Not often does a 14-month-old distillery win prestigious awards against older competition, but that’s exactly what Buffalo’s Tommyrotter Distillery accomplished at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition that took place Aug. 24-25 at the Education & Conference Center at The New York Academy of Medicine in New York City.
On Aug. 31, partners Bobby Finan and Sean Insalaco learned that their young distillery won a Double Gold Medal Gold and a Best in Show award for Best Flavored Gin for its Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin.
The small batch (300 bottles) released in June, is the second gin made by the distillery behind its original American gin. The special batch was advertised via social media that it was available only at the distillery for purchase. Of the unsold stock, the distillery entered the remaining gin in the competition, one of the largest in the world along with the San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition.
“Competitions are always on our radar,” said Finan. “They are a great way to grab national attention. The plan for the original batch of the Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel Gin was to see how local people responded to it. If it sold well, we’d make more.”
Finan said they entered the Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel Gin because they felt that it was an incredible spirit.
“We would taste it and agree that we didn’t know if we were capable of making something better. With the encouragement of local chefs, bar managers, liquor store owners and Tommyrotter enthusiasts, we decided to enter the competition,” said Finan.
The term "cask strength" comes from the bourbon industry, Finan said, adding Tommyrotter’s spirit was created in homage to the bourbon industry.
“When bourbon is made, the unaged spirit is placed in a barrel to mature. The alcohol-by-volume of the unaged spirit when it is placed in the barrel is typically 62.5 percent or 125 proof. Typically, when the bourbon is done aging, distillers pull the spirit out of the barrel and dilute it to a lower alcohol strength to make it more agreeable for the average drinker,” he said. To maintain more flavor, cask strength means the spirit is never diluted.
The concept of a cask strength gin is a rather original idea. Tommyrotter took its regular American gin and aged it in "White American Oak Char #3 barrels.” Finan describes the winning spirit as “the perfect intersection of a gin and bourbon whiskey.”
“It emphasizes our intent to create a one of a kind spirit that is a cross section of the gin and bourbon industry,” he said.
At the competition, spirits were graded by judges and organizers in a double-blind situation, keeping the the product’s brand name and distillery secret. A Double Gold was awarded to spirits judged unanimously as “truly perfect spirits.” The Best in Show were selected from winners of Double Gold.
Tommyrotter's Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin is described as having a “sun-baked copper color” with aromas of baked pear, charred fennel and honeyed nutmeg plus a whole slew of tastes ranging from guava, bubblegum and violets to apricot, clove, citrus, orange peel and even white peppercorn.
“Of course, at 61 percent ABV, the Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel Gin is rather strong for the average drinker to consume neat, but with a couple ice cubes or mixed into a cocktail, it’s more than agreeable,” said Finan.
The distillery recommends a “king ice cube” (a big cube that melts slower). For cocktails, stick with the classic gin/whiskey drinks like a Negroni, Fitzgerald, Old Fashioned or Gold Rush.
Tommyrotter still has some of the award-winning first batch available. The second limited release of the product is scheduled to be in stores by December.
Tommyrotter Distillery plans to release batches of its Cask Strength Bourbon-Barrel Gin every six months.
Tommyrotter Distilling makes small batch gin and vodka at the distillery located at 500 Seneca St., where you can see the process, sample the gin and vodka as well as purchase. Tasting room hours are 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Visit tommyrotter.com.