La Dolce Vita: Playing the summer card with gin

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Pete Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery with some ninety-four.

On the oh-so-rare sunny and warm afternoons we have had this spring, my wife has usually suggested “a G and T on the deck” before dinner. It’s not so much an actual drink as a code phrase for “sit and enjoy the sunshine”.

The fact is, neither of us is a huge fan of “traditional” (another code word, this time for “industrial”) gin. What I usually mix is a vodka and tonic with a slice of slime (and, occasionally, a dash of lime cordial) because we don’t always have gin in the cupboard.

Isn’t it funny how we take things for granted? For all these years we’ve been buying Beefeaters, Gordon’s, Bombay and the like and they are really only drinkable with mixes. A little vermouth for a martini, perhaps, or tonic.

Then, more recently, we have begun to discover gin made by small distilleries and the difference is akin to night and day. My favourite example is Phrog, made by Island Spirits Distillery on Hornby Island. This is a whole new world of gin, one that I wouldn’t even consider drinking in any other way than neat. It is smooth with a huge array of botanical flavours. With Phrog, my summer-afternoon-on-the-deck approach is to keep it in the freezer and sip it ice-cold. Most alcoholic beverages can’t show their flavours and aromas when they are served too cold but Phrog more than holds its own at low temperatures.

And now, apparently, there is another consideration when it comes to gin and tonics. This spring I was doing a phone interview for a story on Okaganan Spirits and I was told that the distillery now carries “real” tonic, because the usual Schweppes from the grocery store is chemically and harsh. And here I thought that was what tonic is supposed to taste like! So my next mission is to find different samples of tonic to try them for myself.

Luckily for consumers, small distilleries have been cropping up all over the place and many are producing wonderful products. We seem to have entered into a golden age for gin and vodka, which seem to have gained new momentum from the introduction of these small producers, who are much more innovative and experimental than the large ones. Many are using local herbs to add to the flavours.

A few weeks ago, we were at the home of a friend who showed me a gift she had recently received. It was, she said, the best gin she had ever tasted. The Botanist, said the label. But then my eyebrows raised when I read the print beneath. Islay dry gin. That really caught my interest because single malt whisky from Islay (pronounced eye-la), a small Scottish island, is my favourite. Gin from Islay, I wondered. I squinted to read the fine print and learned, to my great surprise, that the maker is Bruichladdich (brook-laddie), maker of some of my favourite single malts.

“For this, the Botanist, small-batch, artisanal Islay gin we use nine of the classic gin aromatics — orris root, cassia bark, coriander seed, etc. — and augment these with a heady harvest of 22 wild, native island botanicals, hand-picked by our expert foraging team from the windswept hills, peat bogs and Atlantic shores of this Hebridean island of Islay,” it says on the company’s website.” Nine classic aromatics and 22 native ones. Wow! I can’t wait to get to a liquor store that carries this one.

As a general rule, I’m not a big fan of mixed drinks, in part because one often needs to buy so many ingredients. Consider the Singapore Sling recipe in the current BC Liquor Stores Taste magazine. Gin, cherry liqueur, Cointreau, Benedictine, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, angostura bitters — these are the recipes that result in bulging liquor cabinets and refrigerators. Personally, if I was thirsty for a Sling, I’d head for a lounge.

But I can definitely find room for a bottle of Phrog or the Botanist, and maybe some really good tonic. Then all we would need are some hot summer days.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

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