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Once relegated to grandma’s dusty drinks cabinet, and originally created to help make the bitter tasting malaria treatment quinine more palatable, gin is experiencing a recent surge in popularity. Besides gin-focused bars, and cocktail menus dedicated to martinis and gin and tonics, the industry has introduced a new variety that’s causing quite a stir—or, you could say, a rosé-fication.
Not to be confused with the gin and Angostura bitters cocktail by the same name, pink gins are made by macerating the neutral distilled spirit with red fruits—raspberries, strawberries, cherries or red currants—botanicals, herbs or spices, and sometimes aromatic bitters.
From blush to millennial pink—aptly named given the age group gravitating toward the drink—the Instagram-pretty tipple sheds the traditional spirit’s dry finish and potent pine flavour and instead offers a subtle jammy profile that’s not overly sweet.
Pinkster, a UK-based pink gin pioneer, launched its eponymous tipple in 2013, followed closely by a version from New York-based winery Wölffer Estate. Calgary’s Eau Claire Distillery makes small-batch pink gin with saskatoon berries and rose hips.
For CEO and master distiller Jean-François Theoret, from Oshlag Brewery & Distillery in Montreal, making pink gin happened by accident in 2016. Theoret was trying to make a spirit using Labrador tea, a wild plant native to Quebec, and added hibiscus to increase the complexity of the smooth triple-distilled product. A trial batch came out clear, but it turned cloudy when produced in larger volumes. Theoret was able to clarify the gin using hibiscus leaves to absorb the impurities, but, in doing so, it turned vibrantly pink.
Playing on its tartness, he added pink grapefruit post-distillation to impart a citrus nose, resulting in the brand’s floral and spicy Hibiscus Gin. Today, production has doubled to capacity, yet the spirit remains largely unknown across Canada.
Elsewhere in the world—including Spain, gin’s biggest supporter—pink gin is making a huge splash. Mike Cruickshank, owner of Xixbar in Barcelona, says pink gin courts new imbibers and those adverse to the classic’s medicinal taste.
“The pink gin phenomenon originates from southern Spain, where they have a sweet tooth,” says Cruickshank. “While the cocktail industry has a love-hate relationship with pink gin—many serious cocktail bars find it too fruity and sweet—[there is no doubt] it has opened up a new category and changed the market.”
Xix’s Fresh and Pink cocktail recipe
1.5 oz. Greenall’s Wild Berry Gin
2 slices ginger, peeled, and 1 slice lemon
Tonic water, to taste
Let gin and ginger sit in a Copa de Balon glass for a minute. Add a twist of lemon. Fill with ice and top with tonic water.
—Courtesy of Mike Cruickshank, Xixbar, Barcelona