Natural and organic ingredients take some of the guilt away with two unique Canadian spirits
By Ted McIntyre
There’s a thin, green, hand-dipped wax seal on my Schramm Organic Gin, and it’s taking a while to peel away. Consider it part of the anticipation of this unique concoction.
Featuring a base distilled from organic potatoes from Pemberton, B.C.’s famed “Spud Valley,” the creation gets its moniker from owner and master distiller Tyler Schramm, who trained in Brewing & Distilling at the renowned Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. He’s a young buck for such titles, but then Pemberton Distillery is a young operation, having just opened five years ago. But it’s a place in which the local tourism folks like to steer visiting media, particularly those teeing it up a scant nine-minute drive away at Big Sky Golf Club, that beautifully maturing Robert Cupp design that rests up against the spectacular 8,500-foot canvas of Mt. Currie. If there’s a better backdrop to watch the flight of a tee shot in Canada, I haven’t seen it.
Pemberton Distillery is situated in a somewhat more non-descript location—a humble warehouse on an industrial-type road—but one that churns out a variety of exceptional inebriants, including organic potato vodka, absinthe, schnapps and liqueurs, as well as organic whisky and brandy from locally grown grains and fruits.
Contributing in its own little way to the global gin renaissance—even Queen Elizabeth II mixes it with a splash of Dubonnet before lunch every day—Schramm’s organic spirit is clean and crisp in a London Dry sort of way. There’s an earthy quality to it, likely attributable to the potato base, as opposed to the traditional grains employed in distillation. There’s a keen aroma of cucumber skin to the nose, with rosehip and juniper close on its tail, and a little kick of Ceylon cinnamon—one of eight botanical ingredients that also include coriander seed, orange peel, angelica root, hops and various herbs. But it all makes for a truly harmonious blend, giving the final product great sophistication.
And I love the personal touch of the hand-signed and numbered labels!
Schramm Organic Gin: $45 (375 ml for $25) 44% alcohol; www.peertondistillermby.ca/gin.html
SAMPLING THE GREAT WHITE NORTH
There’s a Great White North tradition for gin, it being a favourite tipple of explorers, gold prospectors and trappers in Canada, when it was prized for its reputed medicinal qualities. That tradition continues a little more than 3,200 kms northeast of Pemberton (as the crow flies—forget about the driving distance!) in the Ungava Peninsula in Nunavik, Quebec. In that far north corner of the province, a pair of employees of Domaine Pinnacle have just taken advantage of the six-week harvest window to pick the six rare botanicals that go into Ungava gin.
Indigenous to that remote part of the Arctic, the ingredients of Nordic juniper, wild rose hips, cloudberry (a hard-to-find tarty berry), crowberry, Labrador tea and a close acquaintance of that tea, Ukiurtatuq, are naturally steeped until the corn-based gin takes on its complex flavour and distinctive sunny hue, a neon yellow it primarily owes to the rosehips but which Domaine president Charles Crawford once described to Maclean’s magazine as looking “a bit like morning’s vitamin-enriched urine.”
Admittedly, the colour can be a tad off-putting, particularly for a traditionally clear spirit. But this perfumy recipe claimed Best in Show honours at the 2013 World Spirits Competition in Austria and is now sold around the world.
Part of a process that respects the environment and Inuit traditions, the rare plants and berries impart a unique bouquet. As with almost all gins, juniper is the first fragrance to arrest the nose, but it’s complemented by ground-up rose petals and orange and lemon rind.
As a cocktail, try the Ungava Beach: 1.5 oz of Ungava gin, 2 oz of coconut water, 1.5 oz of club soda and 0.5 oz of a simple syrup, with a grapefruit wedge squeezed into an Old Fashioned and garnished with a grapefruit slice.
As for the contemporary packaging, the bottle itself, which looks as though it was carved from a block of ice, features the Inuit language of Inuktitut, its unique script depicting the name “Ungava” in syllabics on its labels and bottles.
Fortunately for fans of this aromatic creation, Ungava is actually produced 1,600 kms south in Cowansville, Quebec, and dispensed in most provinces across the country.
Some of the finished product is trucked 19 kms further south to the family-owned orchard, cidery and boutique on a beautiful heritage property near the historic village of Frelighsburg in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, overlooking Pinnacle Mountain and right on the border of Vermont.
For visiting golfers, the distillery is fortuitously also home to Cowansville Golf Club, one of Quebec’s most esteemed public tracks. Well conditioned and easy on the eye with its mountainous panorama, this deftly routed 1964 Howard Watson beauty teems with mature maple and coniferous trees. And with walking fees topping out at just $50, with $10 cart rentals, it’s also one of the region’s most appealing golf values.
Better yet, when the round is spent and it’s time to sidle up to the clubhouse bar, there’s happily an Ungava and tonic on the menu.
Just don’t mind the colour.
Ungava Gin: $34.95, LCBO, 43.1% alcohol; www.ungava-gin.com