Apr 8, 2022 - Business

University of Texas biology professor grows WildGins

Molly Cummings forages for juniper berries overlooking West Texas' Davis Mountains. Photo courtesy of WildGins

In her University of Texas lab, Molly Cummings studies the sex lives of freshwater fish, but her weekends are dedicated to a side hustle of an entirely different scientific enterprise, as a juniper berry-foraging, gin-producing founder of an Austin craft liquor business.

The big picture: Cummings is the co-owner of WildGins, a craft gin maker offering two spirits — WildJune and WildBark — made with hand-foraged Texas junipers and finished with labels designed by Austin musician Bob Schneider.

And, as it turns out, a deep understanding of biology and the desire to create a unique Texas gin make the perfect blend.

  • "Being a successful scientist actually translates well into promoting something in business," Cummings told Axios. "If I can sell science, I can damn well sell my gin that I foraged by hand."

Zoom in: All gin uses juniper as its main ingredient, and — lucky for Cummings — Texas is home to eight varieties of juniper berries.

  • "This is really remarkable in the botanical world because most places only have one species," she explained.
Alligator juniper berries used in Cummings' WildBark gin. Photo courtesy of WildGins

While juggling her UT classes in the fall, Cummings spends her weekends in West Texas' Davis Mountains to hand-pick junipers, crafting a flavor with berries that has never been used before in gin.

  • She first attempted making a gin using berries from Texas' native juniper tree, the mountain cedar, but "when I sent that off to our master distiller, he was horrified" by the result.
  • That's when Cummings discovered the little-known "alligator" juniper in the Davis Mountains. She also foraged the red berry juniper, which delivered a completely different flavor profile.
    • And Cummings named the trees she and her friends foraged from. Among them are Eve, Fertile Myrtle, Bodacious Betty, Skinny Minny and Red Alice.

The berries required FDA approval, which took one year before WildGins could launch in 2020 just before the coronavirus pandemic.

Cummings used the red berry juniper to create WildJune, delivering a complex profile with citrus peels and cinnamon.

  • And alligator juniper berries make WildBark, a Texan take on a traditional London dry-style gin. It’s bold and dry with notes of herbs and citrus.
WildBark and WildJune gins. Photo courtesy of WildGins

Where to buy: You can find WildGins’ products at Total Wine and More, Spec’s, South Lamar Wine and Spirits, Austin Wine Merchant and Austin Shaker. Find more options here.

What to make: Cummings recommends a "Wild Barking Mule," using WildBark gin, topped with ginger beer. A perfect cocktail for our warm weather.


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