Beer Distilled To Gin: The Gin-etics Of CH Distillery And Atlas Brewing's "Ginbock"

By Ben Kramer in Food on Jun 21, 2015 6:00PM

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Creating the Ginbock (Photo from Atlas Brewing's Facebook)

It started like anything else. A distiller hangs with two brewers, and after some drinking, both say, “Hey, let’s distill a beer.” This is how Tremaine Atkinson, distiller and founder of CH Distillery, described the origins behind Ginbock, the collaboration between CH and Atlas Brewing Company. Atlas founders, brothers John and Ben Saller, were keenly aware that CH had done this before with Ale Syndicate. That collaboration produced the standalone beverage “Spirit of du Sable” that distilled Syndicate’s du Sable Hoppy Saison, and the Saller brothers wanted to try it themselves.

The teams went back and forth for months developing ideas that didn’t go far. “Our first thought was to distill a beer with cherries,” remembers Atkinson. This proposition, among a few others, never took flight. Ultimately, John Saller had a thought which would stick. “He suggested we do a gin, and it instantly seemed like a really cool idea,” recalls Atkinson. Not only did it sound like a cool idea but the group believed they could have it done in time for Chicago Craft Gin Week.

With the spirit settled, the group needed a base beer. Going with Atlas’s Maibock (the “bock” in Ginbock), the team chose the beer for its simpler, malty flavor profile. Plus, it’s lighter on the hops. “Hops can get pretty intense if you’re not careful in the way you distill,” says Atkinson. After working with Ale Syndicate, Atkinson realized the hops come in a “single note kind of way” and having too much in the distillate and final product can be a problem. Because gin is aged in a steel container, and not a barrel, it doesn’t have the benefit of the barrel (and its flavors) to mellow out the hop intensity, like the Ale Syndicate spirit did. A maltier beer made more sense to work with.

Some of you might be saying, “Wait, I don’t get it. How can you transform a beer into a gin?” It’s all in the botanicals. When distilling a beer you still get some of the maltiness and hop notes from the brew, but in the end you still get a clear distillate. It’s naked grain alcohol with no real flavor to it. To give it some flavor and flair, botanicals are added. In this case, CH and Atlas stuck with the basics for a gin. That includes juniper berry, coriander and lemon peel, along with some grapefruit, which Atkinson believes adds, “a real nice backbone to the whole thing.”

These fruits, berries and seeds were thrown in with the third and final distillation. Prior to the final run, five mini-lab distillations were conducted to get the botanical balance just right.

Needing only a week to age, Ginbock is ready to go. It’s set to be released at CH on June 22, where it will be paired with a specialty cocktail and Atlas’s Maibock for a chance to try the spirits base, and Ginbock and Tonics will be available at CH through June 27. As well, Atlas will serve Ginbock at their brewpub on June 26 for their 3rd Anniversary Extravaganza.

Only 63 to 75 of the 375 ml bottles exist though, so this spirit is very limited. If you’re a fan of Atlas, CH, gin or beer then you’ll have to jump onto this opportunity quick. Because unlike the Stanley Cup, it won’t be around year long.