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.
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 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…