The Alchemist’s tasting panel searches for the best B.C. gin to enjoy with your tonic
Now that spring has finally sprung, we’re craving lighter sprits and fresher flavours. In other words, we’re craving gin, especially when it’s mixed with tonic water.
Our tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Max Borrowman of Juniper Kitchen & Bar; Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar; J-S Dupuis of Wentworth Hospitality (Tableau Bar Bistro, Homer St. Café); and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—sampled nine B.C. artisanal gins, suggested the best cocktails to make with them, and then mixed them with tonic water to determine which worked best.
Here’s what they had to say.
Ampersand Gin, 43.8% ABV
The panel detected well-balanced notes of black licorice, lemon peel, sweet anise, juniper, flowers and loads of pepper in this gin from the Cowichan Valley. “I think it’s a well-made spirit,” Pape said. “It drinks nicely. It travels nice.” “It’s got a nice long finish,” said Borrowman. “You can tell they paid attention to the cuts.”
Cocktail: “Keep it simple,” Pape said. “A martini.”
Central City Distillers Queensborough Gin, 43% ABV
The Surrey distiller’s gin impressed with its smoothness, balance and distinct juniper notes. “That is definitely coniferous,” Dupuis said. “I find it a lot softer than you would expect with the high ABV.” Borrowman added, “You can really smell the spruce tips. I think it’s a really good gin, a really quaffable gin.” Or, as Bruce said, “It’s smooth and slippery.”
Cocktail: “This is something that would go well with tonic,” Pape said. “Something simple and clean.”
Fermentorium Stump Gin, 42% ABV
This is a big, powerhouse Vancouver Island gin the bartenders described as savoury, earthy and fruity on the nose with a powerful whiff of pine on the finish. “You can taste the juniper, like the branch of a fir tree,” Borrowman said. “It really reminds me of a rainforest,” said Dupuis.
Cocktails: “I bet it would make a really good French 75,” said Pape.
Gillespie’s Gin, 43% ABV
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the bunch, this gin from Squamish exhibited little of the traditional juniper and citrus notes of most gins, but had a sweet, dessert-like profile. “It smells sweet, like caramel or butterscotch,” Dupuis said. “Shortbread,” said Bruce. “And it’s got a little saltiness.” “It’s well distilled, but it doesn’t taste like gin,” Borrowman said. “It’s a really nice dessert gin.”
Cocktail: Clover Club, French 75 or 20th Century.
Liberty Endeavour Gin, 45% ABV
This Granville Island gin impressed with its smoothness, especially given the high alcohol, but tasters noted that the botanicals were less prominent than in some gins. “It is extremely soft for 45%,” Dupuis said. “But I feel like the botanicals are very subtle.” Added Pape: “It feels like the botanicals are not as up front. I feel like a lot of what we’re tasting is the base spirit.” “It’s pretty floral, with some hibiscus notes in there,” said Borrowman.
Cocktail: Hanky Panky, Pink Gin, Martinez or Gimlet.
Odd Society Wallflower, 44% ABV
The East Vancouver spirit was the most floral of the gins, with notes of lavender, violet, elderflower, and a strong hint of juniper. “This one smells like the Pac Rim lobby,” joked Dupuis. “But it’s the ginniest gin we’ve tasted so far.” “There’s something like lime leaf, a Southeast Asian note,” said Pape. “It’s floral, tropical. I could see it in a gin Piña Colada,” said Bruce. “It’s one of the few gins that would go really well in an Aviation, with the crème de violette,” added Borrowman.
Cocktail: Aviation or Bramble. “Bramble all the way,” said Borrowman.
Roots and Wings Jackknife Gin, 40% ABV
With its unique potato-and-corn base, this gin from Langley was the second big surprise of the tasting, with lots of floral notes and not a lot of juniper. As Borrowman said, “That nose is insane.” “I sense tapioca,” said Bruce. “It’s not bad, but it doesn’t taste like gin.” “I would call this herbal-infused vodka,” added Dupuis.
Cocktail: “I might make a gin Daiquiri with it,” said Borrowman.
Sheringham Seaside Gin, 43%
From Shirley on Vancouver Island comes this intriguing gin, which includes local winged kelp among the botanicals in the mix. At first, the tasters noted the saline character of the gin. “It’s salty. Everyone at the bar says it’s salty,” said Borrowman. “We made a salty martini with this,” said Pape. After that, it was the herbal notes that came through. “The mint sauce you get with lamb,” said Bruce. “It’s almost like a handful of lavender,” said Dupuis. “It’s floral, but in a completely different way than the Wallflower,” added Borrowman.
Cocktail: Wet martini, wet Gibson, horseradish sour.
Victoria Distillers Empress 1908
The tasters were at first distracted by the distinctive blue hue that comes from butterfly pea flower in this Victoria gin. But they found that beyond the colour lay a well-made, if subtly flavoured, spirit. “It is super gimmicky, but it’s also really good. There’s a blueberry, floral note that runs through it,” said Borrowman. “It would be good with elderflower. St. Germain and soda. It’s a great party gin.”
Cocktail: “A Vesper,” suggested Bruce. “A clean, stirred Vesper.”
But which gin is best for a G&T? After tasting the gins straight, the panel tried them with tonic water: Canada Dry, no ice, no garnish. Opinions varied, but the overall favourites were Ampersand, Central City’s Queensborough, Odd Society’s Wallflower and Sheringham’s Seaside Gin.
Dupuis: “For me, I like the Ampersand. I like the gin on its own and when you mix it with the tonic, it’s the only one that becomes a new drink. And it’s super tasty.” His second choice: Queensborough. Third: a tie between Sheringham and Wallflower.
Pape: “I think my favourite one is the Wallflower. It tastes like a gin and tonic, but with a contemporary twist.” His second choice is the Ampersand. “It brings everything to the table. It’s got some oomph.” Third: Queensborough.
Borrowman: “My first choice is Sheringham by far. I think that gin stands up to the tonic so well. It’s really well-balanced. You taste the gin. His second choice: Wallflower. “I think it’s floral and lovely, and a contemporary twist on a gin and tonic.” Third: Ampersand.
Bruce: “To me a gin and tonic should be classic. It was my grandmother’s drink and it’s my drink. For me, the Ampersand stood out as very classic, the bright lemony notes and the pepper coming through. I’d be happy to sit on a patio and crush one after another. Second: Liberty Endeavour. “It’s simple and delicious. I wanted to drink it and not think about it.” Third: Sheringham. “The Sheringham really had an interesting note, like a savoury herb garden. It would be great with some savoury garnishes.”