Leave it to the off-beat and creative minds at Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire to come up with an alcohol so secret that even its own distiller doesn’t know the flavors he’s concocting. It’s part of a play Tamworth is unofficially calling its Backyard “Unicorn” Gin series, whose four infinitesimally small batches will consist of some undetermined combination of seasonal botanicals grown on-site.
“I can’t predict what a garden grows. I can only tell you what seeds I planted,” cryptically says distiller Matt Power.
The seeds he planted for this experiment, which will only yield enough liquid for a total of 50 bottles per expression, include marigolds and heirloom Queen Anne pocket melons. The fragrant melons particularly excite history lover and Tamworth owner Steven Grasse — of Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum fame — because Victorian women used to carry them in their pockets as deodorant.
Powers admits they don’t taste very good. In a trial run last year, he used a different kind of heirloom melon: a tasty Prescott Fond Blanc cantaloupe that despite its pleasant flavor is what he calls “the ugliest melon I’ve ever seen. It’s warty and looks like a disgusting squash.”
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Don’t be alarmed, though. The beauty of working in tiny 5-10 gallon batches, as Powers does, is that he can use trace quantities of an ingredient and do so in ways that might only add body, for instance, or aroma. Additionally, by distilling each botanical individually in either of Tamworth’s two vacuum distillation rotary evaporators, which boil the liquid at a lower temperature than a traditional still, he can layer the flavors on top of one another and preserve the aromatic oils of the just-harvested crops.
“They’re designed to drink fresh,” says Grasse. “They’re fleeting, a true botanical experience. They’re not meant to be drunk forever.”
With that in mind, Tamworth will release the batches over four dates in August and September at the distillery only, for $75 per bottle. They won’t accept pre-orders or reservations but they will reveal the flavors in advance on social media. One bottle from each batch will be auctioned off with 100% of proceeds benefiting non-profits that support bar and restaurant staff laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.