June 8, 2023 — The modestly named World Gin Day has been celebrated on the second Saturday of June every year since 2009. This year it falls on June 10. The date changes every year but it is always on Saturday, which was thoughtful of the original organizers so you can recover on Sunday. It started in Birmingham, UK but moved to London the following year. Last year it was celebrated in 30 countries reaching over 200 million on social media channels.
A Quick Look at the History of Gin
Contrary to popular perception, gin was not a British creation. As far back as the Middle Ages in Europe, juniper berries were made into a medicinal potion to cure what ailed you, from fever to plague. Eventually in the 16th century, a Dutch doctor Franciscus Sylvius de la Boe made a schnapps distilled with juniper berries which was consumed for medical purposes. “Genever” the Dutch word for juniper devolved into “Gin” in England.
The main driver for gin’s incredible popularity in England was taxation. Funny how that happens. For some reason, everyone was allowed to make their own gin providing a way to avoid highly taxed alcohol both imported and domestic. As the industrial revolution boomed in the 18th century, life became increasingly unbearable in the large, crowded cities and gin consumption increased exponentially leading to even more poverty, degradation and suffering. Eventually, a series of laws known as the Gin Acts got the mess straightened out and gin shed its reputation for being very cheap and very nasty as quality and price increased.
Fast forward to 2023, quality and prices are still increasing! Gin production and sales are increasing both in the U.S. and Europe. Like other spirits, consumers are drawn to premium gins using diversified and innovative botanicals with varying degrees of juniper concentration.
Las Californias – Mexican/Californian Gins
Las Californias takes its name from the botanicals foraged along the coast of Baja California and Alta California meaning it is on both sides of the border. It is actually distilled in Mexico and imported into the U.S. There are two styles Nativo and Citrico.
The juniper used in both gins grows between Hollywood and the Ojos Negros Valley. It is a small area that extends into Mexico as far as 38 km east of Ensenada. The juniper is described as softer and slightly sweeter than common juniper
Tasting and smelling Nativo was an interesting experience. For me, Nativo falls into the London Dry style that I like a lot, with some interesting features that make sipping it a very delightful experience. I don’t recall ever tasting a gin with kelp in it. This kelp comes from the cold ocean waters off the coast of Northern California. No fishy taste but the savory umami gives the gin a rounded, earthy flavor, which is very pleasant. As the nose opened up, I was suddenly transported back to the hops growing region of Oregon many years ago. It was the same piney smell and it turns out Nativo ‘s botanicals include California hops. I hadn’t thought about Oregon hops in years. Other botanicals include white sage, Californian artemisia, yerba santa and damiana, each contributing a dimension to the overall excellent product, perfect for sipping over ice or in a cocktail.
As the name implies, Citrico has a citrus fruit flavor but there are other botanicals that are quite amazing creating a delicious, slightly sweet, smooth, perfect-for-hot-weather gin. These additions originated all over the globe coming together to create a gin that greater than the sum of its parts. Fig, apricot, citrus leaves & peels, lemongrass, almond, grape vines & leaves, California juniper. I thought I’d work my way through the list starting with figs, one of my favorite fruits, but I just couldn’t taste any figs. Same thing with apricots. Well, almonds for sure. Nope. There’s definitely a hint of citrus but I couldn’t say which citrus. So I decided to give up. This gin is so perfectly balanced and delicious, just relax and enjoy it!
Both Las Californias are definitely on my list of “go to” gins. If you’re not a big fan of juniper, try Citrico. Both will make great cocktails but my preference for that goes to Nativo. Since I like juniper, it’s also a great sipping gin. The package is very attractive although I’d like to see a sturdier stopper. I have a feeling the simple cork might break. Both Citrico and Nativo have an SRP of $29.99. Check out their cocktail recipes here.