“The 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.”
Doctor’s Orders: Legend Distilling’s gin features unique notes of lavender and apple.
Dillon’s Rose Gin: A sweetened London-style gin, infused with rosehips and rose petals.
Ironworks: Blends locally foraged balsam fir buds and reships for a refreshing taste