Explore Alberta's top artisan gins on summer distillery tours
Updated: June 6, 2018
The Bike that has MS2:15
It’s June and juniper bushes are developing “berries,” which are not actually a fruit but female seed cones. At this stage they are hard, bright green beads.
This bountiful Alberta resource is the main ingredient for the increasingly popular summer spirit: gin. Why not plan an Alberta craft-distillery road trip to experience first-hand the quality and uniqueness of each of our province’s top artisan gins.
Preplanning is key for a successful trip so why not plan your accommodation as well and make a weekend of it. I recommend an itinerary that starts about 45 minutes south of Calgary at Turner Valley’s Eau Claire Distillery on Main Street (open seven days a week) with scheduled tours on Fridays and weekends.
Next, head to Canmore’s Wild Life Distillery on Bow Meadows Crescent (open Wednesday through Sunday, tours at 3 p.m.). Then end the tour with a stop in Nisku at Rig Hand Distillery at 2104 8 St. (closed on Sunday). And last, but not to be missed, book a tour online at Edmonton’s own Strathcona Spirits Distillery on Whyte Avenue (closed Thursday and Sunday).
Alberta artisanal craft gins acquire their distinctive taste profiles by adding their own “secret recipe” of quality aromatic botanicals into a neutral spirit such as vodka.
There are two methods used: either by infusing aromatic botanicals that are placed in the neck of the still or directly into the liquid spirit.
To qualify as “gin,” juniper must be the dominant aromatic. From there, each distillery will add other natural botanicals for a secret recipe using coriander, orris root and angelica. Then the options are endless: lemon and orange peel, licorice, cassia bark, rosemary, lemongrass, and a multitude of herbs and spices.
A selection of Alberta Gin from Color de Vino, 9606 82 Ave., in Edmonton Wednesday May 30, 2018. DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA
EAU CLAIRE DISTILLERY PARLOUR GIN $54
Turner Valley’s Parlour comes from a history of gin parlours from the American prohibition era. It’s a celebration of southern Alberta farmers with a “farm to glass” mantra, paying respect to the land by using horses to plow the fields right up to sealing and numbering each bottle by hand.
Parlour is a take on the traditional London-dry-styled gin, flavoured with juniper with added botanicals of rosehip, saskatoon berry, coriander, lemon, orange, mint and spice.
WILD LIFE GIN $58
This is an “authentic Albertan experience,” the passion of two local ski racers, Keith Robinson and Matt Widmer. The botanicals include grapefruit peel, angelica root, licorice and bird of paradise flower!
This is exactly the style of gin I enjoy in my gin and tonic, soft and weighty on the palate with a hint of sweetness and loaded with aromatics that are reminiscent of a hike in the Rockies. Grab a bottle of the gin and their Wild Life tonic syrup. Highly recommended!
Jake Parris was our affable host at the on-site tasting bar last weekend where he provided the recipe for the G&T we enjoyed on the patio. He also recommends mixing up your G&T cocktail garnishes with some of his favourites such as raw beets (added colour too!) as well as fresh mango and peppercorns. I can’t wait to try these.
WILD LIFE GIN TONIC
2 oz. Wild Life Gin
1½ oz. Wild Life Tonic Syrup (made with natural ingredients including lemon, lime, orange, lemongrass and cinchona)
Garnish with a dried lemon slice and few dried juniper berries.
RIG HAND WILDROSE GIN $58
This must be a case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” because I don’t love the packaging on this bottle. But if one of Edmonton’s top cocktail specialists, Evan Watson, gives it the thumbs up with, “ … I don’t love the branding, … but they make some of my favourite gin in Alberta,” I can’t argue that.
You can’t miss this ornate bottle that is modelled after the Leduc No. 1 drilling rig. The grain for this gin is farmed just four kilometres from the distillery in Nisku. It’s both floral and fruity, with a lighter note of juniper berries mingled with rosehips sourced from the Alberta Rocky Mountains, crab apple, saskatoon berries, local camomile, cardamom, lemon and star anise.
STRATHCONA SPIRITS BADLAND SEABERRY GIN $54
Adam Smith is the founder of Edmonton’s first distillery — his tarot-card-inspired labels fly off the shelves at our shop!
A London-dry-styled gin where the juniper berry note is complimented with 10 other botanicals, including native seaberries found growing all over the city of Edmonton, angelica root and coriander. Expect to find floral notes, hints of pineapple and sage with a mild, sweeter finish.
Gin selections are available at select shops in Alberta. Log onto www.liquorconnect.com to check availability and give them a call to make sure they have it.
Juanita Roos opened Color de Vino, a fine wine and spirits store, with her family in 2014. She has travelled to wine regions around the world and completed the prestigious WSET Diploma from London, England, the prerequisite for the Master of Wine program. Send your questions about wine to email@example.com.