Ungava gin’s soaked with Nunavik’s Arctic plants
“Inside every glass of this gin there breathes a little of the Ungava peninsula”
COWANSVILLE, Que. — A little taste of Nunavik can be found on the shelves of liquor stores in Quebec, Alberta and B.C. as well as at bars and other outlets around the world.
The Quebec-produced Ungava gin, which displays the name Ungava in syllabics on its labels and bottles, is flavoured with the essences of Arctic plants, Labrador tea, crowberry, wild rose hips, Nordic juniper and cloudberries, collected and dried in Nunavik in late August.
The result: a 100-per cent “natural” gin with a yellow, “distinctive sunny hue,” according to promotional materials.
To the taste, served ice-cold and straight, Ungava gin is smoother than gin based on southern-grown juniper berries, and, “reminds us of the ethereal brushstrokes of the northern lights that dance across the northern skies.”
“Inside every glass of this gin there breathes a little of the Ungava peninsula,” Ungava’s website says.
Ungava is also a prize-winning gin which in 2012 received two “Excellent” scores from the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge in New York City. In 2013, Ungava picked up a silver medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and a “Best in Show” award at the World Spirits Competition held in Austria.
At that competition, a judge said Ungava’s “unusual colour that helps grab your senses.”
The growing number of awards for Ungava make Charles Crawford, the president of Domaine Pinnacle, the southern Quebec company that produces the gin, proud of his product.
That’s because competition is stiff at these global competitions and the judges demanding, he said.
Although Ungava is distilled and bottled in Cowansville, a town about an hour southeast of Montreal, Domaine Pinnacle’s home base is located outside the village of Frelighsburg on an apple-tree covered hillside overlooking the Pinnacle mountain, Vermont and the United States border.
This where Crawford and his family moved in 2000 to produce cider and ice cider — alcoholic beverages made from apples.
The Crawford home, built in 1859, includes a specially-constructed octagonal turret, which was built to help abolitionists bring slaves into Canada — and later during the prohibition era in the U.S., smugglers used the turret to keep an eye out for police.
Now Domaine Pinnacle offers to its showroom tastings of its many ciders along with a display on its products — although Ungava gin can’t be served due to Quebec’s liquor laws.
The idea of adding a Quebec-made gin to Domaine Pinnacle’s growing list of products, which include liqueurs made from maple syrup, came when Crawford was seeking another Quebec product to manufacture.
There aren’t many authentically Quebec spirits produced in the province, he said.
And, while Crawford said he’s realized alcohol is a touchy issue in the North, Domaine Pinnacle makes an effort to ensure Ungava’s marketing materials promote the region.
Many of the texts could be lifted out of tourist brochures: “Ungava is a place of indescribable beauty whose splendour is heightened by the celestial light show of the aurora borealis and the immensity of its landscapes.”
The website also includes videos showing Nunavik and the Ungava region.
“I’m always surprised that people don’t know where Ungava is,” said Crawford who hasn’t yet been north himself.
Promotional materials also mention Inuktitut (with syllabics prominently portrayed around the gin bottle and on the website) and Inuit.
Crawford makes the gin in a small distillery where you can also see bags of dried plants from Nunavik.
From start to finish, it takes about a month to make a batch of gin — which comes out of the distillery at 72-per cent alcohol and then gets diluted to 43.1 per cent.
Along the way, Nunavik plants are added, at the beginning of the process, and, again, towards the end.
Introduced three years ago, Ungava gin, which Crawford says is now “leading premium gin in Quebec,” and building an international demand — in places such as Iceland where Crawford attended a launch for the gin — and in Japan.