We’ve stopped in front of a sign in Quebec City’s vibrant Limoilou neighbourhood proclaiming: Stadaconé Distillery—Gin Tasting. Our curiosity has been piqued, in part because everywhere we go on this trip, from local pubs to big-name chef-owned restaurants, Quebec-made and -distilled gin has been featured prominently on the menu. It seems that we’ve found the well-spring.
According to Christine Sismondo, spirits writer and co-author of the soon-to-be-published Canadian Spirits: The Essential Cross-Country Guide to Distilleries, Their Spirits and Where to Imbibe Them, that’s because gin is having a global moment. “We’re in an era where people want more flavour in their spirits. Vodka ruled for so long—it was basically an alcohol delivery service,” she says. “As with food, people aren’t afraid of hot sauce anymore—they’ve been waiting in the wings for a long time for a spirit with flavour.”
Their Gin delivers in juniper-steeped spades. “Distilleries have thought of flavour combinations for you. It’s like a lazy man’s cocktail,” says Sismondo. Just add soda or tonic water and voilà. From Stadaconé’s Rouge gin made with elderflower and macerated cranberries, which give the spirit a coppery red hue; to the pale, aquamarine-toned Bleu that’s both floral and peppery.
Made with dune pepper, Labrador tea, and wintergreen, all of which grew in Quebec before European arrival, distillery co-owner Jean-Pierre Allard says Bleu “evokes hints of boreal forest undergrowth.” Citrus rind finishes off the aromatic gin, paying homage to French troops that were trying to avoid scurvy in Quebec during the 1535–36 winter. Allard adds a splash of tonic water and the blue drink turns a delicate pink thanks to butterfly pea flower, an ingredient in this particular rendition.
The province-wide gin boom has been spurred on by significant changes to laws that now allow distilleries to give samples and sell bottles at their own on-site boutiques. Prior to that, they could only sell their spirits through the provincial government’s SAQ (Quebec’s Alcohol Corporation).
Couple that legal update with upticks in the numbers of locals and visitors alike buying homegrown spirits, which Allard says has jumped 27 per cent in the last year alone, and you start to see why entrepreneurs are putting their money on gin. Allard also says it’s quicker and cheaper to produce than most spirits—whisky, for instance, requires a good three years in barrels.
If you’re touring La belle province and want to sip some of the best craft gins around, here are Sismondo’s and Allard’s top picks. Any way you sip it, gin is as versatile as it is easy to enjoy—straight up or in a cocktail.
KM12 from Distillerie du Fjord
A boreal forest gin that includes balsam fir bud, peppery green alder, pine forest spikenard, wild raspberry leaves, and sweet gale. Sismondo describes KM12 as having “intense, lovely flavours.”
Bootlegger Botanic #3 Dry Gin from Distillerie Pirate du Nord
Using dandelion root and rosehip as its aromatic ingredients, the gin is finished in oak and applewood to evoke a bootlegging past when smugglers stored gin in barrels.
Gin St. Laurent from Distillerie du St-Laurent
Distillerie du St-Laurent takes terroir and dips it in the region’s waterways by slowly macerating it with hand-harvested laminar seaweed from the Bas-Saint-Laurent.
Radoune Gin, from the O’Dwyer Distillery in the Gaspé region
This gin is made by distillation with wild chanterelle mushrooms, which Sismondo calls “simply delicious”.
Gin Sauvage from Cirka
Cirka is one of the few outfits that makes its own base spirit from scratch. “This gin tastes a little like a Green Chartreuse with a touch of medicinal herbal notes. I’ve never tasted a gin like this before—it’s both unique and delicious,” says Sismondo.
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