I love science, I love history, I love good smells, and I love gin. I also love the Field Museum. As such, the announcement of a botanical gin collaboration between Journeyman Distillery in Michigan and the Field, Chicago’s museum of natural history, was pretty much catnip (or Nepeta cataria) for me. And because this is my job, I got to ask an expert about it.
First, some background. Field Gin, created in celebration of the museum’s 125th (!) anniversary, is made with 27 botanicals, each selected from a list of the 1,500 botanicals from around the world that were brought to and displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. (You know, the serial killer one.) The museum itself has its origins in the fair, though its botany collection is considerably bigger, topping 2.5 million historical specimens.
Collections Manager Christine Niezgoda sent the 1,5oo-strong list of the World’s Fair botanicals to the distillery. That list was narrowed at first to 50. Journeyman individually macerated each potential ingredient in a base spirit to taste them before finalizing a recipe with 27 ingredients. The final roster includes anise and yucca root; per WTTW, the spirit also features cinnamon, fennel, lavender, pineapple and prickley ash. Most gins top out at 15 botanicals, so 27 is a lot. I am filled with glee.
In a statement, Journeyman founder Bill Welter said, “To grab as much history as we could, we had to use more than the average. There were just so many cool ingredients to choose from. We wanted to try and capture a piece of Chicago’s history in the spirit itself.”
The Field-Journeyman collaboration also yielded Field Vodka, which a press release described as “distilled from Illinois-grown Bloody Butcher corn, an heirloom variety of organic red corn.”
Niezgoda, who again oversees a collection of 2.5 million specimens at one of the most celebrated natural history museums in the world, obviously shares my enthusiasm, and was kind enough to answer a few admittedly silly questions about the spirit of these spirits.
The Takeout: What inspired the collaboration with Journeyman?
Christine Niezgoda: The collaboration started with Megan Williams, [the Field’s] Director Of Business Enterprises, who was seeking a collaboration with a distiller who could produce and work well with the Field Museum. Journeyman had an interest in science and history, so we went on a four-hour tour of our botany collection. I provided them the website link to the historical botanicals in the Economic Botany Collection, many dating from the World’s Columbian Exposition, and the distiller chose the best tasting pairings.
TO: If this gin were a prehistoric mammal, what prehistoric mammal would it be?
CN: [A] Dire Wolf—elegant but bold, with a bite.
TO: If one wanted to drink this gin in an appropriately 1893 World’s Fair kind of way, how might one drink it?
CN: In a cocktail, while enjoying the sights from the Ferris Wheel.
Making a mental note to keep a flask of this stuff, a lemon twist, and a chilled glass in my purse the next time I ride a Ferris Wheel.
You can find Field Gin and Field Vodka at select bars, restaurants and retailers in Illinois, at the Field Museum itself, and in the Journeyman tasting room in Three Oaks, Michigan. Time for a field trip, and I will not apologize for that pun.
The Field and Journeyman are also working on a historically-inspired whiskey, which will be released in October. At that point, my brain will likely short-circuit from delight, so it has been really nice knowing you all.