We tend to think of gin as being sipped by a Bond-like character in the smoky bar of a London hotel. And yet, through the humid heat of a Tuscan summer, one can make out strong hints of high-quality juniper. Its production suddenly seems to andare di moda (be in fashion). Three local gins paint a picture of this nascent Tuscan gin culture.
Homegrown ingredients and a local distillation come together under the latest arrival, Peter-in-Florence, a gin from a micro-distillery in the beautiful Podere Castellare eco-resort in the hills above Pontassieve. Not even having begun distribution yet, it occupies a special market niche as being the only distillery in all of Italy to exclusively produce gin. Stefano Cicalese, the “master distiller“ in charge of production, talks enthusiastically about the product, made of almost entirely Tuscan botanicals with iris taking centre stage. Cicalese describes how the Peter method brings the distillation vapour into contact with the actual petals of the iris flower, having a unique effect on the end product. The distilling equipment places the botanicals in pyramidal layers in a particular order that strongly enhances the flavour’s delicacy. The Peter experience is not limited to taste: the Podere plans to host distillation sessions where clients can design their own gin in the morning, and take it home in the evening. In the meantime, they will taste the Gin Food from the resort’s restaurant, which infuses Peter’s botanicals into its dishes.
As the first on the scene, the Sabatini family initially launched three years ago, taking inspiration from the quality ingredients grown on their estate in Teccognano in the Cortona area. With as many as nine botanicals, Sabatini Gin sources almost all of its aromatic components on its estate, blending deliciously delicate flavours of olive tree leaves, lemon verbena and wild fennel, among others. It is fundamentally and undeniably Tuscan, deeply rooted in Valdichiana soil, but the actual production and bottling happens in England, under the supervision of gin master Charles Maxwell from Thames Distillers in London. The Sabatinis therefore market themselves along the lines of family, tradition and quality, but are happy to delegate distilling duties to British expertise. “A London Dry Gin with a Tuscan Spirit”. The recipe seems to work: the gin receives excellent reviews and runs exports to Britain and Germany.
Foreign production was something that Fabio Goti, owner of the Opificio Numquam in Prato, with his wife Cristina Pagliai, did not want to entertain. He’d sooner make the gin in a bathtub. And this is indeed the method that the Opificio employs, a process of “cold compounding” that takes roughly 10 days against distillation’s ten hours, mixing a cocktail of eight botanicals with ethanol in large steel tubs. The compound is left to macerate in the tubs, recalling the prohibition-era Moonshine both in method and style; a compounded gin lacks the finesse and elegance of a distilled one, but instead has a flavor that is more raw and pronounced. This lends itself to being drunk on its own as a digestif, rather than simply mixed into the usual Negroni. The Numquam Gin is just the latest of the drinks developed, and has quickly caught wind, performing well in regional competitions. Perhaps the secret is discretion: Goti takes care not to reveal his juniper source, in case people start to copy his recipe in their own bathtubs.
Gin and Tuscany: it’s not an obvious match, but as Stefano Cicalese claims, the region’s juniper is likely the best in the world. With top ingredients, and a few true enthusiasts, we may be witnessing a Tuscan gin revolution yet.