Strathcona Spirits’ gin is Alberta grown and a step in a delicious direction
What makes a good gin? Is it the quality of the aromatic ingredients that lend the spirit its essence? The skill of the gin-maker who guides the distillation process? The friends you raise your glass with, and the experience of imbibing a well-made drink in good company?
To point, the answer is all of the above. Strathcona Spirits founder and distiller, Adam Smith (no relation to the capitalist guy), believes that his products are a true expression of the place in which they are made. You might call it “terroir for gin,” to borrow the term normally reserved for a wine’s expression of place. In wine, grapes absorb flavours from the soil in which they grow, the microclimates that surround them, the quality of sunshine and rain that falls on them. Gin is not so different. The source of the juniper and other botanicals, for instance, has a huge impact on the aromatics and flavour of the final product.
If you’ve ever wondered how gin is made, Adam Smith is the man to talk to. He knows first-hand, having founded Edmonton’s first distillery. The unassuming workspace is a mere 740 square feet, nestled in the Strathcona area, a block off Whyte Avenue. Strathcona Spirits has had its license since 2013, but it took close to three years to transform the former live music venue (many of you may fondly remember the Baby Seal Club) into a distillery in 2016. Due to bylaw restrictions, which have now been modernized, they were only allowed to open their doors to the public for tours and tastings in 2017. Strathcona Spirits offers tours of the distillery for $10, and you can visit their website for more information.
One might wonder how Edmonton survived without its own legitimate, working distillery until 2016. It wasn’t due to lack of desire, on Smith’s part especially, but due to provincial regulations that legislated a minimum distillation amount that was far above what a small batch spirits business could typically produce. This effectively blocked craft distilleries from ever getting off the ground.
After the change in legislation that allowed businesses like Smith’s to begin operating, Alberta’s would-be small batch distillers could now cut their heads and tails. Not only were they now allowed to legally operate a business producing craft spirits, they discovered that the market was thirsty for them.
The labels on Strathcona Spirits’ bottles are as unique as the juice itself. To the uninitiated, the labels might look bizarre, even a little spooky.
Their Single Grain Wheat Vodka label depicts an open-palmed hand, with symbols at the crest of each finger representing key components of the distilling process. The label for the Badland Seaberry Gin features an adorable, yet mysterious coyote, chilling in front of some hoodoos, (y’know, like mysterious coyotes do).
The line-drawing effect is reminiscent of the illustrations on a classic deck of tarot cards. Smith can read your future, and it probably involves a martini.
The Badland Seaberry Gin is made with wild-harvested sea buckthorn berries rogue-plucked from the backyards of the Edmonton area, and juniper that Smith picked himself from the Alberta Badlands on the bank of the Red Deer River. (Well, Smith or one of his team members.) You can’t get more Edmonton Adam Smith than the taste of locally-grown juniper. Smith describes foraged juniper as more pungent and spicy than cultivated varieties, and the Badland Seaberry Gin is indeed full flavoured, with a creamy mouthfeel and a balanced palette of botanical flavours expressed in the spirit.
The gin is distilled from Hard Red Wheat, again locally sourced from a mere 23 kilometres outside of Edmonton, the resulting flavour speaks volumes about its place of origin.
Wheat farming has shaped our very culture, and a spirit distilled from local wheat embodies our connection to the land, both past and present. In combination with bitter orange sourced from Haiti and sweet orange from California (a little less local, but nonetheless, decidedly delicious), the combo creates a complex tone with a citrus tang. Sea buckthorn berry, angelica root, coriander, and other classic botanicals round out the flavour and deliver a truly complex and exhilarating gin.