Officially launched at the Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday, April 29 and available now, Lockhouse’s Sakura (cherry blossom) gin has been over a year in the making. Lockhouse’s operations manager Cory Muscato explains: “Last year we wanted to put it out. We made a few hundred bottles, but the Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau—formerly the ATF—which approves all labels, wouldn’t approve it. So we stopped production because what was the use of making something that we can’t sell? They were wrong, and after a four-minute phone conversation, they agreed the labels were fine, but in that time we lost all of the cherry blossoms.”
Last year’s batch was appropriately named “Mitsu,” which is Japanese for “secret.”
Every great idea takes its inspiration from something. Black Button in Rochester makes a lilac gin based on Rochester’s Lilac Festival, so Muscato thought, “Why not?” Lockhouse wanted to make a conceptually Buffalo product, but not do anything too novelty heavy—think beef on weck, chicken wings, et cetera. As we walk through the Japanese Garden in Delaware Park, Muscato says, “Even the iconic loganberry didn’t seem appropriate. It’s been done, and it’s just flavoring. Most people don’t realize that, in terms of size, Buffalo has the third largest amount of cherry blossoms in the country. What sets us apart even more is that there is an organization behind it [Olmsted Parks Conservancy]. We choose cherry blossoms because of Olmsted, and because it is truly Buffalo.”
Lockhouse originally reached out to the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is run by a separate organization from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, and they suggested they reach out to the Conservancy itself. “We sat down with Stephanie [Crockatt], the executive director, and I presented them with the product from the year before in November of 2016,” Muscato says.
From there they worked together to figure out the best way to create a truly beneficial partnership for both sides. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy wants to reach a younger demographic, and Lockhouse wants to reach a slightly older demographic. “It’s truly a City of Good Neighbors partnership. It can’t be said enough about small companies, no matter what industry you’re in, about picking partnerships with other organizations that share your ethics and values,” Muscato says.
The idea is to show off not just Buffalo’s distilling community, but the cultural community as well. ”Lockhouse Distillery’s concept of cherry blossom infused gin is innovative, and that spirit of innovation is reflected in their community partnerships as well,” Crockatt says. “The Conservancy is fortunate to receive Lockhouse’s support, and we greatly appreciate their generosity and creativity in this tasty, clever endeavor.”
One dollar from every bottle sold will be donated to the Olmsted Park Conservancy.
Muscato has been obsessing over the trees the last few weeks. “When we had that brief snow, I was coming out every day. I was terrified that for the second straight year we wouldn’t be able to showcase this product. Washington, DC’s trees didn’t blossom this year due to the cold.”
Curious imbibers need not worry, as the yield this year should be about 2,000 bottles. If it takes off, Lockhouse might have to review their agreement with the Conservancy. As it stand currently, Lockhouse can only use blossoms from the Olmsted Parks system. They are not allowed to pluck the blossoms, either. They can only use them once they’ve fallen. Lockhouse needs about a quarter cup per batch, each of which yields 40 to 50 bottles.
The process is the same as any other gin; it is the botanical selection which sets Sakura apart. Cherry blossoms are scarce, expensive, and very delicate, so Muscato is building the flavor profile around the blossoms. “I’m using complementary flavors like rose petals. I want to communicate the texture of the cherry blossoms, which presented a unique challenge. I mean, how do you convey the texture of a solid in a liquid? So I added coconut flakes to give it some umami characteristics. When you try it, you’ll taste a tiny bit of sweetness from the coconut.”
Additionally, Sakura has some more traditional notes that one associates with London Dry or Plymouth gins. Namely, peppery notes from the cubeb berry.
Sakura is Lockhouse’s highest-proof product to date, and also has the most botanicals of any of their products, which means it can stand up not only by itself but also in cocktails such as a negroni or a gin fizz, as the fizz drives the aromatics.
“I’m glad we waited a year,” Muscato says. “We’ve rushed products before, and I think this year’s product is better. This is my favorite release of ours yet. Not just because of the flavor profile, but because of everything surrounding it. It’s so distinct.”
The vast majority of trees that we think of as cherry trees are just cherry blossom trees. They don’t actually fruit—there is only one fruiting tree near the Historical Society building. Find it, and Sakura gin, this summer.
2 oz Sakura Gin
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz honey syrup*
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry blossom or other edible flower
(For honey syrup, combine 1 cup honey and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature and transfer to a clean glass jar. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.)
1oz Sakura Gin
¾ oz Salers Aperitif
¾ oz Cocchi Americano or Dolin Blanco vermouth
Combine all ingredients into a stirring glass and fill with ice. Stir for about 15 seconds and strain into a rocks glass, add ice or serve neat. Garnish with a orange twist.
41 Columbia St, Buffalo / 716-768-4898 / lockhousedistillery.com