Through the Looking Glass: Tommyrotter Bourbon Barrel Gin Review

It should not be a surprise that I am primarily a bourbon guy, while I do enjoy gin on occasion. In fact, I was drinking gin before I started on bourbon. So began my tale of heading down the rabbit hole of craft gin.

Tommyrotter Bourbon Barrel Gin Review Header

It should not be a surprise that I am primarily a bourbon guy, while I do enjoy gin on occasion. In fact, I was drinking gin before I started on bourbon. So began my tale of heading down the rabbit hole of craft gin. And to paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, if you don’t care where you are going, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

My preference in gin is fairly routine, London dry gin, and almost always in the form of a martini. To quote Bobby Finan, Partner and co-founder with Sean Insalaco of Tommyrotter, their gin is “a far cry from London dry”. The experience with Tommyrotter was quite an eye-opener and one that I must admit took some time.

Unlike bourbon, gin is a loosely defined spirit, at least globally. The accepted definition is a spirit that derives its flavor predominantly from juniper berries. The flavoring can sometimes be added to neutral spirits after distillation. In the US, gin must be no less than 40% ABV (80 proof) and exhibit the characteristic flavor of juniper berries. To earn the designation of “distilled gin”, neutral spirits must be re-distilled with aromatics either in the pot or “washed” with alcohol in the distillation column.

Tommyrotter is located in the Hydraulic district of Buffalo and opened in July of 2015. Their spirits, American Gin and Small Batch Vodka have received several awards. These include a 93-point rating from Tasting Panel Magazine, a 92 rating in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, and a Silver Medal in the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. They are seeing growing success in the New York and Massachusetts markets. Plans are in place to soon to expand to Pennsylvania and four more eastern states beyond that in 2017.

The Bourbon Barrel Gin is cask strength and has been aged for 6 months in new oak barrels with a number three char.   Age statements are not allowed on gin labels. In discussing the process with Bobby Finan, he emphasized that the barreling of the gin is to provide nuanced flavors. The goal is to create a product that, bridges the gap between bourbon and gin. And do this without diminishing the gin character or making it overtly “bourbon-like”. His experience is that the gin does not improve with long barrel aging. Future gin expressions they are considering include something with a smoky character.

I opened the bottle and began to smell the rich complex aroma,“curiouser and curiouser!” The flavor profile was much broader and deeper and it took some time to experience and appreciate. This brought me back to my early experiences with sophisticated bourbons. Remembering the depth of flavor developed. I never expecting that gin could offer a similar experience.

It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person.
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


Name: Tommy Rotter Bourbon Barrel Gin

Proof: 122 proof / 61% ABV

Age: 6 months

Year: 2016


How I Drank It: In a Glencairn glass neat. I allowed the spirit to breathe for 5 minutes before tasting. After the initial tasting also added a few drops of water.

Nose: Juniper, floral, sweet and spicy/peppery.

I found in my gin-tasting research, a recommendation put some in the palm of your hand, and cup your hands to sample the aroma. It is an interesting approach as it allows the alcohol to evaporate and concentrate the aroma. Using this technique, I picked up the oak with more sweetness and spice notes. This also muted the juniper somewhat, giving a deeper complexity with some clove.

Taste: This is where the trip down the rabbit hole began for me. Along with the requisite juniper, the variety of botanicals were initially overwhelming. The proof brought the burn, with strong floral, spice, green grass, and butterscotch sweetness. The burn remained long, and the juniper highlighted the finish. With a little water, the burn muted somewhat, and it brought out the sweetness.

The Burn: Started early and stayed for the finish.

Neat, Splash or Rocks: It took some time. After going back to the gin several times and making a direct comparison to London dry gin, I grew to enjoy it both neat and with a splash. Vermouth was a bad choice of mixer, and with tonic, I could not recommend it.

Finally, for me, I found the key, mixed in a Negroni. Made with equal parts Gin, Campari, and Sweet Vermouth over ice with a twist of orange. It is wonderful. The barrel aging of the spirit was brought out, and it tasted like a barrel-aged cocktail without the wait.

Share With: Your more adventurous friends who are open-minded and gin friendly. Perhaps with a not-so-sane Hatter, March Hare, and a Door Mouse (sleeping preferably). In no way is it comparable to bourbon, but a nice change of pace.

Worth The Price: I believe the recommended price is around $60 for 750 ml bottle. At that, it is somewhat dear for gin, but I would buy it just for the Negroni. It was that good.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: If you are not sure whether you are ready for the full on gin experience, try some craft gin in your local pub. Or better yet, find your way to the hydraulic district in Buffalo New York and visit the distillery. If I could, I would buy a bottle.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Disclaimer: Tommyrotter Distillery provided Bourbon & Banter with samples of their products for this review. we appreciate their willingness to allow us to review their products with no strings attached. Thank you.