Ungava Gin

ungava-gin-bottleThe first thing that anyone will notice about Ungava Gin is that color. That electric neon yellow color. Surprisingly, no this isn’t a bottle of Suze. The color is from the infusion of the six arctic plants that make up Ungava’s unique botanical bill. The base spirit is local corn and the six arctic botanicals range from the relatively common— Rosehips for example. And the go all the way to the obscure such as the Bakeapple or Labrador Tea. These botanicals are handpicked during their peak season and imparted in two passes: once before distillation, and again afterwards via infusion, hence the color.

Along the way, Ungava, despite controversy over its use of Inuit imagery (the company has since apologized), it’s quickly gained a global following and has become one of the top selling Canadian distilled gins and has won a bunch of awards. It’s still an intriguing gin and worth a closer look, for both the obscure botanicals, the color, and its taste.

This is day 6 of the 2016 Master of Malt Gin Advent Calendar. If you want to join us, we’ll be reviewing one gin, every day for the next 19 days leading up to Christmas 2016. Learn More or Buy One yourself. Ungava Gin was also featured in my book Gin: The Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival, which makes a great Christmas gift. Now back to your regularly scheduled review.

The Botanist Is In

cloudberry

Okay, there’s a few of them here. So bare with me on this whirlwind tour. Oh Cloudberry, obsession is they name! I’ve wanted to try fresh versions of this berry for the years since I’ve heard of it. This tart berry grows in only very small quantities in its native range. Though hard to find, it has been used in many northern peoples’ food cultures. Many native northerners made spirits from them, but its most commonly found in jellies and jams. Also known as the “Bakeapple.”

Wild Rose Hips is another one, and this is probably familiar to anyone who’s had a rose bush. It’s the fruit of said plant, and been used for jellies, teas and are very rich in vitamin C.

crowberry

Now we’re getting into the ones that I’d never heard of before. Arctic Blend is a creeping evergreen used as a kind of tea by northern peoples. Labrador tea is a flowering bog plant with white poofy flowers also used as a tea by the Inuit. Crowberries are another evergreen of the north, and these low lying plants produce round purplish berries that are used in jams and pies as well. A lot of tart/semi-sweet fruits in here. Let’s get on to the taste.

Tasting Notes

The color out of the bottle is an almost otherwordly shade of sun-kissed yellow.

The nose is a rather traditional from the start, but with a distinct ethanol edge. A touch of citrusy lemon, a touch of floral, but a good deal of juniper. The color may surprise, but the nose feels very classic.

The nose is slightly sweet, a hint of lemon zest but a good deal of juniper. A hint of alcohol as well. Smells quite classic in character.

The palate deviates a bit from the expected path. A distinct note of coriander seems to emerge, with some hints of fresh cranberry, preserved lemon and a muddied, green/pine juniper. There’s a tangy earthiness that billows here underneath the surface buoyed by a slight touch of green tea leaves, flower imbued tea blend and tart berry. Could that be the Cloudberry?

The finish is medium length with a mostly warm astringency and a hint of juniper and pine again. It’s an intriguing gin with a complex flavor profile that at times oscillates between opaque and traditional.

Cocktails

I first mixed it with some 1724 tonic. The beverage has a lovely golden tone to it. The tonic really emphasizes the bitter notes of the Ungava. It tastes exceptionally dry. In an odd way this combination makes for a Gin and Tonic that might be to the liking of those who are fans of more bitter drinks. There’s a touch of sweetness, but this is certainly not the Gin and Tonic you’re used to drinking like a sugary sweet soda. Very interesting the way certain notes come out here. Nice.

I mixed it up in a Negroni, and you get a nice bit of juniper and bitterness here, but the finish is slightly different than expected: a bit of tart berry and floral notes come out at the end. Quite surprising as I found those notes to be very understate neat, but quite interesting that a complex drink like the Negroni would bring them out.

The martini again shows a slightly different side of this gin: the citrusy tang comes out a bit, berries and sharpness compliment the herbal notes of Vermouth very nicely. The finish is clean, dry, a bit bitter, but overall very nice for a martini. Highly recommended.

Overall

Ungava is a unique contemporary gin. The combination of creative ingredients and bathtub-gin-style-infusion culminates in a gin that will have both supporters and detractors among contemporary and classic gin enthusiasts. The obscure flavors and ingredients will leave you wondering, “just what is that flavor?” and reaching for more traditional supports “is that coriander?” But its mixability and unique color will probably have you reaching for it again.

It mixes nicely in cocktails and the color actually adds a stunning touch to many of your standard cocktails (like the Alexander for example…) I suppose the TL;DR of it is that it’s unique and well made, combining surprising techniques into an eye-catching gin that spans taste preferences. Try before you buy, but I won’t blame you if you go all in on color alone.

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Readers' Reviews

by Jim

I love this gin. I'll buy a bottle of gin maybe once or twice in the summer, and this is my go-to gin. Recently had to settle for Hendricks, because the state liquor store was out of Ungava. Worse problems exist, but still...

by linda

VERY NICE INDEED! I WOULD BUY IT AGAIN

Last updated December 6th, 2016 by Aaron

20 thoughts on “Ungava Gin

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  • January 31, 2014by Michael Wood

    Ungava gin is without a doubt the best gin in the world. You must try this unique beverage

  • February 21, 2014by Gina

    I bought a bottle in the Maldives of all places and it now resides with me in the UK – it has become truly international! Oh and it is delicious.

  • March 30, 2014by deliciouscocktailtime

    Now available in Ontario.

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  • April 2, 2014by Michael Wood

    At last the educated are now even more so. Well done!

  • August 5, 2014by Barb Marshall

    Try it in a martini with a sprig of basil. Brilliant!

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  • December 2, 2014by English guy in Prague

    Passed through Iceland yesterday for a business meeting and bought a bottle. Yet to taste. Also got a cheeky little Icelandic micro batch gin. Each bottle labelled and numbered. Also yet to try

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  • February 13, 2015by Michael

    I was fooled by the colour and the story on the fancy bottle; this gin has very little flavour – if you expect there to be some bitterness from the Juniper. With a small amount of tonic you can’t taste the gin at all. Perhaps it is not made for G & T – only for cocktails, or straight – but then you take a lot of alcohol. I bought it in a duty free to drink while overseas – the only advantage is I am drinking less gin than usual!!

  • March 13, 2015by Schot

    Bought a bottle at the duty free shop at Schiphol/Amsterdam airport. €30 for 1l bottle. Took it to Iceland. Seemed a fitting backdrop for this gin.

  • April 28, 2016by Alicia

    It’s not Cree, it’s Inuktitut. Ungava is from the north of the province of Ontario, where the Inuit live.

  • December 17, 2016by Matthew Dunn

    Just picked up a bottle in Parisian Supermarket so it’s made it over here now, looking forward to trying it.

  • February 18, 2017by Bobby

    Ungava is North of the Province of Québec, not Ontario.

  • August 24, 2017by Alex

    First thing I thought while tasting it was being surprised as the very classic “base level” gin taste that I’ve grown to love.

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