The Canadian Gin Renaissance is here to stay
Written by Dan Clapson
Sensationalized in the 1960s thanks to Sean Connery and his iconic big screen portrayal of James Bond, gin certainly has come a long way since 007’s martini was “shaken, not stirred.”
Fast-forward to 2017 and regardless of what Canadian city you call home, you can access some impeccably made gins. Microdistilleries are continuing to pop up across the country, gaining speed and depth, and nipping at the heels of our nation’s celebrated craft beer scene.
Deciding on what a “good gin” is can be somewhat subjective. Since all botanicals used in the process are natural, you’ll never find the cheap, artificial flavours that plague the vodka world (i.e. cotton candy, birthday cake, and any other sugar-laden swill passed off as authentic). At a microdistillery level, the choice of which botanicals are used and how they are balanced can result in a gin that tastes good to one person and unappealing to another.
So, how exactly has Canadian micro-distilled gin found its way into the limelight? There are a few reasons. For one, a love of craft cocktail-making has trickled down from the back bar into people’s homes, turning regular sippers into confident home bartenders. It’s also worth noting that given the nature of gin, the botanical combinations are endless, meaning there is a gin out there for everyone, whether you fancy floral notes of lavender or lemongrass, the spice of punchy black peppercorns, or substantial oaky notes found in a barrel-aged gin. Most importantly, it’s ridiculously easy to produce. After all, gin is just vodka that has had botanicals added to it during the distilling process. Distillers can test out different combinations of ingredients quickly and finalize a product for the market in short period of time, especially if they are a small producer.
For those looking to expand their palette, here are a few gin-focused watering holes we recommend.
Due to extremely low liquor import taxes in comparison to other regions of Canada, Alberta is the perfect province for a bar that choose to place preference on one particular spirit. As such, The Derrick has the best selection of gin in the entire country, with their current selection sitting at over 100. Their “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style martini and gin and tonic sections are a fun way to play around with different bottles, like Eau Claire Distillery’s Parlour Gin and tonic syrups including their exclusive fennel and dill blend made by Calgary’s Porter’s Tonic.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Though Juniper may not boast as many bottles in their gin collection as the aforementioned Derrick, this Chinatown go-to knocks it out of the park with cocktail creativity. Barkeep Max Borrowman gets inventive by infusing gin with grilled beets for the ‘Roots Manuva,’ and his ‘Savoury Sea’ is an especially unusual combination of charred rosemary gin, parmesan-washed dry vermouth, sherry, smoked pear bitters, yellow chartreuse, and a fig garnish. A memorable sip to say the least.
Just around the corner from Montreal’s famed Jean Talon Market, you’ll find this friendly watering hole open at most times of the day (including brunch on weekends) where you can opt for a concise selection of Canadian-made gins (primarily from Quebec) and over 60 varieties from around the world. For something a little different, try Le Pourvoyeur’s house caesar, which uses Piger Henricus, a gin that’s distilled with parsnips.
The Top Shelf
Skip the household names and try something different with these unconventional gins.
Cirka Gin Sauvage (Montreal, QC) - Made from 30 botanicals and corn mash, all of which are sourced within Quebec, this gin’s flavour profile has a delicious “je ne sais quoi” quality to it.
Dillons Unfiltered Gin (Beamsville, ON) - Made with 22 ingredients in the mix and a base of Ontario-grown grapes, Dillons’ unique gin also skips the traditional filtration process, resulting in a bright-tasting gin that boasts plenty of citrus and pine notes.
Phillips Stump Gin (Victoria, BC) - This gin marks the established brewer’s first foray into the spirits world and, like its microbrews, it does not disappoint. Foraged ingredients found in forest as well as cascade hops makes for a spirit that tastes like you’re strolling through a misty batch of woods in the early morning.
Ironworks Gin (Lunenburg, NS) - Rose hips, juniper berries, and a balsam fir eau de vie help make this gin a true stand-out on Canada’s east coast. Try this London Dry-style spirit in a classic martini and you won’t be disappointed.
Noteworthy Gin (Oliver, BC) - 100% BC-grown barley is the base to what some say is the premier small-batch gin of the entire Okanagan. There are only eight botanicals in the mix, including orange, cinnamon, and vanilla, but Noteworthy packs a seriously sweet, floral punch, best left to sweeter cocktail applications or just mixed with soda.