You may have heard the tales of “genever”, Holland and Britain playing a part in the early days of gin. But that was as a beverage. Industry expert Elwyn Gladstone says that juniper-based medicinal spirits were crafted by Italian monks going back to 1050. 1050! This was well before the Norman Invasion. In 1050, English was abandoning the use of runes. King Macbeth (yeah, that guy) of Scotland made a pilgrimage to Rome. The Jewish Talmud was codified that year in Spain. Moveable type was a new thing taking hold in China. The European crossbow was invented in France.
Today, in Moncalieri — up in the Alpine/Turin region of Italy — the Vergnano family has been distilling since 1906. I just love family businesses, don’t you? They create Malfy Gin, which I was happy to be hosted to experience.
When people speak of a “taste of place”, it’s very entrenched in Malfy: they use locally grown botanicals, like juniper, angelica, coriander and cassia bark. Cassia bark isn’t “true” cinnamon, but rather, it’s that spicy/red hots candy flavor that Americans prefer! They’re distilled into the pristine waters of Mt. Monviso, visible from the distillery.
My friend Judy has Italians in her family and I have traveled there, so we compared our tasting insights.
The Originale variety has juniper, but not in the same proportion that British gin has. It’s much more balanced! We were both surprised that it has complex and wonderful flavors all on its own. It has a citrus nose, not a sharp alcohol burn. It’s clean. Of course, it will be great in all of your cocktails, but try it chilled and neat. We thought it a lovely spirit all on its own. I definitely noticed that cassia spice element, as well as fresh botanicals.
Con Limone incorporates lemons from the Amalfi coast and also, some from Sicily. They speak of an anise note. We experienced it as lemon peel/bitter note and a more alcohol presence. This would be a perfect digestif, either neat or with tonic. You could double the lemon bite quotient mixing it with Bitter Lemon soda.
Gin Rosa (pink gin) has Sicilian pink grapefruit and Italian Rhubarb, along with the botanicals. We thought it delightful! It’s got a big grapefruit nose. A few weeks ago, I ordered a special box of several heirloom grapefruits. This gin reminded me of the fruit and peel of the deep red ones I was eating. It has some sweetness, tastes like fresh fruit and botanicals. This would be genius in a Grayhound or Salty Dog cocktail! Get those salt rims on.
Con Arancia has juniper, Sicilian Blood Oranges and 6 botanicals. I always laugh when I taste Blood Oranges, because they’re kind of an anomaly. They have a deep red flesh from cool nightly temperatures, but they’re actually less sweet than orange colored oranges. It’s like a trick on your tongue! This variety has a sweet nose: tangerine with honey, very mellow. The taste is that sharp Blood Orange. This also would work well as an aperitif, a digestif or a base for a fresh cocktail that isn’t sugary.