One of the wholly unanticipated pleasures of Raspipav last weekend¹ was discovering that Rézin is starting to import several gins from St. George Spirits in California, and that, better still, they will soon be available at the SAQ. I recently tried St. George’s bourbon (the paradox of California bourbon is explained here), but didn’t really know anything about the company, which it appears has been front-and-centre in American artisan distilling since the ’80s, and not only have three basic gins to their name, but have also been experimenting with barrel aging and other leftfield gin practices.
It’s nice to see people screwing around with gin a bit more these days. In North America especially, the gin market has long been dominated by a fairly limited set of flavour profiles, differentiable more in terms of degree of resemblance to paint thinner than discernible botanical makeup, but as an already weird, complicated spirit, gin affords a lot of room for experimentation without great risk of leaving the terrain of recognizability entirely. The fact that St. George is producing three distinct styles that are not merely tailored to three escalating price brackets is awesome – the Botanivore, Terroir, and Dry Rye provide noticeably different experiences, and even if I wasn’t big into the Dry Rye (it was very rye, very peppery, a bit more on the Jenever side), I’m glad it exists, I guess. The Botanivore was a solid, above-standard gin, but what really turned my head was the Terroir. I know the whole concept of terroir has been and continues to be debated on a variety of fronts², and some claim that the already ambiguous concept has still less empirical purchase in the realm of spirits, where the process of distillation quite literally boils away the nuance supposed to emerge from terroir. However, as terroir has proven to historically be something of a moving target anyway, there is much to recommend non-naturalistic definition thereof, or what might be described as a naturalistic, yet de-natured definition. I think most circulating concepts of terroir already do this to some extent, in that they acknowledge that terroir is not just “nature” or soil-climate-flora speaking in some unmediated way, but the product of a whole mess of material realities like rain and soil and sun and grain and water tables and bugs and microbes along with the (equally material) human engagements that too easily get written off or overwritten as “cultural”, developing over the course of history. put another way, most responsible definitions of terroir take a hyperlocal nature + tradition approach, with the caveat that nature is in good measure already culture and that the content and contours of tradition are never unformed by the resistance of material nature anyway. So what do we mean then when we (they, rather) call something a “terroir” gin?
Well, the impression I get is that St. George wanted to make a gin that conjured up, or referred to, a certain sense of place, and so they hewed to the inclusion of indigenous botanicals, that they felt captured a certain California-ness. They’re playing with the idea of terroir here, of course, referencing it, rather than stating that the gin expresses terroir in the same fashion that wines are often claimed to. What comes out of it is a gin that smells / tastes distinctly and crazily of sage and douglas fir, which if you think about it, fit nicely into the array of flavours that already circulate in a standard gin, but stretch the boundaries of the familiar somewhat. It’s been a while since I’ve been actively excited about gin, but the coming of winter does tend in me to excite such interest – perhaps expressly because of the coldness, the clearness, and the coniferous qualities of both the season and the spirit – and since it goddamn snowed last night, this tasting opportunity seems perfectly timed. The Rézin rep, Geneviève (the charming pertinence of a woman so-named being responsible for me tasting these gins totally escaped me at the time, but I assure does no longer), told me that it should be hitting the SAQ shelves soon and that there would likely be some kind of launch event, so I’ll be keeping tabs on that for sure. I look forward to picking up a bottle of this and screwing around with it myself. It may well end up a sipper; I don’t think it is destined to become a Negroni standard, but I could see a really wild martini coming out of its encounter with the right vermouth, or some more seasonally appropriate cocktail tailored to its peculiar strengths. Like holy shit, some maniacal combination with fernet, which I am prematurely dubbing the Winter Hell, or perhaps, depending on the number of ingredients, The Sixth Man, in homage to Bibi Anderson’s role in Robert Altman’s arctic dystopian film with Paul Newman that I inexplicably still have not seen. Which seems like a good way to name something after Bibi Andersson without actually have to say the word “Bibi” too often.
¹ Why yes, I did spent seven consecutive hours at a private importation wine fair only to talk about American artisanal gin. Big whoop, wanna fight about it? Come at me. You’ll win.
² It’s a debate I find incredibly fascinating, particularly as it plays out in the context of the welling natural wine controversy, but trust me, you don’t want me to get into it right now. But in the meantime, go read Genviève Teil’s article about terroir and objectivity (a different Geneviève, btw), because when I do get into it, you’ll be glad you did, providing that you continue listening to me at all.