Artisan gins offer distinctive flavours
The craze for artisan gin began around 2003 with the appearance of Hendrick’s Gin on the market. Gin and vodka are pretty much the only two choices when it comes to the white spirits. Vodka has been on the rise since the 1960s and, aside from a few pushes from gin, vodka has seen tremendous expansion. Part of this growth was in the premium or super-premium brands such as Grey Goose, Belvedere and Ketel One.
Perhaps taking a page from the success of artisan vodka, the new category of super-premium gins was inevitable; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. Produced in smaller batches, and with unique recipes or locally sourced ingredients, these new brands can compete against brand leviathans such as Tanqueray or Bombay by offering something unique, or a premium flavour different from the big guys.
Gin rose to infamy in 1720s London where, at the peak of the gin craze, residents in the city of around 600,000 were consuming more than a pint a week. That’s more than half a litre of juniper and botanical infused spirit for every man, woman and child each week. For comparison, in 2007, Canadians consumed about 5.9 litres of spirits (of all types) per person per year.
Botanicals in Gin
What differentiates gin from other neutral spirits such as vodka is the addition of the botanicals — plant-based ingredients such as juniper berries, coriander, cinnamon, anise and orange peel in the distillation process. By adding these ingredients to the batch as it is about to be distilled, the aromas and flavours of these botanicals are infused into the final product. These aromatic ingredients can range from as few as four to as many as 31; proportions are usually a closely held secret. Even more unusual ingredients such as cucumber and bog myrtle leaves have found their way into a few such as Hendrick’s and The Botanist.
The result is a flavourful, aromatic spirit that is finding new adherents among younger, affluent drinkers, who are generally knowledgeable about wine and spirits and are inter- ested in cocktail culture. “Guests love to experiment with old favourites and aren’t afraid to try new creations,” says Lucas Nosen at Calgary’s Vin Room.
One recent entry into the gin market is The Botanist, from the Bruichladdich distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. Whisky legend and master distiller Jim McEwan, now Bruichladdich’s production director, knew making gin was, “something that I have always wanted to do.”
Finding the only remaining Lomond still and rescuing it from destruction, while also bringing in two retired prominent local botanists to help identify and select 22 native Islay botanicals for the blend of 31, makes for a wildly unique gin.
Closer to home is Victoria Gin from Victoria Spirits in, you guessed it, Victoria, B.C. Formerly the Winchester Cellars winery, the place was turned into a distillery a few years ago, and Victoria Gin was launched in 2008. Peter Hunt, the master distiller at Victoria Spirits, identifies gin as a “character spirit” perfect for the “resurgence of cocktail culture in Canada.”
The small, wood-fired, German-made pot still at Victoria Spirits produces only about 50 litres of spirit with each batch, and the team can fine-tune the recipe based on the intensity of the botanicals. The batch number, incidentally, shows on each bottle. They use 10 different botanicals, including star anise, cinnamon, coriander, and a secret botanical ingredient that the intrepid, or those with gourmand inclinations, may be able to guess. (It’s something unexpected.)
Whether in a classic martini, or in something new, artisan gin is here to stay.
YK $50, BC $47, AB $48, MB $48, ON $50
Lifted juniper aromas on the nose with a mild cheesy character underneath, rose petal, lemon, coriander and cinnamon, bring a subtle balance. Floral, with chocolate, cin-namon spice, anise and a waxy feel; overall, a little hot and suitable for sweeter cocktails. (TF)
AB $47, ON $45
The botanicals are intense and floral, with spruce, citrus and coriander bringing secondary aromas of lemon, juniper and coconut. Faintly oily, a sweetness emerges across the palate with vanilla bean, spice and anise character. Great power and finesse. (TF)
AB $40, SK $44, MB $41, ON $44, QC $41, NB $46, NS $44, PEI $43, NL $41
Delicate and floral with cucumber, lime citrus, rose petal, juniper, coriander and a hint of peach. Nicely textured, with spice tones up front, and cooler mint flavours appearing later. Refreshing, even neat, with a chalk-mineral finish that should complement a variety of drinks. (TF)
Gin Cocktail Recipes
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add:
1½ oz. Hendrick’s Gin
½ oz. lime cordial
Stir until well-chilled. Fill a glass with crushed ice and strain with mixture into the glass. Garnish with lime.
Straight Up In Smoke
1 ¾ oz. The Botanist
¼ oz. peach schnapps
Dash each of St.-Germain, Fernet-Branca and peach bitters
Fresh mint leaf
Stir into an ice-filled martini shaker. Strain into a martini glass, rinsed with a heavily peated whisky such as Port Charlotte PC7.
Created by Greg Blyth at Brasserie Kensington – Calgary
The Butchart Garden
2 oz. Victoria Gin
2 oz. fresh-pressed apple juice
2 to 3 pieces of cucumber
½ oz. elderflower cordial
A dash of bitters, if you like Muddle cucumber.
Add remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain and garnish with a slice of cucumber or a flower.
From Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel