Cummings, lives in DC).
“We really wanted it to be uniquely American,” says Cummings, a biologist who lives in Austin. “The gin market is immense in terms of the variety. What’s hasn’t diversified is the juniper.”
Cummings says the vast majority of gins on the market are distilled with Common Juniper (the shrub that produces little blue berries). It’s a species that’s dominant in Europe, gin’s birthplace, and widely available commercially. The US, she says, is home to a greater diversity of “palatable” juniper species that can be used in the distilling process, including Alligator Juniper (a.k.a. Checkerbark Juniper), a sizable tree nicknamed for its scaly bark.
Cummings began collecting the tree’s red berries in a mountainous area near Fort Davis, Texas, and experimenting with them for the distilling process: testing different levels of ripeness, blanching, and dehydrating the juniper before shipping packages to District Distilling’s head distiller, Matt Strickland.
Strickland began mixing different botanicals before landing on a combination that includes coriander, citrus zest, centennial hops, lemon balm, and cinnamon—all of which he says pair well with the red juniper’s cranberry-like notes. The resulting spirit is a Western-style gin, which Strickland says is less juniper-forward than most London Dry gins (think Tanqueray).
“It’s a lot of spice, a lot of citrus,” says Strickland. “It’s a big gin, very true to Western style.”
Initially District Distilling will make around 650 bottles of WildJune, priced at $35 in the distillery’s shop. (They’ll also distribute to liquor stores.) Guests at the distillery-pub can try it on the rocks—both Cummings and Strickland’s preference—or mixed in a cocktail.
District Distilling Co. 1414 U St., NW