Gin & Juice

I have been counting down the days on my calendar for months, waiting for that one special day that is like a combined Christmas and St. Paddy’s Day for gin lovers.

Last week marked the tenth annual World Gin Day, so I naturally spent the day enjoying Gin & Tonics, Martinis, Negronis, Tom Collins, Gin Fizz, and other delightful cocktails.

Cocktail culture has waxed and waned over the years, but the Gin craze in North America all started in the dark days of Prohibition.  Despite the best efforts of the morality police, booze was consumed with great abandon in the speakeasies that existed in every city.  Because the hooch producers and suppliers had to keep one step ahead of the law, there was a shift from whiskey to gin, simply because gin did not require extensive aging.

Because so much illicit liquor was being produced clandestinely, the so-called bathtub gin of the day was generally of poor quality, so had to be mixed with sweet juices or honey to mask the foul taste.  This was how many gin cocktails were born, and many are still popular to this day.

When Prohibition ended in 1933, gin cocktails remained popular not only because of familiarity, but because it would take several years of aging in oak barrels to build up a domestic supply of whiskey.

Consumer tastes changed in North America in the 1960s, with cocktails largely going out of fashion, until a vodka-led surge of cocktail culture in the 1980s, followed by increased popularity of traditional gin-based cocktails in the mid-noughties.

The gin renaissance that started a decade ago is still going strong, with much of the popularity being led by the small artisanal distilleries.

Despite its humble beginnings, when gin was the curse of the lower classes back in Victorian England, we now think of gin as an upper-class spirit, most commonly used in fancy martinis and cocktails like the ever-popular Gin & Tonic or Tom Collins, and the many artisanal distilleries producing small-batch Gin are certainly helping that perception.

Experienced boozers will recall that the defining characteristic of gin is the infusion of juniper berries, along with a melange of other botanicals to flavour what begins as a fairly neutral spirit.

Alberta is well equipped for gin production, as juniper berries grow wild all over the province.  Combined with our world-class malting barley and clean glacial water, Alberta distilleries are the envy of our neighbouring provinces.

The gin revival in Alberta was heralded by the opening of The Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley back in 2014, and has been going strong ever since.

The Eau Claire Distillery has inspired many other craft distillers to open in Alberta, including Tippa’s Lovebird Gin, which has only been on the market for a month or so.

Tippa’s Lovebird Gin is uniquely smooth, with a light and floral finish, and is handcrafted in small batches.  Tippa is a nano-distillery, a one-man operation where the same hands perform every step of the process, from macerating the secret blend of botanicals for infusion, to distillation, all the way through bottling and distribution.

As an added bonus, the Tippa Distillery is located next to the production facility for Porter’s Tonic, a local craft tonic that is constantly on my drinks cart when mixing up a G&T.

Looking north to Edmonton, the Strathcona Spirits Distillery is located just off the trendy Whyte Avenue strip, and uses locally foraged sea buckthorn berries as part of botanical infusion, hand-picked from the ravines and riverbanks of Edmonton.

Those who enjoy Lemon Gin should look no further than the Rig Hand Distillery in Nisku, just south of Edmonton.  Rig Hand is a family-owned business, and sources their grain from a farm just a few kilometers away, making this gin as locally produced as it gets!

Closer to home, the Burwood Distillery in Calgary produces four different spirits, including a unique gin with notes of green tea and Szechuan peppers for a spicy finish that I like to use in Gin Caesars.

You can find all of these Alberta gins at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant, and at classy drinking establishments across our fair province.  Class up your next cocktail with a local gin!

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Nick Jeffrey

Nick Jeffrey

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