Aside from being my favorite piece of punctuation (sorry octothorpe!), Ampersand is also the name of a family-founded distillery, which opened doors in 2014 on a farm in British Columbia. On their custom built equipment, father and son Jeremy and Stephen Schacht use their engineering background and local grown wheat to design their craft gin. Not much is shared about what is in their gin, other than the aforementioned wheat base spirit and some classic botanicals like juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon and orris root.
All Gins from Canada
We’ve talked a bit about Dillon’s work before, reviewing a few months ago their quite excellent Cherry Gin (). Whereas their Cherry Gin [among a couple others from their lineup] use a Rye base, their Unfiltered 22 is something of a change-up, an ode to the Niagara Peninsula where grapes and wine are among the regions’ specialty. Using a local grape base, gives this gin a bit more of a French touch, and puts it among some pretty lofty company with gins like G’vine Floraison (), Seneca Drums (), who also hail from famous wine regions and who use the local grapes.
The team vapor distill their gin and do not filter it, so that it retains more of the essential oils from the botanicals.
First, a big shout-out to my friend Chris who picked me up a bottle of this gin while on a wine tour this past Spring. You’ll be seeing a few bottles from Dillon’s coming up, and they’re all thanks to him. So stay tuned for that.
In <100 Words
Dillon’s Cherry Gin is the combination of local Niagara Peninsula Cherries and their signature, locally grown 100% Ontario Rye base spirit. The same base spirit they use in many of their spirits. Dillon’s philosophy is steeped in tradition and family. Interesting note, among the team, Peter Dillon’s title is “Herb and Botanical Expert.” That sounds like a fantastic title to have, and one that I hope to one day aspire to. I digress, back to the gin.
On the nose, brown sugar, molasses, stewed cherry, strawberry, and a faint hint of banana as well. Lower, there’s a nice touch of spice with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Nice depth with a lot of complexity at first whiff.
The palate is complex as well. Tart with clear cherry at first, with spice emerging later. Cardamom, ginger, and cassia come through, however, it seems indistinct.
Rare that we begin a brand description with a botanical description, but in the case of Piger Henricus its appropriate. The brand is inextricably entwined with its signature: the parsnip. Once used as a sweetener in Europe before the arrival of sugar. the Parsnip is a vegetable, often cooked, similar to a white carrot with a totally unique and different flavor. The gin is the child of a partnership of Patrice Fortier from La Société des plantes and the Subversives Distillers of Quebec.
The name actually means “Slow Harry” in Latin. It’s a reference to the furnaces used by alchemists/distillers in the middle ages.
Definitive vegetal character on the nose, with dill, carrot, and citrus rind all present. Once you hear the word Parsnip (the power of suggestion), you’ll pick it out in the dill/carrot aromas. Pine branches and a delicate juniper intimation area bit lower. This is some unique stuff.
The palate begins with citrus and juniper up front, with traditional notes of coriander and cardamom setting the stage before carrot and parsnip ushers in the finish. Medium long finish.
First we tried it in a Gin and Tonic, and the vegetal aromas and textures come through, albeit quietly, they’re the only notes that come through.
Long Table’s cucumber gin sources local vegetables, even rounding out the botanical mixture with two peppers in addition to their BC cucumbers. It shares the same high quality base spirit and attention to detail that their other spirits do; however, it differentiates itself with its bright, and decidedly cucumber-forward approach.
Bright, crisp cucumber on the nose. Clearly vegetal with melon/honeydew undertones. There’s a hint of acidic lemon, green juniper and coriander as well.
Where I think it rises above the pre-conceived notions of cucumber flavored gin, or perhaps even the expectations set by some of the ways that cucumber has been used as a botanical as of late, is when it hits the palate. Crisp English cucumber hits at first, but the mid-palate is rife with many traditional juniper touches. Plenty of baking spice, earthy depth, a peak of coriander, and a green— but evolving into a more herbaceous/pine-like juniper note. The coriander spice takes over on the finish but is backed by waves of vanilla cream, honeydew and bell pepper. The finish is crisp and quite long, with more surprises in store. Spicy fresh cracked coriander gives way to some gentle vegetal complexity.
The distillers at Long Table Distillery [among Vancouver’s first btw] take their classic London Dry Gin and age it in 30L oak barrels, formerly used to hold Bourbon. Their Bourbon Barrel Aged Gin is a limited edition spirit, with a pleasing goldenrod hue to it. It. Alike their other gins, this one rests on a foundation of botanicals from wild and other sources around the world, and has been distilled on their 300 L copper pot still.
Lemon and white grapefruit zest on the nose, with buttery, wood laden notes just underneath. Cinnamon toast notes of butter, cinnamon sugar and even caramel. Really melds some of the olfactory character of both bourbon and gin. A lot to like here.
The spirit itself has a nice viscosity, and the aromatic character evolves steadily and gently on the palate. There’s also a heaviness to it that’s quite nice. Twisted lemon zests, crisp oak, flaky pastry and silky vanilla notes. Pine-laden juniper comes on toward the finish along with a touch of fennel. The finish is medium in length with a nice warmth, accompanied by a late hint of mintiness and anethole.
Quite nice on its own, it shows a lot of promise as a mixer.
Okanagan Spirits Distillery’s flagship gin is distilled from 100% British Colombia grown fruit, not grain on their copper pot still. Using local spring water they cut the spirit before re-distilling with coriander, spruce, rose and of course juniper. They do a wide array of spirits in addition to gin. including Aquavit, Brandy, Absinthe and Vodka.
On the nose, spruce buds, musky rose, grain, some green juniper, and coriander. There’s a grainy/fruit brandy background note present as well. Not quite over the top enough to signal that this is obviously using a fruit base rather than grain, but it does add something to the nose creates a warm aura around the spirit.
The spirit is smooth and warming, though the spirit itself does feel a bit thin as it passes over the tongue. Whisper quiet at first, spruce shoots, orris, violets turn rose-like a bit later. Piney juniper evolves to be a bit more resinous on the finish. Tree sap, lemon, and a scintilla of caraway usher in a finish with grain and a faint touch of fennel stalk. Relatively short finish.
Spruce seems to be the dominant pine character of this gin, lending it a boreal forest freshness, however, the juniper is very much in the background and something you have to look closely for.
From the distilling hotbed of the Pacific Northwest, Endeavour Gin comes from the Liberty Distillery on Granville Island in Vancouver. Founded in 2010, it took four long years before the still was running and the spirits were pouring. Their gin is built on a base of local wheat, completely triple distilled on site on their copper stills and diluted with local water. Keeping with the spirit of local, their gin uses vapor infusion and twelve carefully selected botanicals on that same copper pot still.
The folks at the Liberty Distillery have been quite experimental with gin since their opening. They also have an Old Tom and a West Coast riff on traditional gin featuring 25 local botanicals. Hopefully we can get our hands on one of those soon, but for now here’s our impressions of their primary gin offering.
The nose is warm, slightly floral with a some grassy, wheat lined underpinnings. Floral strawberry and lemon notes on the nose, honeysuckle, spring pollen, and a hint of licorice. The palate is rich, with red grapefruit, black peppercorns, and a licorice. Juniper comes on strongly mid-palate with still a bit more citrus.
Lucky Bastard Distillers’ combine a pin-up girl aesthetic with puns about “wood” [wood, as in what’s its aged in!] for all of their barrel aged spirits. But they’re not just about the bawdy jokes. Acute attention to detail and local character set their spirits apart and give them a distinctly “Saskatchewan” character. Their spirits are small batch, the ingredients are local and organic. The spirits have appreciable depth of character. Their aged gin uses their contemporary Gambit Gin as a base spirit [which features Saskatoon Berries, more on that in a moment], and then rest it in oak.
Saskatoon Berries? In the states, these small, blueberry shaped berries are known as “Juneberries,” and even before that they were known as Pigeon berries. Often a feature of prairie underbrush, these small (<20 ft tall) bushes grow across the prairies of the Northern United States and along the Rockies all the way through the Yukon up into Alaska. These small “wild” tasting fruits weren’t able to be grown commercially until only a few years ago. Demand is high, in part due to their prominence in local heritage cuisine such as Pemmican, jams, and even beers, but also due to their positioning by growers as the latest “superfruit.” Watch out pomegranate and acai!
I know it’s not technically something specific to Canada. So, no Canada, I’m not holding you solely responsible for this. But I was impressed by how common Gilbey’s Lemon Gin Collins drink was. I had never seen it before this trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. And it was in every single liquor store. Even the ones that had only three gins on the shelf: It was Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater and this. Diageo Canada is on to something I guess. So clearly something is going on that this is popular enough to be everywhere. I thought, since I hadn’t seen it, and wasn’t sure where I would find it again, that I might as well give it a write up while I’m writing up some of the other more Canadian Gins.
In <100 Words
Take one of the world’s biggest inexpensive gin brands and cut out the work of mixing and just throw it in the bottle. There’s a not a lot of story here as this is pretty much exactly what you expect. The ingredients are “water” [cut down on the burn, make it easier to drink], sugar [again, to make it more like a Collins], Natural flavors [are you ever going to mention lemon?], Citric Acid [so it feels like Lemon?] and color.