Terroir in Gin! Really?

With so many gins on the market, Mahon Gin's two most important traits make it an easy sell : Grape Alcohol as it's base, and the sea-aired aged juniper berries, both contribute to its unique taste and versatility. So YES terroir can be unique in Gin.

Over the years, I have been in many discussions or should I call them debates about Terroir in wine. Can you taste the flint in a Sancerre wine? How does the red soil (Terra Rossa) of Coonawarra wine region of Australia affect the taste of the Cabernet Sauvignon? But, until the recent popularity of Craft Spirits which focus on the concept of provenance, there were virtually no discussions about Terroir of spirits.

Terroir is often defined as the sense or personality of a place (with all the environmental factors that influence it - soil, water, altitude, sun, wind.) But, it’s also how well one perceives this sense of place through the glass of liquid in front of them!

With wine, it is generally agreed that the less intervention from the winemaker, the more the wine can reflect the terroir. With spirits however, this is more difficult as the base spirit is distilled (and therefore processed) with human intervention (choice of base ingredients, recipe, barrels for ageing and finally blending).

Let’s Start with Gin Basics

The dictionary definition of gin is that of a neutral spirit re-distilled with botanicals, with a predominant juniper flavor. The only thing all gins must have in common is the juniper berry, but there’s no prescribed ratio, and no amount of juniper that is required by law.  Other common gin botanicals include coriander, citrus peels (bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit), angelica root, licorice, orris root, nutmeg, cinnamon and anise, to name a few. Multiple botanicals are generally used and the botanicals’ ratio is a closely guarded recipe.

The neutral spirit must be distilled to a minimum of 96% abv. The raw materials for this 'neutral' spirit can be grain (barley, wheat or maize), fruit (grapes, apples), vegetables (potatoes, beets), molasses, sugar cane or any other material of agricultural origin. The best neutral alcohol has no flavour at all. The detailed processes for the distillation does vary between producers.

This is then redistilled into copper stills with the addition of juniper berries and other botanicals using a steeping method, or, the botanicals are placed in a tray over the spirit and as the steam rises, the flavors are picked up along the way.

So, there are many points at which a gin can pick up “terroir” - through the base spirit, the juniper, the botanicals and even the water and the environment.
GM Adolfo passionately talking about the still

GM Adolfo passionately talking about the still

Me posing as a juniper berry sorter

Me posing as a juniper berry sorter

I think the Spaniards know a thing or two about Gin, maybe more than the British!

Mahón Gin, in addition to having the rare distinction of being one of only two geographically designated gins in the world, truly reflects the identity of Menorca, Spain where it is made.  And the Spaniards should know gin. After all, they are the third largest Gin market in the world (after the Philippines and the USA).

The Terroir

Mahon’s distinctive personality starts with the base spirit - high quality wine using the same grapes found in Cava (Parellada and Xarello) sourced from the Catalunya Region of Spain. The wine alcohol used has no taste of grapes or wine. It therefore absorbs the scent of the wild juniper in a completely different way to grain-based gins, which is one of the keys to Mahón Gin’s unique flavor and aroma.

Next, Mahon uses a traditional one-shot method, the still is heated with firewood from Menorca’s woodlands and seawater is used for coolant, all this taking place in the main harbour front distillery built in 1910.

Uniquely Mahón

Juniper berries are carefully selected from the foothills of the Pyrenees on the Mediterranean Sea, along with the aromatic herbs. The juniper berries are then aged naturally in an open room exposed to the ocean breeze for about 2 years to concentrate their aromatic profile. In addition, the citric acid level increases contributing to the citrus notes, and the exposure to salt air results in a salinity profile, all contributing to the sense of terroir.

The aged berries are sorted (by hand) and placed in a copper basket in the still’s neck with the local aromatic herbs of lemon peel, coriander and angelica root. As the vapours pass through the basket, the liquid gets more infused with the aromas and taste of the botanicals.

Finally, production is completed in small batches using the 200 year old copper still.

The Result?

A distinctive gin. One heady whiff of the wonderful juniper notes transports you to the Mediterranean sea, sunshine and warm breezes.  The palate is thick, warm and luscious with juniper, lemon zest and orange notes, evoking vivid pictures of sun-drenched patios, mediterranean flowers and blue skies. A long peppery finish leaves you wanting more.

This gin truly transports you to paradise. For an authentic Spanish experience, try it the traditional way enjoyed in Menorca: mix 2:1 ratio with bitter lemonade, called a Pomada.

Being an avid Gin drinker, this is one of my favourites! Smooth, versatile and incredibly delicious. Enjoy and get transported to the Mediterranean!

Jane Campbell

  • -- The Passionate Sommelier of Wines & Spirits for the everyday drinker
Jane Campbellgin, Mahon