Did you know that we hand-pick the cholla catctus blossoms that we use in our Wheeler's Gin? Once a year we get the call from Bonanza Creek Ranch that the chollas are in bloom and we basically drop everything and head out there for a morning in the sun.
Cylindropuntia imbricata, the cane cholla, is a scraggly cactus that is native to the American Southwest and they are abundant in the Santa Fe area. Their main branches are thick, and covered in spines. We are after the flowers, which are a beautiful fuschia and have a sweet scent. We use channel locks to pull the flowers from the stalks, and we generally are looking for buds that are just about to open, or flowers that are open but haven't yet started to lose their petals.
We like to get out to the ranch as early as possible and pick for several hours in the morning, before it gets too hot. Cholla cactus thrive in the sun and there is rarely any shade around them. The first rule of picking cholla is to approach the plants carefull, because rattle snakes like to nap under the cactus. The second rule is to pick as carefully as possible to avoid getting covered in cactus spines, which are slender and barbed and almost seem to jump from the cactus onto the picker.
Over the years we have shared the picking area with cattle (our age page on the website is a photo from a cholla cactus picking excursion), who are both curious and friendly, and, amazingly for animals of their size, able to sneak up behind you.
Back at the distillery the cholla blossoms are cut up and put into high proof (190 proof) spirits to macerate. These cholla fractions are then blended with our other gin ingredient fractions (juniper, sage, osha root, hops) to create our Wheeler's Gin.
Since each of the fractions is made from fresh ingredients we don't have a set recipe for the gin blend; some cholla fractions are sweeter than others, some juniper stronger, etc., so it falls to the distiller to taste each of the fractions and create a blend that is closest to our previous batchof Wheeler's Gin as possible.
So, if you are looking for us tomorrow morning, we'll be out at the ranch with the cows, hopefully no snakes, harvesting cholla for Wheeler's Gin!