Wednesday 28 June 2017

Northern light: Ungava Canadian gin

I was in ASDA yesterday, which is frankly not the most upmarket supermarket, and I was surprised by the range of gins they had on offer. My eye was caught by Ungava, not so much because of its lurid neon-yellow colour but because it comes from Canada. I was actually born in Canada, as my parents lived there for a few years, so I have a soft spot for all things connected with that country (though, as my wife points out, I am a fairly rubbish Canadian, never having been back there since I left at the age of three). So I decided to give Ungava a try.

The name comes from the vast wilderness region in the north-east of the country where six botanicals are foraged during the brief summer: Nordic juniper, wild rose hips, crowberry (looks a bit like a blueberry), cloudberry, Labrador tea, the white flowers and evergreen leaves of which are described as giving a herbal flavour to the gin, and Arctic blend, which is very similar to Labrador tea and its flowers, leaves and stems apparently contribute the “underlying botanical base” of the gin. It’s not clear if these are all the botanicals involved or whether some other conventional ones are included as well; if it’s just these six then the distillers have done an impressive job of covering all the bases of the basic gin flavour profile with the plants to hand.

The gin is bottled at 43.1% ABV and, although they don’t actually say, I have read elsewhere that the base spirit is made from corn. There is a conventional steeping and redistilling process as well as a post-distillation infusion, which accounts for the colour. (They don’t mention which of the botanicals is responsible for the colour; it looks suspiciously artificial to me, the colour of Galliano, but they insist that all the ingredients are 100% natural.) The colour is said to recall the aurora borealis, which can be seen in the region. The bottle itself is adorned with Inuit characters, which I assume spell out something relevant. (The word above the name does, according to Wikipedia, say “Ungava”.)

This colour is apparently natural
Uncork the bottle and stick your nose to the neck, and the first thing that hits you is, reassuring, juniper. There is also a prominent citrus note, plus something herbal and mentholly, like wintergreen, a dustiness and even something that reminds me of banana, which I suspect is a slightly over-mellow floral element. You can believe there is tea is there too. It’s a pretty appealing nose, with just a suggestion that it might become cloying.

On the palate the flavour carries on from the nose. It does not strike me as hugely smooth (other gins of the same ABV do manage a smoothness) and there is a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is subtly complex, but not very strongly flavoured compared to many, quickly fading to leave a stemmy, grassy finish and a ghost of Opal Fruit (Starburst to you younger people).

As you can see from the botanicals, there is quite an emphasis on berries, and the dominant character of Ungava is a fruitiness. Add a little water to ease the alcohol burn and a sweetness emerges on the tongue, giving the whole thing a candied tone to match the candy colour.

A Dry Martini made with Belsazar Dry (which is quite dark in itself)
I try making a Martini using Belsazar Dry, and the result is an approachable drink that brings out the fruitiness, making me think of an orange and lemon ice cream. With this in mind I make a Gimlet (gin and lime cordial) and, as you might imagine, the result is harmonious. But when I compare this to a Gimlet made with Gin Mare, a bottle of which happens to be nearby, the latter drink is frankly much more interesting: Gin Mare is pretty wild, but its powerful, pungent, rosemary-led blast certainly holds your attention.

A gin and tonic made with Ungava is the colour of Pinot Grigio and again shows an essentially ginny, but quite restrained, character. Citrus is to the fore, with a dusty herbal layer and a dry, slightly bitter aftertaste. Not unpleasant by any means, but a G&T made with Thomas Dakin gin with the same tonic (Fevertree) in the same proportions has much more punch: a lively but harmonious collection of essentially classic flavours that bursts on your tongue.

Maybe that is just distracting, with the botanical intensity of Gin Mare and Thomas Dakin giving them an unfair advantage in comparison; but as interesting as Ungava is on paper, it is fairly quiet in practice. You can play with the colour (I’ll have to try an Aviation, which logically should end up green), but that’s a bit of a gimmick and Ungava is quite restrained on the tongue.

Having said that, it did grow on me, and I suspect the best way to drink it might be simply on the rocks, puckering your brow over the delicate notes of tea on the nose that subtle grassy aftertaste.

Just nobody mention the deadly yellow snow


I wasn't entirely right about the Aviation—more dark yellow than green…

An Aviation cocktail made with Ungava: yellow sky in the morning, aviator's warning…