Just as Vancouver’s fixation on craft beer shows no signs of slowing, there’s another increasingly handcrafted beverage that’s carving its own niche. No longer restricted to your grandparents’ liquor cabinets or posh postwork potions like the Negroni, Tom Collins, or martini, gin has risen as a go-to spirit among throngs of thirsty imbibers across the city.
“In the cocktail world, I don’t know if it’s ever gone away,” says local bartender Shaun Layton in a phone interview with the Straight. “But now, with your average Joe, everyone’s drinking gin.”
Beverage director at Juniper, one of Chinatown’s hippest new hangouts, Layton estimates that he serves four times as much gin as other spirits on any given day; with some types, he even goes through as many as 18 bottles per week. This likely has to do with Juniper’s thematic bar program, which takes from Spain’s flamboyant gin culture, and the 35 varieties that shine from behind its wood as a result. However, the sheer number of ounces sold is also a testament to the incredible versatility of the liquor.
“There are so many different types of gin,” Layton says. “As long as you know their flavour profiles, it can go in different directions.”
A neutral spirit that derives its zest primarily from juniper berries and a selection of herbs and other botanicals, gin works in almost any concoction. At Juniper, G&Ts combine offbeat gins—Long Table Distillery’s refreshing cucumber gin, for example, or Defender Island’s smoked-rosemary iteration—with specialty tonics and attractive, complementary garnishes such as mint leaves and vibrant slices of blood orange. Other cocktails like the East Van Bramble, a sharp mix of Odd Society Spirits’ Wallflower gin, cassis, and lemon, present beautifully balanced aromas that highlight the herbaceous spirit’s subtleties.
For Joshua Groom, mixologist at the Quebec-based Ungava Gin, the growing varieties of gin on offer are related to the liquor’s inventive potential and the number of people who are trying their hand at distilling. He adds that, unlike whisky or rum, gin is not aged, which allows for more creative experimentation with immediate results.
“Once gin is made and produced, it’s ready to drink, so you can really kind of adapt it to the market,” he explains by phone. “There are a lot of people that are finding that it’s creating its own trends because it’s almost like a home team—your home gin, something that’s being produced around here.”
In the Lower Mainland, there are more than a dozen distilleries in operation, including the aforementioned Long Table and Odd Society Spirits, many of which produce gin. This number almost doubles when the area is expanded to the entirety of B.C., where more and more distilleries are emerging across the Okanagan’s wine country and beyond. Some wineries have even taken up distilling, such as Okanagan Crush Pad, which recently crafted a special gin for Vij’s in celebration of the restaurant’s relocation to Cambie Street.
Named Vij’s Bolly Water, the savoury London Dry–style gin features a blend of 12 different botanicals, including fennel, which lends the spirit a licoricelike quality that pairs well with Indian-inspired fare. And though Okanagan Crush Pad won’t be giving up its winemaking duties anytime soon, gin has become more than a hobby for the B.C. winery.
“I’ve had to purchase new equipment to cope with the demand,” says Matt Dumayne, Okanagan Crush Pad’s chief winemaker and distiller, on the line from Summerland. “We distill five days a week. It’s turned into a completely separate business for us.”
In fact, Dumayne reveals that Okanagan Crush Pad will be unveiling its second gin, produced under the company’s Narrative label, at B.C. Distilled’s main tasting event, taking place this Saturday (March 26) at the Croatian Cultural Centre (3250 Commercial Drive). The Narrative gin, a stimulating spirit packed with notes of citrus and organic fruits, will be one of 36 gins spotlighted at the third annual craft and microdistillery fete. In total, a record-breaking lineup of 27 B.C. distilleries will be on-site with samples of various small-batch, handcrafted liquors.
But with all the buzz surrounding gin, there remains one question: does the spirit have staying power or is it simply another fleeting trend in the endless cycle of bartending and mixed drinks?
“Gin is here to stay, it’s not going anywhere,” states Groom. “If anything, I think it’s going to get more and more exciting.”
Dumayne agrees. “Once you find something that people like, we get more options,” he says, “and we have more choices for delicious drinks.”