Small-batch dis­tillers across the coun­try are tin­ker­ing with gin’s trade­mark herba­ceous taste, mak­ing it more drink­able than ever.


sky’s the limit with gin,” says Dawn Len­nie of Leg­end Dis­till­ing in BC’s Okana­gan Val­ley. “We could have mul­ti­ple gins, and none would taste the same.”

Leg­end’s two gins are em­blem­atic of a trend in the Cana­dian bev­er­age scene: not only is craft dis­till­ing boom­ing, but many small op­er­a­tions are creat­ing sig­na­ture gins as their call­ing card to drinkers. Part of the rea­son­ing is gin is rel­a­tively quick to get to mar­ket, notes Na­tional Post drinks colum­nist Adam McDow­ell, whereas whisky needs to be aged for at least three years. But it's also be­cause dis­tillers can play with gin. “Peo­ple are get­ting cre­ative,” says Len­nie. “I think it makes the in­dus­try so much more in­ter­est­ing than hav­ing 10 mass-pro­duced gins.”

Dat­ing back to 16th-cen­tury Europe, gin is de­fined by the pres­ence of ju­niper berries and other aro­mat­ics. Com­mon in­gre­di­ents in­clude co­rian­der seed, or­ris root, an­gel­ica root, and citrus peel, but there’s a lot of room for dis­tillers to be cre­ative and build in lo­cal ter­roir. (A cou­ple of fairly off­beat Cana­dian gins, both from Québec, are the parsnip-for­ward Piger Hen­ri­cus and the yel­low-coloured Un­gava, whose botan­i­cals in­clude cloud­ber­ries and Labrador tea.)

“Gin is a re­ally amus­ing bit of artistry be­cause there are so many ways of mak­ing it,” says Lynne MacKay of Iron­works Dis­tillery in Lunen­burg, NS, who re­leased her first gin last year due to fer­vent cus­tomer de­mand. Af­ter tast­ing her way through Lon­don’s plen­ti­ful small-batch gin dis­tillers, MacKay re­turned home with the goal of creat­ing a sim­ple gin, with be­tween four and 10 botan­i­cals. “It took about three months of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to come up with the recipe I liked, in con­sul­ta­tion with folks here,” she says.

While a tast­ing room will serve sam­ples straight up, it’s not the best way to en­joy the spirit, notes McDow­ell, who sug­gests cit­rusy cock­tails like a Tom Collins (ba­si­cally fizzy le­mon­ade with gin) as an en­try point for gin skep­tics. “The para­dox is that gin’s char­ac­ter­is­tic flavour and aroma should be ju­niper, which is an oily, piney, resiny, sweet flavour,” he says. “Yet, when you mix it with other things, it light­ens and gives depth and di­men­sion to ev­ery­thing else.” And Len­nie notes that craft gins can be softer and more ap­proach­able than what you might have sam­pled 10 or 20 years ago. “Our Doc­tor’s Or­ders gin is more of a del­i­cate one," she says. “We’ve con­verted a few peo­ple into gin drinkers.”

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