That’s what Letherbee Gin distillers Brent Engel and Miriam Matasar set out to create when they debuted Letherbee Gin in 2012. The gin was a year in the making – searching for a balance of botanicals that could hold their own in a martini, a gimlet or an old fashioned. As the spirit evolved, Engel tested it with bartenders around Chicago. He was striving for a drinkable spirit, but also one that bartenders would depend on and actually use. And part of “actually using” it meant that it needed to be offered at an affordable price point.
Engel and Matasar knew that if the product was too expensive, bartenders wouldn’t be able to rely on it for a variety of cocktails. To that end, the simplicity of the bottle speaks directly to how Engel and Matasar meant for Letherbee to be used. They wanted Letherbee Gin to become a bartender’s well gin, not propped up and admired on a shelf.
In terms of value, Letherbee is an absolute standout. The gin is unabashedly juniper-forward, but its 11 botanicals create a remarkably complex and sophisticated spirit that remains well balanced in both a gin and tonic and a martini. In fact, I found it intriguing that the gin’s personality seemed to change depending on its context. In a martini, I was impressed with the gin’s anise finish. But in a gin and tonic, the anise took a backseat to fennel and other flavors.
Another thing that threw me was the cloudiness of my cocktail. At first I really didn’t know what to make of it – cloudiness can be a sign that the gin is not particularly well balanced. Too many botanicals (or the wrong balance) might cause the gin to “louche,” or become cloudy as it comes into contact with water which begins to unwind the suspension. But I found this to be an asset with Letherbee – the agitation that came with preparing a martini naturally released a powerful flavor profile.
Engel and Matasar may have been striving to create “the anti-craft craft gin” when it came to complexity and value. And against those criteria, Letherbee is truly a masterpiece. For those that have an appreciation for gin itself (and don’t mind it standing out from other components in a cocktail), Letherbee will be a staple. However this also means that Letherbee is not really a gateway drug. Letherbee has been aptly described as a “loud” gin, and I have to agree. That said, The Ramones, Sex Pistols and Sonic Youth were also “on the loud side,” and the better for it.
Letherbee Distillers, Chicago
46% Alc. by volume