If you live in Oklahoma, you know that alcohol laws are changing, particularly beer laws. The number of craft breweries is growing, and even The Tulsa World recently evaluated Oklahoma’s 10 best craft beers. One area you might not expect to see this regional growth is distilleries, but as our laws become more modern, the market will become increasingly saturated. In 2012 Prairie Wolf Spirits was new to the game and the only licensed distillery in the state. Today, they have a vodka (Prairie Wolf Vodka), coffee liqueur (Dark), gin (Loyal Gin) and are in the process of aging their whiskey.
As anxious as I am about their whiskey (to be released from the barrels April 29, 2016), today’s focus is their gin. I lined up a variety of gins and tasted them all side by side when evaluating Loyal. The four gins I had in this flight didn’t necessarily belong together, but I prefer variety to aid in giving my palate perspective. Before diving into tasting Loyal I did some background research and learned they received a 2015 International Review of Spirits Award with a score of 94 points. However, the most interesting thing I discovered was that this gin is finished with a vapor infusion of gunpowder green tea, provided by t (yes, just the letter), out of Oklahoma City. Gunpowder green tea is green tea that is rolled into small pellets during the drying process and has a slightly bold and smokey flavor. The name is generally attributed to the way it looks, not its flavor.
Loyal Gin has a standard juniper profile with some cardamom notes, and there is a subtle tea presence that comes through. It’s so subtle that I likely would not have noticed it unless I was aware of their process. There is also some peppercorn spiciness alongside some heat in this 45% ABV gin. While my goal wasn’t to directly compare Loyal with the other gins, it is worth noting that No. 209 is the only gin that was higher ABV (46%) and it was actually the most smooth despite the higher alcohol content. I found this surprising enough that I decided to taste Loyal a second time around to insure my palate wasn’t off. The second day I did find Loyal more approachable, but there was still distinctly more heat on the palate. Loyal’s finish lingers, but there is a very slight amount of bitterness. I wonder if this is from the tannins in the green tea or perhaps the temperature at which the vapor infusion of the tea is performed. [*UPDATE Below] Overall, I think Loyal is a good gin, and am looking forward to future releases from Prairie Wolf Spirits. For availability of Loyal Gin and other Prairie Wolf Spirits, use their location finder.
Disclaimer: Prairie Wolf Spirits provided me with the bottle of Loyal Gin that was used for this review.
UPDATE: FYI, if I ever learn any additional knowledge or new information contrary to something I have said, I will leave my original statements intact and append the post. With this post, the green tea infusion would not stop troubling me. I did some more research, and below are my current thoughts.
I was originally attributing the slight bitterness to an over-extraction of the green tea. The extraction temperature and time of teas vary, with green tea being in roughly the middle of the temperature scale. Over-extract tea at too high of a temperature or too long of a duration and it will be bitter. Under-extract tea at too low of a temperature or not for long enough of a duration, and the tea will lack in flavor. I find it hard to believe that Prairie Wolf would take the time and effort to ferment and distill a spirit, then infuse botanicals and not take into consideration the temperature of their vapor infusion – particularly when they have partnered with a tea house to source the gunpowder green tea. There are a few different ways to distill gin and impart the flavors of the botanticals, but steeping and vapor infusion are the two most common. Loyal’s bottle refers to their still’s custom-built botanical basket, so we know their spirit is at least partially vapor infused. With the vapor infusion method, the spirit is heated until the vapor rises up through the botanical-filled infusion basket before it condenses and is collected. Ethanol boils at 173.1°F, and proper green tea extraction temperature will vary based on the variety. The tea house, T, informed me that Japanese green teas will prefer a much cooler extraction, but the gunpowder green tea they provide Prairie Wolf Spirits is a robust Chinese varietal that is ideally extracted at 195°F for 1 minute. The ability of this tea to be extracted at higher temperatures makes it ideal to be extracted via heated alcohol vapor. So there you have it. Gin and green tea can play together nicely.