Gin From the Ground Up
Have you ever heard of a cicada? Well, for lack of more scientific expertise, it’s quite simply a bug. However this bug, the Periodic Cicada to be a tad more precise, is very unique. These insects hole up in the ground, or brood, and in some cases don’t emerge for 13 years! If you think that’s wild, there are some that don’t show themselves for 17 years. After these 13 or 17 year time periods the cicada has a new lease on life so to speak. You might also be asking yourself what this science lesson has to do with gin, or the distillation of gin, but we think once you’ve finished reading it’ll all make perfect sense.
We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Traxler Littlejohn, owner, operator and head distiller at Nippitaty Distillery in Charleston, S.C. Like the cicada, Traxler found himself “underground” for 13 years as he worked in corporate Human Resources, only to emerge later with a reimagined dream job. After leaving the corporate world behind, in four years Traxler took an entirely new career path as a distiller and small business owner. It may have taken him 17 years to land his dream job, but just like the cicada, the best is yet to come.
In 2017, Nippitaty Distillery emerged from the ground and Traxler has been firing up the still ever since. Nippitaty, pronounced Nip-a-tauty, is believed by most to be a term that was used in England as early as the 16th century. It means, quite simply put: particularly good and strong liquor. We think the phrase and the name resonates with what Traxler has done. Nippitaty is South Carolina’s first and currently only organic certified distillery. This of course adds some additional costs to Traxler's operation, but it’s a price he is more than willing to pay. Everything from the ingredients sourced to the way equipment is sterilized, follows extremely strict guidelines to meet the standards of organic certification. This part of his business is very important to him as it resonates with the way he lives his life — organically, real and true. He also knows the great benefits from organically grown ingredients and how much better for consumption and for the environment they truly are.
We’re here to tell you from our own personal experience that Traxler is producing one heck of a gin. He knows that not everyone would consider themselves a person who enjoys gin, but he’s looking to change the rhetoric and give this spirit the reputation it deserves. His gin is not the “juniper bomb” that many people think of, and it’s not that piney punch to the palette either. Nippitaty gin is smooth, and with bright flavors like crisp citrus and wonderfully earthy cardamom, each of which help to subside the juniper and send it to the background. With tasting notes like these, it’s truly a spirit anyone can enjoy.
Traxler has painstakingly gone through recipe after recipe to fine tune and hone what is now his mainstay. Nippitaty gin is actually two separately distilled gins that are then combined at a certain ratio to make the finished product. The botanicals are allowed to steep at different intervals and at varying quantities to make both gins quite unique. From start to finish, Traxler can start bottling his gin in about two weeks. This process could be shortened, but because he has created such a well balanced gin, a gin for the masses, he takes his time. Both the gins used in a single batch could stand alone, but that’s not what he wants. He wants that gin that anyone can pick up and be happy with, and at a price point that doesn’t break the bank.
It’s not surprising that Traxler is using creative ways to reach a new market of gin consumers — instead of the go-to G & T, he’s serving up this spirit in bars and restaurants as the star in an English Mojito! That may sound strange, but after tasting these drinks first-hand, we’re here to tell you it’s a true porch pounder. All the charters and amazing flavors of the gin shine through, the cucumber and camomile undertones work so well with the mint and with a little lime the entire drink is the ideal balance of refreshing and flavorful.
Nippitaty is more than a spirit, the brand and distillery are an adventure that are best experience in person. Nestled in the industrial parts of North Charleston, Traxler’s distillery is open to visitors and curious tasters alike. With a elegant Period Cicada displayed proudly on the outside of the brand’s home, visitors can not only tour the inner-working of Traxler’s design space, but also sample drinks and get to know the passion behind the business. During our own visit, our meet-up felt more like having drinks around a family table. Traxler is passionate about his work, and allowed us to feel like an integral part of his day and the inner workings of his production.
Nippitaty may have gin as it’s foundation, but Traxler doesn’t want to stop there. With new ideas already forming, dreams of producing rum and brandies down the line aren't too far from his mind. While we were visiting with Traxler we just so happened to chat about what else he may have thought about doing with his gin. We mentioned a navy strength gin, which is 100 or more proof. It’s a powerful gin, yet it holds on to the flavors of the original so well. Traxler, being the adventurous person who he is, decided that while we were there we were going to find out just how his gin would taste as navy strength. He holds some of the extremely high proof gin in reserve so that if, during the “proofing” process, the gin’s proof comes out too low he can add the high octane stuff back in. Well this was perfect for us because all it took from Traxler was a little cutting with water, calculating and proofing of the high intensity gin to make what turned out to be one heck of a navy strength gin. Hopefully we’ll see this bottled soon!
Traxler’s Nippitaty gin can already be found in some local Lowcountry locations, like Bill's Liquors! Check this link for current retail locations and check back frequently, https://www.nippitatydistillery.com/where-to-find-our-gin/, it wont take long for Nippitaty to catch on. You can also find Nippitaty at Poogan’s Porch and The Rarebit both in Charleston. Additionally, the more you ask for it the easier it is for Traxler to get it on the shelves, both in stores and in bars/restaurants.
Traxler is extremely committed to the Charleston area and loves everything about the food and beverage scene. He hopes to collaborate with local breweries in the future and Traxler has also taken interest in working with local artists! In fact, one of our favorites, Alison Ross, painted the Nippitaty cicada on the bay door of the distillery. Learn more about her work in a previous post HERE.
Since we, like Traxler, love where we live, we’re going to leave you with a cocktail recipe that’s perfect for the summer heat and takes no time to make. It’s also loaded with locally sourced goodness!!!
We took 2oz of Nippitaty Gin added 1oz of Bittermilk No. 2, which is the elderflower and hops variety, and shook! Pour is over fresh ice and top with soda water. We played with the garnish as we think you should and use what you like! The resulting beverage will leave you refreshed and coming back for more Nippitaty Gin!