It’s gin o’clock

We pay homage to the Queen in her Jubilee year, and to the quipster who coined the twitter handle @itsginoclock for his/her royal parody site.

Charge your glass… to The Queen!

Ah, gin, the quintessential spirit of summer. No one drink is more identified with the silly season, and British Royalty, than gin. Perhaps it’s the legacy of the British empire and its association with the gin and tonic, first created to ward off malaria along with oppressive heat. Or gin’s amazing mixability, especially with citrus, another cooling summer favourite.

“One of the things I appreciate most about gin is that it is the one spirit that is distilled with mixing in mind,” says Andrew Borley of The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Services. “The distillers of other spirits, such as bourbon or scotch create their products to be drunk straight, but this is not the case with gin which has always been used for mixing.

“This makes gin a really versatile spirit and the first bottle I reach for when introducing people to well-balanced cocktails.”

Gin is a distilled spirit made with neutral grain spirit (but it could be barley, molasses or corn) with the addition of botanicals. Cheap nasty gins use essences rather than the real thing. Highest quality gins and the most flavourful, are copper pot distilled with the botanicals of which juniper is the defining gin note. Hendrick’s include roses and cucumbers, angelica, citrus peel, various herbs and spices can be used. Each house proprietary blend is a trade secret. London gin refers to the method of distillation as does Plymouth and genever is the aged Dutch spirit.

It’s only fitting to be drinking gin this summer, but you don’t have to be British to drink gin or to make gin for that matter. We’re finding great examples: from Canada (Victoria Gin, Ungava); the US; France (La Citadelle, Saffron); Scotland, still British, for now (Old Raj, Edinburgh, The Botanist); even Spain (Barcelona Gin).

Oak aging, ultra botanical gins with colour and stunning packaging are the latest variations on the gin theme. The colour thing is worth noting: for decades gin producers followed vodka distillers in the practice of removing the colour to create a clear, colourless final product. Now, many producers, especially smaller houses, are leaving the colour as is.

Ungava Dry Gin (Quebec)

Ungava Dry Gin (Quebec)
Ungava Dry Gin (Quebec)

This is one delicious gin — smooth, harmonious, a bit unusual. Ungava is made with indigenous Quebec herbs such as Labrador tea, ground juniper, cloudberry, and wild rose hip, and is named for the tundra which spans northern Quebec to the Arctic circle. The spirit is incredibly balanced, with grassy flavours, juniper and thyme, citrus and floral notes with a hint of bitter greens, almost a Jagermeister-ish note, on the finish. Its bright taxi-cab yellow colour is startling, but it calms down to a soft creamy shade over ice or with tonic. Go to the store right now, 500 cases only were made; this is a must have.

Victoria Oaken Gin (British Columbia)

Victoria Oaken Gin (British Columbia)
Victoria Oaken Gin (British Columbia)

Victoria Gin hit Alberta two summers ago and we haven’t looked back, claiming the Vancouver Island beverage as our own. Why did it become the darling of local gin drinkers? Because it’s deliciously broad junipery flavours worked as well in a martini as it did in a G&T. Whatever the reason, Victoria has matured. At least that is what the label says on the Oaken Gin. Hand-made, pot distilled, aged in oak. The oak is in the foreground, giving the spirit a fresh, just-sawn note that is very attractive with the botanicals. Oaken Gin comes in a 375 mL bottle, perfect for hostess gifts. Use where you would a brown spirit such as in a Manhattan or Old-fashioned.

Citadelle Gin (France)

Citadelle Gin (France)
Citadelle Gin (France)

Citadelle is made with 19 botanicals — pictured on the label, including cinnamon, lemon peel, anise, cardomom and violet. There is dry baking spice and floral on the top note, followed by citrus and angelica. This is the ideal gin for Bombay Sapphire lovers, who prefer a more subdued juniper impression.

Citadelle Reserve Gin (France)

Only 28 casks were released in 2011, and each is bottle- and cask-numbered. The gin is aged at Château Bonbonnet in Cognac. Time well spent we say. Great depth of flavours, rich and soft, the juniper slightly more obvious but never overpowers, finishing with an elegant aftertaste, not boozy.

Saffron Gin (Gabriel Boudier, Dijon, France)

Saffron Gin (Gabriel Boudier, Dijon, France)
Saffron Gin (Gabriel Boudier, Dijon, France)

The bright neon orange colour may be off-putting but the gin is most definitely, emphatically not. First of all, it smells beautiful — like a flower garden with violet, lavender, orange blossom and a curry leaf, mustardy, all-spice under-note, along with coriander and bay leaf. Crazy! Made with juniper, coriander, lemon, orange peel, angelica, iris, fennel and a hit of saffron. Complex and herbaceous, terrific in a gin and tonic where the colour calms down to a soft gold; sublime in a Negroni, try it in your favourite holiday punch recipe.

Barcelona Gin (Spain)

Barcelona Gin (Spain)
Barcelona Gin (Spain)

Barcelona Gin is produced in the Obsello absinthe stills which may account not only for its smoothness, but for its vanilla crème caramel and roses flavour, and a unique savoury note we couldn’t quite put our finger on, but then again it was one of the last gins to be tasted. Our tasting precision may have been getting a little fuzzy. It also reminded us of very expensive men’s cologne, in a good way — citrus, sandalwood and musk — perhaps from the 19 botanicals including orris root, ginger and hazelnut. Drink all by itself as a sipping gin, or in a martini.

Cadenhead’s Old Raj Dry Gin (Scotland)

Cadenhead’s Old Raj Dry Gin (Scotland)
Cadenhead’s Old Raj Dry Gin (Scotland)

Pale, tarnished silver colour with a balanced juniper fragrance, nice clean citrusy notes and a crisp, dry and long-lasting finish. This gin is for lovers of old school juniper gins. This has become our new G&T gin, as Old Raj is perfection with tonic and lime. Worth seeking out.

Edinburgh Gin (Spencerfield Spirit Company, Scotland)

Edinburgh Gin (Spencerfield Spirit Company, Scotland)
Edinburgh Gin (Spencerfield Spirit Company, Scotland)

Less is more. With characterisitic Scottish economy Edinburgh Gin uses eight Scottish botanicals to their fullest, including pine heather, milk thistle, and Scottish juniper. We tasted soft florals, vanilla, coconut, and warm allspice finishing with a dry spicy juniper note. Use this terrific all-round gin for cocktails, martinis or on the rocks. Attractive Rennie-Mcintoshinspired label.

Bulldog London Gin (England)

Bulldog London Gin (England)
Bulldog London Gin (England)

A smooth martini gin; also, quite ginny in its upfront juniper notes. Bulldog is made with several unusual botanicals including white poppy and dragon’s eye flower, and the organic juniper is grown in the hills near Florence. The attractively masculine bottle, black glass with a studded collar, would look stylish on any back bar.

Pimm’s No. 1 (Great Britain)

Pimm’s No. 1 (Great Britain)
Pimm’s No. 1 (Great Britain)

You could call Pimm’s, a proprietary blend of gin, sugar, herbs, quinine and colour, the original mixed and bottled cocktail. It’s chinotto/root beer aromas and flavours mix well with lemonade or 7 up in a Pimm’s Cup, or drink as an aperitivo on the rocks with a slice of lemon.

Cocktail essentials: Bitters

Bitters, made from the distillation of herbs, flowers, fruit, bark, seeds or roots, add flavour and complexity to cocktails. Their use was, and still is in some cultures, medicinal. The rise of the American cocktail culture created an equal interest in small batch artisan bitters such as Hella Bitter from Brooklyn and brought renewed attention to classics such as Peychaud’s.

Up until this season, bitters other than Underberg and Jagermeister were hard to find locally, only available online, at Vancouver’s Gourmet Warehouse, or at stores such as the Meadow in Portland which stocks an enormous selection of unique bitters. Now Wild Earth (8910 99 street, 780-439-4555) is now carrying the Fee Brothers Bitters including orange bitters.

Must-have Bitters

Angostura (Trinidad) Rum, gentian and angostura bark are the primary ingredients of these well-known bitters. Created by a German doctor to improve soldiers appetites; their modern use is to improve a Manhattan cocktail. Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters are darker, with more earthy bark in the flavour.

Peychaud’s (New Orleans) Primary flavour notes are warm vanilla and sweet cherry; required for the Sazerac cocktail.

Orange bitters flavours range from sweet and floral to a pithier, bitter orange. Fee Brothers, Orange, Victoria Gin’s Bitter and Twisted and Hella Citrus are good examples.

Bitters for Fun

Fee Brothers Rhubarb has a super-citrusy taste, like the secret ingredient in Mountain Dew. Fee Brothers Celery tastes like concentrated chlorophyll — still trying to build a cocktail around those flavours; Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel bitters have a strong chinotto, or coca cola, taste without the sweetness, which is ideal for a Bourbon Manhattan.

Cocktail essentials: mixers

Schweppes Bitter Lemon

Schweppes Bitter Lemon and a good gin equals a Tom Collins. No muss no fuss, available at the Italian Centre.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe for tonic water

We have not tried this yet, contenting ourselves with hunting down Q Tonic in the small bottles all over town. Schweppes was the go-to tonic for generations. But since they took out the quinine and pumped up the sugar, it’s just not the same. The diet works, it’s slightly dryer on the palate, if you can get by the slightly toxic aroma of the aspartame.

  • 4 c water
  • 1 c chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
  • 1/4 c powdered cinchona bark
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 t whole allspice berries
  • 1/4 c citric acid
  • 1/4 t Kosher salt
  • 3 c agave syrup

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Once you’re satisfied with the clarity of your mix, heat it again on the stovetop or microwave, and then add 3/4 cup of agave syrup to each cup of your hot mix. Stir until combined, and store in the attractive bottle of your choice. You now have a syrup that you can carbonate with seltzer water. To assemble a gin and tonic, use 3/4 ounce of syrup, 11/2 ounces of gin and 2 ounces of soda water over ice.

Cocktail essentials: syrups

Simple Syrup

A cocktail essential, and dead simple to make.

  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c water

Stir together rover low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool, put in a covered jug and refrigerate. Keeps for about a week. Makes 1 cup.

Andrew Borley’s Rhubarb Syrup

This is a good use of stalks that are tough and old, past their prime for pie. Make in the morning for evening cocktails.

  • 6-12 stalks (about 2 kilos) rhubarb
  • stalks, trimmed of leaves
  • 1 pod vanilla, split lengthwise
  • 1 c sugar
  • 8-10 c water

Wash the rhubarb well, trim ends and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the fruit in a large pot and add cold water to cover. Add vanilla and sugar. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cover, stirring occasionally. When all the chunks have broken down into a uniform soup, about 20 minutes, remove it from the heat. Uncover and cool. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, ladle into a fine-mesh strainer or chinois over a large bowl and strain into a large bowl. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to allow it to drain better. Once it’s drained, put the pulp and the syrup into separate containers and refrigerate immediately. Keep refrigerated for about a week.

Approx 2 liters of syrup and 2 c of pulp.

Tarragon Syrup

Tarragon can run rampant in a garden; this is a good way to use it up. The slight liquorice tang complements gin’s botanicals, especially floral gins such as Edinburgh or Ungava.

  • 2 c water
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 bunch tarragon

Stir over low heat until the crystals have been incorporated, then simmer for about another 10 minutes. Check for density of tarragon flavour and take off heat when it’s ready, about 10-15 minutes. Cool and carefully strain into a large bottle. Keeps in the fridge for about 2 weeks.


Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin Old-Fashioned

The wooded gins open an entirely new category of mixed drinks for gin lovers. Victoria Oaken has a slightly sharp Canadian whiskey-like after taste ideal for mixing an old fashioned.
— Andrew Borley, the Volstead Act.

  • 2 oz Victoria Spirits Oaken gin
  • 1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • lemon twist

Assemble ingredients in an old fashioned glass. Add some large ice and stir briefly to chill and incorporate. Peel a wide twist of lemon and squeeze its oils over the drink. Rub the twist around the rim, drop it into the drink and enjoy.

Gin Basil Smash

“This is such a great summer drink and really allows the bright botanical flavours in gin shine through. During these warm summer months, I find myself mixing more cocktails with fresh citrus, such as the gin basil smash by German bartender Jorg Meyer.”
— Andrew Borley, the Volstead Act

  • 2 oz Tanqueray
  • half lemon
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1 bunch fresh basil

Add basil, lemon and syrup to a mixing tin and muddle. Add gin and shake with ice. Double strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with fresh ice.

Rhubarb Lovers Cocktail

  • 1 part gin
  • 1 part rhubarb syrup (recipe above)
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters

Build over ice in a tall rocks glass, stir and squeeze in a wedge of lime. Top with soda or sparkling wine.

7 Tarragon Close

We loved the combination of the Saffron gin’s spice with the mild liquorice of the tarragon in this drink. It could be a long drink as well, topped with soda or sparkling wine.

  • 4 measures Saffron gin
  • 6 measures tarragon syrup (recipe above)
  • 1-3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Blend all in cocktail shaker over ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Makes two cocktails.

Old Raj Pegu Club

The Pegu Club is a very old cocktail created in the time of the Raj. Orange bitters are an essential part of the drink.

  • 2 measures Old Raj Gin
  • 1/2 measure Cointreau
  • juice of ½ small lime
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all the ingredients. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

A Cocktail for Jess

Rosie Schapp

  • 2 oz gin (whatever you like, but nothing too floral)
  • 2 oz grapefruit juice (fresh squeezed is best)
  • 1/2 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • Small squeeze lime juice

Shake all ingredients vigorously over ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass (it doesn’t hurt to run the lime wedge over the rim of the glass first). Garnish with a big fuzzy sage leaf, if you have one handy. This is also very refreshing over ice in a tall glass, topped with seltzer.