Spirtual Awakening: The Rennaissance of Gin in Alberta
by Erin Lawrence
If you lived during a certain age, you might one day have found yourself in an old-timey apothecary, seeking counsel from the local physician or chemist. Depending what ailed you, a certain potion might have been administered: gin. Once thought to help fight off the plague, gin spent many years as a revered spirit. Flash forward to modern times, and for many of us of a certain age, just the mention of gin elicits shudders and memories of the bitter potion nicknamed “panty remover.”
Gin has a long and complicated history, but a group of brave Alberta alchemists is turning the reputation of this much-maligned spirit back around.
“Gin is exciting, it is growing, and it is changing. It’s vastly different from what you remember the last time you approached the gin category,” says Bryce Parsons, distillery operations manager at Last Best Brewing and Distilling.
Parsons believes so strongly in the power of gin, he took it upon himself to create 52 types of gin in 2018, in a project he dubbed #GinCrazeYYC when he shared his weekly updates on social media.
“Gin has always fascinated me just simply because of how creative you can get with it,” explains Parsons. “I do not think there is any other spirit category where one distiller can be as creative; working with different botanicals and herbs and spices. I actually read a lot of cookbooks to come up with different spice blends.”
Several Alberta distillers, including Rob Gugin of Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery Ltd., are using local botanicals and fruits in their gins, creating spirits that are truly unique in the world.
“We created Prairie Berry dry gin,” says Gugin, the distillery’s founder. “We wanted to create a gin that is true to the dry gin style. So it has a nice drying sensation on the back end from that juniper, but it’s not piney or punchy. That makes it maybe a more approachable gin for those that are just dipping their toe in the gin water, so to speak. We’ve also added raspberry, Saskatoon berry and black currant to it. So you get those berries on the nose and the front of the palate, as well.”
At Edmonton’s Strathcona Spirits, they’re distilling a seaberry gin, made with local crowd-harvested seabuckthorn berries, while Canmore’s RAW Distillery’s co founder Brad Smylie says its staff hand-harvests their botanical mix from area forests.
“We go out and hand-pick the spruce for our gin ourselves. We actually go out and harvest it the day we distill it. We do family outings and take the kids with us and get them to pick the spruce tips,” says Smylie.
Heather Barlow, category manager of spirits for Co-op Wine Spirits Beer, says, “Gin is definitely growing in popularity. Co-op Wine Spirits Beer now carries about 40 different locally-made gins. We’re seeing so much creativity in this category, and a really high level of quality.” Barlow says gin today is smooth, complex and so interesting as a spirit that many drinkers looking for something different are willing to experiment with it.
Part of what makes gin so drinkable now is the high quality of the grains used. Alberta is known the world over for its topquality grains. While we used to simply ship them off to other countries, today, much more of our grain harvest is staying here, becoming the raw ingredient for our growing spirits and brewing industry.
“Alberta is getting international recognition for its spirits,” says Smylie.
His wife, Lindsay Smylie, sums up this particular Alberta advantage. “With distilleries here able to source some of the best grains in the world in our back yard, it’s no wonder our industry is getting recognized. And we’re looking forward to Alberta being even better-known for its spirits.”
Burwood Distillery prides itself on the extensive testing of flavours that resulted in its Burwood Gin. This gin is made with the typical hints of juniper but also a nice dose of citrus.
Wildlife Distillery Gin
Wildlife Distillery Gin has quickly become known for being one of the more balanced examples. Instead of juniper and coriander being the “lead” tastes, lemon and orange give a citrusy taste up front, with a smooth, enjoyable finish.
Eau Claire Parlour Gin & limited release Hawthorn Gin
One of the original Alberta Distilleries, Eau Claire’s products are familiar to many people. Its Parlour Gin is adds citrus and spice to the typical juniper taste. Eau Claire also collaborated with the Fairmont Palliser Hotel’s new restaurant, Hawthorn Dining Room & Bar, on a Hawthorn Gin, available only at the restaurant.
RAW Distillery Peppercorn Gin
If you’re looking to try some unique twists on gin, RAW Distillery Peppercorn Gin or Citrus Gin are both good places to start.
Krang Spirits Nimbulus Gin
Located in Cochrane, Krang Spirits’ Nimbulus Gin contains the usual juniper and coriander hints, but its unique ingredient, “grains of paradise,” is a pepper from Africa.
Strathcona Spirits Seaberry Gin
This gin is distilled in the same way as typical London dry gin, but, as the name suggests, seaberry is the not-so-secret ingredient that balances out the additional ten botanicals that are combined in this drink.
Confluence Manchester Dry Gin
This gin is a crisp blend of handpicked botanicals, distilled in the Manchester area of Calgary. Juniper, Saskatoon berries and wild rose impart subtle sweetness with floral notes.