You don't have to be a fan of gin to enjoy Jewell Distillery's latest spirit, Jewell Gin. In fact, you don't have to be a gin fan to distill it.
Michael and Barbara Jewell began Jewell Distillery in a small Blue Lake warehouse in June of 2016. It was a passion project for the longtime Humboldt couple, and their first product, Pacific Moonshine, was a hit, taking home a gold and silver medal in state spirits competitions.
Soon, friends began urging them to make gin. It made business sense — they were looking for an unaged spirit to help boost the recognition of their distillery. But there was hitch. "Barbara is a gin drinker," Michael says, "but I've never liked gins."
That might have stopped other distillers, but not the Jewells. Barbara has a background in food, wine and spirits, having started Ramones Bakery, a Humboldt County institution. Michael's spent a career in product development so problem solving is an instinct. Those forces, plus persuasive friends, led the Jewells on a journey to create an ideal gin.
"From day one we said we wouldn't put out anything we wouldn't want to drink ourselves," Michael says. They began tasting gins from around the world, looking for interesting flavor combinations and, more importantly, figuring out what they did not like — perfumey or piney gins, they discovered.
Their biggest challenge came from juniper berries, the backbone of gin's package flavors. They tried berries grown in eight or 10 different countries, each with unique characteristics, but didn't like any of them. A bit stymied, they began to combine different junipers, finally striking gold with a flavor that they both loved. (Where those two berries hail from is the only Jewell secret, Michael says.)
From there, the Jewells developed the rest of their botanical recipe, totaling 13 fruits, herbs and spices, and created a neutral spirit from organic French wheat. Their first batch took six months from concept to bottle and their second batch shipped in November.
On a cold evening, Michael and Barbara escort a couple of visitors from the cozy tasting room to the warehouse, where the copper and steel still rises from the floor like an Industrial Age submersible. Their direct fire still combines the state-of-the-art with old craft tradition, a nod to small distillers in Portugal, France and Germany. They flavor their gin in the vapor stage, extracting a rich and complex profile from the botanical recipe.
And it shows. Jewell Gin is a rich, fennell-forward spirit with an exciting bouquet. Perhaps most remarkable is its smoothness. They pride themselves on making cuts — distilling their spirits slowly and carefully to get rid of bad-tasting (and hangover-inducing) alcohols created during fermentation.
It's a gin worth sipping neat. Over ice, it's almost like a cocktail all its own, with the flavors growing as the cube melts. Back in the tasting room, Barbara mixes one of their own recipes (see below), the Crown Jewell Martini, generously adapting the recipe to my taste. (A touch less elderflower makes the drink a little less sweet and lets the gin through a bit more.)
Fans of gin will need no urging but even those wary of gin should try it — after all, it made a convert of its distiller.
Crown Jewell Martini
2 ounces of Jewell Gin
1/2 ounce of St. Elder Liqueur
Squeeze of fresh lime
Pour Jewell Gin, elder flower liqueur and lime in a shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled Martini glass garnished with zest of lime.