Cocktail Hour: Ungava Gin

Ungava Martini
Ungava Martini

The first time I saw this gin at the SAQ, I was immediately attracted to it.  ‘A gin made with indigenous Quebec herbs?  How cool is that?’, I thought.  The only thing that would make it cooler would be an organic designation (locally grown corn is used to make the spirit the gin is made with , so GMOs are a concern).  Obviously, being a martini addict, I decided to buy and try it.

Aside from the striking yellow colour of this gin, there isn’t too much to distinguish it from other gins, as it pretty much toes the line, taste-wise.  I am by no means a professional gin-taster, but I would be hard pressed to pick out the differences in flavour the indigenous herbs produce in the final product.  It is very drinkable, and is definitely smoother (and better) than say, Beefeater, while remaining more coarsé than something like Tanqueray (my usual, everyday gin).

The professionals like it, perhaps, a little more than I do, as it won a ‘Best of Show’ award at the World Spirits Competition in March of this year.

It makes a nice martini, and it’s certainly local, but I think that it may represent a bit of a lost opportunity in that the producers had the chance to create something that was even more distinctive, such as Hendrick’s Gin, but instead chose to mimic a traditional gin flavour with non-traditional ingredients.  Nevertheless, I applaud their initiative, and will continue to support it by buying their product.

Ungava Gin Herbs

The herbs used to flavour Ungava Gin are wild rose hips, arctic blend, cloudberry, labrador tea, crowberry, and nordic juniper (without which, of course, it could not be classified gin).  All of these ingredients are gathered in Ungava, Nunavik (Quebec’s arctic region, and the home of the Inuit).

So, more about the botanicals.  Rose hips don’t need much of a description, I’d imagine; they are the fruit of the rose, contain a significant amount of vitamin C, and have a rather tart flavour (as you’ll know if you’ve ever had rosehip tea).  Arctic blend, labrador tea, and crowberry are all members of the Ericaceae  or heather family.  All three are also evergreen plants.  Arctic blend and labrador tea are close cousins, while crowberry is so named for its blue berries.  Cloudberries (which are amber in colour, but otherwise look a bit like raspberries) are what give the gin its colour.  Finally, ‘nordic juniper’ is used to give the gin (from the dutch word for juniper, ‘genever’) its distinctive flavour.  I was unable to find any information on this specific variety of juniper, and it wasn’t among the varieties listed on Wikipedia, but according to the Ungava gin website, it is ‘found growing in sandy areas along the coast of Ungava and in dry rocky soil’.

Ungava Gin (English)

Ungava Gin (French)

 

 

The Producers

Ungava gin is made by the same people who produce Pinnacle ice cider.  Interestingly, they have decided to market the product differently in french, putting an emphasis on ‘indigenous Quebec herbs'(French labelling), as opposed to ‘botanicals from the Canadian North’ (English labelling).  While I understand the reason they would choose to emphasize Quebec as opposed to Canada when marketing their product here, I do not necessarily understand the need to completely eradicate any mention of Quebec from both the English label as well as all  promotional background information available on the English version of their website.  Does the rest of Canada (and the world) really hate us that much?  Yet another reason to drink, I suppose…

Anyway, ’til next time…

How to Grow a Kombucha Scoby- From Store Bought Kombucha

Why Grow a Kombucha Scoby?

I do enjoy the occasional kombucha…but at about $4.00 a pop, they’re not exactly cheap.  Combine a financial incentive like that with the fact that I like to do things myself, and you can see why I’ve wanted to try my hand at making kombucha for a while.  I only needed to decide was how to go about it-  should I purchase a

Raw materials
Raw materials

kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), or should I try to grow one from a bottle of store-bought kombucha?

 

I recently did a search on where to buy real kefir grains- after having come to the realization that the kefir starter from the healthfood store did not, in fact contain them- and came across the website of a woman who calls herself ‘the kefir lady’. This woman sells both kefir grains and kombucha scobies. I’m considering buying kefir grains from her, even though her preferred means of accepting payment is rather bizarre. In any case, if I were to order grains it would make sense to order a scoby at the same time- but if I were to succeed in growing my own, that would, naturally, be unnecessary.

Selecting Your Kombucha

Baby Scoby
Floating in the Bottle

The first thing I did was pick up a bottle of kombucha, which I made certain contained a little baby scoby (about the size of a dime).  A quick google search enabled me to find some instructions on growing it, on a blog called Paprika. I also, however, came across another post on a blog called Food Renegade, which stated that growing a scoby from a store-bought bottle of kombucha was no longer possible, due to the way commercial brands of kombucha in the US had been reformulated in 2010.

Luckily, I don’t live in the US, nor have I seen any brands of kombucha from the US for sale here, in Montreal. So, I decided to go ahead with my experiment.

Step 1: Make a Batch of Sweet Tea

The process is fairly simple.  One must simply make a sweetened tea (using 1 cup of water, 2 TBSPs of sugar, and 1 TBSP of black tea), allow it to cool, then add about half the bottle of kombucha (making sure to include the baby!).  This should be stored in a glass jar, and covered with cheesecloth, some other type of mesh, or a kitchen towel, to keep out flies.  Cover the jar with another kitchen towel

Making Sweet Tea
Making Sweet Tea

to keep the baby warm, and protect it from the light. Within a few days, you should be able to see some growth. After about two weeks, your scoby will likely have extended itself to the edges of the jar, and will be growing thicker.

 

Step 2: Feed Your Scoby

Day 1
Day 1
Baby Scoby
Day 5
After 2 weeks
After 2 weeks
Scoby After 7 Days
Scoby After 7 Days

At this point, the scoby has likely used all (or most) of the food you have provided it with.  It’s time to make a new, larger batch of sweetened tea for it.  Use 4 cups of water, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 TBSP black tea, again waiting for the mixture to cool to room temperature before immersing the scoby in it. Store it the same way as before, in a bigger jar, if necessary.

Scoby in new home
Scoby in new home
After 3 Weeks
After 3 Weeks

 

 

One Week Later…

After about a week, the scoby had grown quite thick, and I decided to try brewing my first batch of Kombucha.  The process is very much the same, though the sugar/water/tea proportions are a bit different.  I followed the recipe given in Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation (p.123), which calls for 1/4 cup sugar, 1 TBSP black tea, and 1/2 a cup of kombucha liquid (the scoby-growing liquid, or some liquid from your last batch of kombucha) per liter of water.  I was quite pleased with the result, which was ready in a little under a week (to determine whether it’s ready, just taste it).  I decided to try using 1/2 jasmine tea, and 1/2 black tea for the next batch (one can use only green tea, but according to the Cultures for Health website, which is a great source of kombucha info, it isn’t the best thing for the scoby), and that was quite nice as well.  The jasmine gave it some interesting floral notes.

Jasmine Kombucha
Jasmine Kombucha

The brewing process is quite painless, and it’s easy to simply strain the finished product into bottles, and start a new batch.  I look forward to experimenting with different flavours…but first I’ll have to do a bit more research on what I should and shouldn’t use (for example, it is possible to use Earl Grey tea to make Kombucha, but using it often is not recommended due to the bergamot oil it is flavoured with).

Well, ’til next time, happy fermenting!

Please note: I have discovered a source for Kefir grains in Montreal!  See this post for details.

Also note:  If you’d like to skip growing your own scoby, and get right to brewing, I may be able help you out (if you’re in the area) by providing you 

Jasmine Kombucha
Jasmine Kombucha

 with a nice, thick scoby.  I also have some worms for vermicomposting, if that’s your thing.  Donations will be accepted.

Update 19/04/2016: I have returned to Montreal recently after having been away for a year, and have not yet grown a new scoby. I still have vermicomposting worms, though.

Foraging Fun: Violets, Winter Cress, and Dandelions

Wild VioletIt’s hard to believe that it’s June already…especially since up in Saint-Adolphe-D’Howard, in the Laurentians, there was still snow on the ground until just a few weeks ago!  Spring/summer it is, however, and the land is green, and alive.  My boyfriend and I finally made it out into the woods and fields, and walked around to see whether we could discover any wild edibles to take home with us.

We looked for mushrooms, but didn’t see many; I guess it’s either too early, or too dry for them.  I saw a lot of strawberry plants in bloom, so I guess that in a couple of weeks, there will be strawberries everywhere!

Wild Violets

Finally, on a hill where I once found some wild irises growing, I found some wild violets.  IWild Violets had grown pansies in my garden before, so I found them fairly easy to identify (they are in the same family).  The flowers have a distinctive striping on one or more of their lower petals.  Apparently, these veins are meant to guide bees to their nectar.  The species is, I believe, the viola adunca, commonly called the ‘early blue’, or ‘hookedspur’ violet.  The leaves and flowers may be added to salads, and the flowers can also be candied.

Winter Cress

Winter CressFurther down, at the base of the hill near some water, I discovered some winter cress.  There are, according to Wikipedia, twenty-two different species of winter cress, and I’m not sure which one in particular this one was.  It was, however, also fairly easy to identify, as the leaves which were further down, near the base of the plant, looked exactly like watercress leaves.  As with every plant (or mushroom) I find in the wild that I have the intention of consuming, I did, of course, make sure to look it up in a field guide (in this case, Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson) in order to determine if, firstly, it was/could be highly poisonous, and secondly, whether I have reason to believe that I have correctly identified the type of plant.  It is, of course, better to be safe, than be sorry.  After looking it up, and finding no look-alikes (and most certainly no poisonous ones), I tasted a leaf; after discerning a pleasant cress-like flavour, I picked some to take home with me.  The partially unopened flower-heads looked particularly tasty, like broccoli, so I made sure to gather some of those.

Dandelions

Since I now had the makings of a tasty wild salad, I gathered a few leaves from the dandelions which were growing nearby.  The flowers had not yet opened up, so I was hoping that they would be a little bit less bitter than usual.

A Wild Salad…

Winter Cress Head

Upon returning to the house,  I washed the greens and flowers carefully.  I also tasted one of the partially unopened cress flower-heads, and my boyfriend and I both agreed that they were very nice and tasted quite like broccoli.  The foraged greens and some of the violets made a very pretty and colourful  salad, to which I added a bit of (locally grown) radish, since I had some on hand, and a simple vinaigrette consisting of salt, pepper, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Lunch!

I went on to candy the violets, later on in the evening.  It turned out to be a rather satisfying day, even though we did not find any mushrooms!  Anyhow, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for strawberries, which should be appearing everywhere soon.  ‘Till next time, happy foraging!