Here’s a local spirit to add a tonic to your liquor cabinet
British Columbia’s artisan gins are in a tricky place.
Some are interesting, but not exactly delicious. Some taste good, but aren’t exciting enough to warrant the high price tag that the difficulty of making local hooch demands. Some have such powerful cereal notes you know the distiller really wants to be making whisky instead. Some taste like perfume, others like vodka.
Beautifully balanced and infused with B.C.-grown spruce tips and juniper berries, it’s the only Canadian gin to have won double gold at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It also took gold at the 2016 San Diego International Spirits Competition and the SIP Awards, an international consumer tastings competition.
Clearly, Central City has a winner on their hands.
“I think it’s done well at international spirits competitions so quickly because of our focus on using high-quality distilling methods and the best local ingredients, as well as its smooth profile,” says Central City’s head distiller, Stuart McKinnon. “It makes it an excellent choice for mixing cocktails, which is what most people do with gin.”
Queensborough—a nod to the original name of New Westminster—is a traditional London Dry-style gin with a pleasant floral nose, notes of pine, rosemary and jasmine on the palate, and a long, smooth, citrusy finish.
It’s largely the Vancouver Island spruce tips that give it that citrusy flavour, though some citrus peels are also used in the botanical mix. Meanwhile, the juniper berries—which are the essential ingredient that makes it gin and not flavoured vodka—come from the Interior and impart those deliciously piney notes.
The base is a wheat-based neutral grain spirit (NGS), which means in B.C. it can’t technically be called “craft.” (Under the province’s rules, a craft distillery must use 100 per cent B.C. agricultural ingredients and both ferment and distill them on site.)
That said, most London Dry gins, including those actually made in London, are made with NGS; the idea is to have a smooth and, well, neutral base that lets the botanicals dominate.
Those who ferment and distill their own grains often end up with something closer to genever, the Dutch spirit from which gin evolved. Genever is rounder, fruitier and grainier than London Dry. It can be delicious, but will rarely offer the clean botanical bite we crave in gin. Whisky, on the other hand . . .
Central City, which only began distilling in 2013, is also making whisky and for that it is sourcing, milling, fermenting and distilling its own grains. Basically, it’s just taking the process they use for their Red Racer and other beers one step further by putting it through a copper pot still and then into barrels.
They’re not alone. More and more craft breweries—including Yaletown, Deep Cove and Phillips Brewing, under their Fermentorium label—are making spirits. And why not, when they already have the raw materials close at hand?
In any case, McKinnon sees lots of opportunity for both brewers and distillers.
“Similar to what is occurring in the craft beer industry in B.C., I strongly believe there is an opportunity for collaboration between craft distilleries,” he says. “I also see more creativity and experimentation happening from craft distilling, just as we see in craft beer.”
Which is all well and good, but for now, we have a nice smooth award-winning gin that will see us through the last hazy days of summer. And we’ll happily drink to that.
Central City’s Queensborough Gin retails for $39.99 at BC Liquor Stores.
—by Joanne Sasvari