BY PAULA ECHEVARRIA | NOVEMBER 25, 2016
The resurgence of craft cocktails has made the versatile spirit popular again – and now South Florida has its own brand.
Gin may be the most versatile spirit in the cocktail kingdom. Since it’s hardly ever consumed on its own, it has become the darling of the new era of bartending, reintroducing the litany of classic cocktails where it’s used as a base, and inspiring new approaches to its consumption.
In its purest essence, gin is an infused alcohol. Unlike other wine and spirit products that are meticulously defined and regulated, there are no standards for its production except for one: Gin must include or “taste predominantly” of juniper. Its Dutch predecessor, genever, originally distilled the berry with malt wine, and was sold in pharmacies as a treatment for kidney, lumbago and stomach maladies, among others. Gin can be distilled from any grain, like wheat, corn or sugarcane. Since the initial distillation brings it up to a very high proof, the flavor profile of the base gets lost in the neutrality of the ethanol.
Spices and Herbs
Where high-end gin production shines is in the second stage of the process, where the botanicals are introduced and infused in another distillation phase. The complex flavors of gin are derived from the extraction of these ingredients, which can range from spices like cardamom and coriander, to citrus, herbs and flowers. If most spirit distillation is akin to chemistry, making gin is more like cooking.
This is where we introduce Prescribed Spirits creator and Colorado import, 29-year-old A.J. Fazendin. After graduating from the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute, Fanzendin visited his aunt and uncle’s winery, Elevation Cellars, in Seattle. This happened to be two doors down from Project V Distillery & Sausage Company, known for their crafted artisanal sausages and small-batch vodka, Single Silo Vodka.
Fazendin was interested in the distilling process, so he volunteered to get hands-on experience by helping strain mash and fill bottles, and get as many questions answered as he could in those few days. “I come from a construction background,” he says. “When I got back home I realized I could build my own still. The first one looked out of the show Moonshiners.” This contraption was made with a keg and copper-pipe column and ran on a propane burner, and that’s how A.J’s newfound passion with distilling began.
Unfortunately, when he moved to Miami in 2014, he couldn’t bring his makeshift still with him. “I didn’t know the scene very well, and it was still developing in comparison to the West Coast. So I started serving tables to make a living.” Since his shifts were mostly in the evening, he dedicated his mornings volunteering at Wynwood Brewery to learn more about large fermentation processes.
Jump into Juniper
Eventually, his culinary talents led him to a sous chef job at Michael Mina’s Stripsteak in the Fontainebleau. One day, when he was messing around with extensive collection of herbs and spices at the restaurant, he stumbled upon a bottle with a label that read “juniper.” “I was never a big gin drinker, but my father and grandfather always drank gin,” he says. This find brought back memories of a trip to the House of Bols Genever interactive museum in Amsterdam, where visitors learn about the company history and get to smell the different scents – a wall of 50 components – that go into Bols’ massive line of liqueurs.
Since he didn’t have the space to build his own equipment, Fazendin got himself a chemistry set and started experimenting with herbs and spices and “the botanical side of it, which was a lot more complex than making firewater.” He found the end result for his ultimate distillate therapy in the delicate balance between juniper, orange, coriander, cardamom and pink pepper, and the recipe for Prescribed Spirits Gin was born.
Three months earlier, Avi Aisenberg and Joe Durkin had launched their Fort Lauderdale distilling venture South Florida Distillers and were in production of their flagship rum, Fwaygo. The partners had planned on offering the facility to other projects as a local incubator for spirits. “I walked in there and said ‘Hey, can I make gin?’” A deal was reached that allowed Fazendin to use their stills and license, and he got the ball rolling with production.
Today, you can find Prescribed Spirits Gin on the shelves of the best craft cocktails bars in South Florida, including downtown Miami’s The Corner; Wynwood Diner and Beaker and Gray in Wynwood; Coconut Grove’s Taurus; Bar Lab’s newest North Beach venture, The Anderson; South Beach favorites like The Martini Bar at The Raleigh and Sweet Liberty; and Islamorada’s Ziggie and Mad Dog’s.
At Repour in the Albion Hotel, bartender Brian Sassen ups the ante on the botanical elixir, mixing it with Carpano Bianco vermouth, chartreuse and Suze – a bitter French aperitif made with gentian root. So far, the number-one buyer of the gin is Coral Gables’ The Local, where bartender Will Thompson has been prescribing it to his patrons with Old World touches because “it doesn’t punch your palate with over-the-top juniper notes; it’s fragrant, smooth and balanced.”
Bartender Will Thompson of The Local shared one of his new creations:
1 oz Prescribed Spirits gin
.75 oz Dolin Veritable Genepi Des Alpes Liqueur
.75 oz Fos Greek Mastiha Liqueur
.75 oz lime juice
Dash of Scrappy’s Cardamom Cocktail Bitters
Build in tin with ice. Shake and strain in a coupe glass.