On Sunday afternoon, I survived the Matrix. The "Gin Tasting Matrix," as downtown Tampa's newest soon-to-open cocktail bar, CW's Gin Joint, calls it.
In observance of International Gin and Tonic Day, the Gin Joint — owned by Wilson Company President Carolyn Wilson (the CW in CW's) — hosted a pop-up celebration at its older sibling The Vault, which Wilson also owns, where this Matrix and 12 different gin varieties took center stage.
The two-hour gathering celebrated all things gin while educating people on how to properly taste the distilled spirit, yes. But it also served as a showcase of what the Gin Joint will become once it launches this summer (the bar's slated opening is July), as well as the minds behind the concept.
Gin is typically known for its juniper taste, but highlights many other flavors today. For the event, a core group of cocktail brains — Gin Joint director of operations Rory Martin and bartenders Laura Moore and Daniel Bareswilt, alongside spirits specialist Dean Hurst — curated the Matrix-driven booze stockpile.
Hurst and the Gin Joint crew worked tirelessly to develop the Matrix, which revolves around four major flavor profiles found in gin: floral, citrus, savory and juniper. The gins of the day were selected for their expression and balance, represented at the event by "zones," each reflecting a flavor, complete with complementary decorations. Every flavor zone featured three gins, along with a gin expert ready to help you decide.
Opting for juniper, I first talked with Hurst.
"The gin is the only variable changing," Hurst said. "We wanted as many controls as possible so the gin is the only thing standing out."
That's why all the G&Ts were served "Spanish style" in a wide-body pinot noir-like wine glass with a single ice sphere, brought in by Gainesville's Ice Doctor. No garnishes were used, just gin and Fever-Tree tonic water.
After some consideration, I began my tasting adventure with Xoriguer, a Spanish gin made from a brandy base with a strong juniper presence. The presentation was one-of-a-kind, and I enjoyed the way the carbonation played off the perfect ice spheres; there was little, in fact (geek-out warning), due to the ice's nucleation point. The tonic's flavor also had the right quinine balance for the gin.
Savory followed, as Martin led me to Ransom Old Tom. This barrel-aged gin surprised with savory chocolate and touches of citrus. Commenting on the wide range of brands on display, Martin said, “We spent months curating the spirits we'll be bringing in, so everything is represented but not repetitive.”
Next I was off to citrus, where Bareswilt, after explaining the high-proof history of Perry's Tot Navy Strength Gin, ushered me to the Italian Malfy with a strong citron nose — no surprise, given the Italy's love of limoncello. When combined with tonic, it was refreshing and had a, if not subtle, clean lemon finish.
Floral with Moore, last but not least, brought my choice of Monkey 47, of the German Schwarzwald variety, that includes 47 botanicals and berries. Certainly floral, the gin was packed with flavor, due to its many ingredients, and a kiss of lingonberry was also among the delicate balance.
And don't worry. When the Gin Joint opens adjacent to The Vault at 633 N. Franklin St., it plans to carry all sorts of libations alongside gin. The 1920s-era-style bar, whose arrival is one that specialty cocktail admirers are anticipating, will specialize in classic and custom cocktails, plus select spirits.