We Try Trader Joe's Jail House Gin

Spirit Reviews

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[Photo: Maggie Hoffman]

I've been a gin lover pretty much as long as I've been drinking. My Dad's a Tanqueray guy, and the sound of his post-tennis-match G&T ice clinking in a juniper-scented glass evokes family vacations to me. When I turned 21, that big green bottle had a proud place on my particle-board bookshelf.

Since those days, though, both Dad and I have changed our gin loyalties. He's into Organic Nation and I divide my sips between the stunningly tasty Reisetbauer Blue Gin from Austria and the unusual lineup from St. George Spirits, especially the rye-based gin. But none of those small batch spirits are cheap, and my mini-bottles from St. George would be empty in a minute if I threw a party.

In search of cheaper options, Will Gordon's explored Booth's, Stretton's, and, appropriately, Gordon's, but my local Trader Joe's has booze and his doesn't, so I've won the chance to taste good ol' TJ's attempt at my favorite juniper-flavored spirit.

Trader Joe's Jail House Gin is 88 proof, and the label proudly announces that it's 'five times distilled in the former Navy brig on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay.' The result: a gin that smells a little bit like cleaning fluid and quite a bit like vodka. It's infused with juniper, orris root, rose, orange peel, and cucumber, and sold in a squat bottle, making me wonder if they're gunning for the Hendrick's audience. The flavor is quite grassy, a little citrus peel-y, with a richer, smoother body than I expected. It does taste like cucumber, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing. It's not as bright and fresh-tasting as Hendrick's, and has a confusing bitterness that's more leafy than juniperry.

What? You don't drink your gin straight up? Me neither, and no one would confuse this gin for an easy-sipper. But in a gin and tonic, with a juicy squeeze of lime, the harsh bitterness and strange cardboard-like flavor comes out even more, and lingers on the tongue after each swallow. You might be able to get away with this stuff in a Campari-heavy Negroni, but for a G&T, this isn't the gin for me, even though it's only $15.99 for 750 mL.

Have you tried Trader Joe's Jail House Gin? What did you think?

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. She lives in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.