They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. Having spent a month there last year in 2016, I can see why. I fell in love with its desert landscapes, its strong Native American and Hispanic cultures, the art scene, and of course its Green and Red Chile which is served on pretty much everything. A Green Chile Cheeseburger is a great gift to world cuisine. Trust me.
Naturally, when planning my trip I reached out to the Santa Fe Spirits and arranged a visit during my time in that gorgeous city. The distillery was established was founded in 2010 by Colin Keegan who balances successfully his day job as an architect with his successful distillery assisted ably by his team. There is the distillery on the fringes of Santa Fe (recently expanded in scale since my visit) and a Tasting Room come local bar in downtown. More on that later.
They produce several distinct products besides the Gin including a Single Malt (the dry climate and altitude poses some challenges in the barrel room and they need to up the humidity to ensure the angel share isn’t too much by the way), vodka, apple brandy and a very distinctive and locally sourced Atapiño liqueur whose ingredients like piñon nuts are sourced from the Ponderosa trees in the mountains around Santa Fe. The result is semi-sweet luscious and herbaceous drink that evokes the local forests.
Our guide for the day was the Marketing Manager Adam Vincent (pictured below) who was very generous of his time. Much like Australian craft distillers, there is a thriving distilling scene nationally, but carving out market share and building brand profile beyond a local region is a challenge. Especially in the USA where there is nearly 1300 recognised craft distillers, plus the huge commercial interests.
The say no one has more state pride than New Mexicans, and there is a plenty of support locally for Santa Fe spirits and the excellent hotels, bars and restaurants feature local products as part of the tourism offering which is a key part of their economy.
The company established a Tasting Room downtown to make their range accessible to tourists and locals, so after getting the lowdown on the range and production process, we joined Adam later for cocktails. The small bar offers a range of cocktails using their range, and a lively vibe was going (plenty of election talk naturally) and I was able to craft my own recipe using the Gin. Well, it was the least I could do!
The Santa Fe Martini
- 1 part Dry Vermouth
- 5 parts Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin
- Stirred over ice, poured into a chilled Martini glass
- Add Generous dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
- Garnish with a thin slice of jalapeño
The gin is a distinctive expression of the Santa Fe terroir, and is made only botanicals that are sourced from within 50 kms of the city. Local juniper, white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms (!) and osha root which is an important local Native American healing plant.
Neat it offers a rich palette that is closely integrated with some sweetness forward, and a dry finish with hints of peppery sage. Clearly distinctive, it has a unique flavour profile that indeed evokes its place. London Dry purists might struggle its flavoursome approach, but taken on its own terms its an accomplished gin.
Given that tequila seems to the the go-to spirit (Margarita heaven for some) in New Mexico, its natural that its gin expression offers plenty of flavour and spice to go with the cuisine.
I’d drink this on ice, or in a G+T.
In a classic Martini, I’d dial up the Vermouth, make it quite wet, and it handle being mixed Dirty style and you can fun with your garnish options- even a sage leaf, or some tarragon would be interesting.
The Take Home
I adored Santa Fe, and its hospitality was second to none. Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin is a very apt and accomplished expression of this unique and special place. Sipping this thousands of miles away in Australia, I’m back there with a smile on my face.