Ginning Up a New Texas Spirit

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The first Texas gin and the first spirit ever created by a chef is about to make its debut. Former Coca-Cola executive Don Short and James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande are the two men behind the enterprise and look forward to its early June release here in Texas. Here's Short on how this project came to fruition.

How did all of this happen? A year and a half ago, two friends, chef Robert Del Grande and I, began working on a new spirits business. It's New Artisan Spirits Inc. We investigated a variety of spirits, but because both of us had extensive experience with botanicals (Robert through cooking and I was CEO of Minute Maid), we decided gin was a great space where we felt we could make a difference.

Robert spent the time creating a signature recipe. It has a significant amount of juniper (required for a gin), but is balanced with Texas grapefruit and lime (and in this case, both are fresh peels, not dried botanicals, which is more common). Coriander keeps the juniper and citrus in balance. Hibiscus gives it the perfume, along with the citrus. Then, we have traditional botanicals, like orris root, and we have new botanicals like Texas pecans, cocoa nibs and sarsaparilla.

We wanted a gin that traditional drinkers of gin would find very appealing and even those that had not tasted gin in a while (or ever), would find appealing. While Robert worked on the botanicals, I designed the bottle. The Skyline Bottle is designed to give a toast to the great architects of the world and the great skylines they have created. The bottle, which stands up well next to crystal, has beautiful windows, and would fit well on the skyline of any great city. Then I developed the strong name ROXOR. It's a palindrome, and we think it stands up well on this beautiful bottle.

Why craft a gin as opposed to any of the other spirits? There are only so many things you can do with vodka, for example. More distillations, unique water. With gin, after you add juniper, you have a clean palette with which to work. And, since we start with a vodka (Dripping Springs Vodka is our distiller and partner), we start with a very clean spirit. Perhaps this is why our gin, even though it is 90 proof, is much smoother than traditional gins. Add that to our unique steeping and distilling methods, and you get our signature taste...a modern gin, which is our really big idea: Create modern interpretations of the spirits that helped define cultures. Gin is our first.

In what ways do you think chef Del Grande's doctorate in biochemistry helped in creating this gin? Robert's PhD came into play, perhaps more that his artistic culinary skills. We've had an Excel [spread]sheet going for over a year, determining the impact of 12 different botanicals, the impact of temperature, the impact of types of botanical, etc. While art may be our signature touch, the science of biochemistry is critical to making a spirit. We analyzed every gin in the world and believe ROXOR stands out as a wonderful modern gin. Add that to the bottle, and we believe you have "perhaps the most attractive gin in the world" (our tag line).

Does Del Grande use the gin for cooking in any way? Recently Robert began sending out some teasers regarding the new gin. He cooked for a chef's dinner and featured venison with Texas gin (our botanicals were used). He's developed a ROXOR seasoning salt with our botanicals (great for seasoning), and I just had a blue cheese dip with our botanicals. ROXOR will be important for food. Wine has done a great job with food pairings. Why shouldn't ROXOR gin?

Did you enjoy the experience of crafting a gin? If so, why? Will you do it again? Robert loved getting back to his roots, science and biochemistry. It gave him a chance to combine the art and cooking with the science, something that he's never forgotten, but was accentuated with this project. Expect us to do more.

What would you say to people who may be frightened to try gin, assuming they won't care for the taste? Whether it's the first time, or even if you might have had a "bad gin" experience, think of gin as a botanical vodka. We start with a pure clean vodka, add botanicals for flavor, and balance these botanicals to give you a smooth delicious taste. I have received several emails saying, "I don't like gin, but I really like this." And, we have gin drinkers who say they just get tired of gin after a while. We don't think you will tire of the taste of ROXOR.

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