Scott Krahn already was quite familiar with gin. After all, he’s the Krahn in DH Krahn, a small-batch label that’s been in the New York City market since 2006.
But he was flummoxed when a bartender friend suggested he turn his hand to making Damson gin.
“To be honest,” he recounts, “I had no idea what it was.” So he kicked into research mode, and found that relatively tart Damson plums had fallen out of favor compared to sweeter varieties; that Damson gin is a “kissing cousin” to sloe gin (“sloe berries aren’t really berries,” Krahn explains. “They’re really small plums.”); and that although England has a long tradition of distilling and drinking Damson gin, it wasn’t made anywhere in the United States.
In short, Krahn smelled a business opportunity. And it smelled a lot like ripe plums.
It was late summer and Krahn scored a harvest of hard-to-find Damsons at the Red Jacket Orchards stand at the Union Square Greenmarket. After a few trial runs steeping them in the closet of his Hell’s Kitchen apartment, Krahn found a winning formula:
Instead of the classic maceration process, he extracts fresh plum juice (a laborious process) and marries it with a “beefier,” aromatized version of his eponymous gin. “You get a fresher flavor,” he explains.
The end result: Averell Damson Gin Liqueur, a perky, sweettart, vibrantly purple liquid.
The offices for the American Gin Company, parent to DH Krahn and Averell, are located in Midtown, but the Damson liqueur’s loyalties are upstate. The spirit’s namesake is William Averell Harriman, a mid-century politician (48th governor of New York), diplomat and businessman (as in “Brown Brothers Harriman”). The first production run of the spirit took place at Finger Lakes Distilling, a stone fruit’s throw from Red Jacket Orchards, where the plums were picked.
Despite sloe gin’s syrupy-sweet reputation, bartenders are embracing Averell. It’s for sale at Astor, Bowery & Vine and Park Avenue Liquor, and being poured at a dozen restaurants including Marea, Daniel and WD50. PDT’s Jim Meehan and bartender Karen Fu created a “winter warmer” with Averell, Ransom Old Tom gin, Lapsang Souchong tea and vanilla-spiced simple syrup. “It will be served as a toddy garnished with a clove-studded lemon twist,” Meehan explains.
“It’s really beautiful and complex, and it finishes nice and dry,” says Katie Stipe, head bartender at the East Village’s northern Europe–minded eatery Van Daag. “The only thing I could compare it to was Plymouth’s Damson Gin,” a UK product, now discontinued. Stipe visualizes using Averell in place of cassis in a Diablo-style cocktail (tequila, lemon, ginger, Averell), or swapped in for port to flavor a Scandinavian glögg.
The next challenge for Krahn: sourcing enough fruit for future batches of Averell. In 2009, Krahn purchased 2,000 pounds of Damsons from Red Jacket Orchards, which yielded 1,200 bottles of Averell. Last year, Krahn again bought out their Damson harvest, plus that of another small orchard. “I went down to the Union Square Greenmarket, and sure enough, there were no Damson plums,” Krahn recalls.
“I’d like to apologize to all those Damson lovers,” Krahn says, sheepishly. “I took all the Damson plums from the market!”