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Victoria Gin

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By Christine Sismondo

Walking through Toronto's big Queen’s Quay liquor store the other day to see if there was anything new or interesting, I was keeping an eagle eye for Victoria Gin.

It’s not as if I actually needed gin that day. Nor is Victoria Gin going to become the staple base for my summer Tom Collins habit or anything. For one thing, it’s priced at $49.95, coming in at $8 more than Hendrick’s. And Hendrick’s, a premium, isn’t even my staple gin. For day-to-day use, I stick with Plymouth, which costs a little over half as much as Victoria Gin at the LCBO. Still, despite Victoria’s steep price, I wouldn’t consider not picking up a bottle. It’s a must-have in my gin collection.

See, I figure that one evening, while I’m cooking up the old family dinner and wondering what to have to soothe those labours away, I’ll be looking for something light and different. And, on that day, I might well want to opt for a Victoria gin martini. Stirred and straight up, of course, so that nothing will get in the way of the pronounced citrus and coriander.

I’m starting to get carried away with this fantasy and visualize this event accompanied by with a nice oyster – maybe one of those fat, ugly west coasters – for a change from Johnny Flynns. In fact, I’ll make it my mission to find one from British Columbia, because that’s also where this gin comes from.

I’ve long wondered why Canada doesn’t have an interesting boutique gin, seeing as it’s one of the few spirits that could really be made just about anywhere. Well, the good folks at Winchester Cellars must have been wondering that, too, and, go-getters that they are, set out to rectify that situation. They now make Victoria, Canada’s first small-batch gin.

Recently, at the Ontario launch of the gin, I managed to get a quick word in with Bryan Murray who, along with Peter Hunt, comprises the distilling team. I noted that it was interesting that he was a doctor, since most of us associate the medical profession with those who try to steer us away from gin not bring us more of it, despite the fact that alcohol and medicine have a long, rich history.

“I prescribe many different things,” said Murray, acknowledging the only recent divide between apothecaries and bartenders.

Murray was drawn into the world of gin through his love for whisky and distinguished palate. He leads us off into the back room to examine the samples of star anise, juniper and citrus which he has selected for infusion during the second distillation. Nobody at the party can identify the “secret ingredient” which we are allowed to examine, smell and taste, even. To no avail, however. And Murray doesn’t seem likely to give it up.

To what degree that secret ingredient contributes to the taste, I can’t say. But the gin is a hit at the party, where we all agree that it’s a nice, spicy addition to the family of interesting small-batch gins being produced in San Francisco, France and Scotland.

And we’re not alone. Murray tells us that it just picked up a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Which is why it’s disappointing that it’s so under-represented at the LCBO. Checking online, it appears that I wasn’t simply overlooking it – there were none at Queens’ Quay and only a handful at two other stores in Central Toronto. I was reminded of Frank Deiter (Master Distiller at Okanagan Wines and Spirits) repeated frustrated struggles to get British Columbia and Ontario liquor stores to carry his eau de vies and his lovely Taboo Absinthe. We still can’t get Taboo here, but I did notice a new absinthe from Illinois on the Vintages shelves. It goes for $99.95. Taboo retails for $55 in British Columbia.

This may all sound like I’m verging on the jingoistic, but, really, I’m not that sort. Far from being a protectionist, I actually think we should import far more good spirits from around the world. Those who know me have heard endless rants about the inconveniences I suffer making trips across borders to get my hands on decent bourbons, rums and tequilas. And don’t even get me started on the unavailable liqueurs and vermouths.

It’s just that I’ve resigned myself to traveling to find decent spirits from other countries. And it doesn’t seem fair that I should have to travel to obtain decent spirits from my own.


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