You might have heard about genever, and how gin making started in Holland. But in fact, gin production can be traced back to 11th-century Italy, with many believing it was the Benedictine monks who first began distilling juniper spirits in a monastery in beautiful Salerno. The monks combined the base spirit with herbs, spices, flowers and berries. As juniper grows all over Italy, it was an easy botanical to use, especially when it has various medicinal qualities.
So, not only should we thank Italians for some tasty cocktails (Negroni, Aperol Spritz…), we should raise a glass to thank them for all the gin!
As you might imagine, Italy has an abundance of natural botanicals and fresh local ingredients, whether it’s delicious lemons from the Amalfi coast and other southern parts, oranges from Sicily or juniper and orris from Tuscany.
You can also find many herbs growing around the country, such as mint (mainly in the south), basil, bay leaves, sage (popular in Tuscany and the north), thyme, rosemary, marjoram (used widely in the Riviera), oregano and more. Other botanicals include lavender, liquorice, coriander, nutmeg, saffron… just to name a few. Italy isn’t known as the ‘Garden of Europe’ for nothing!
To the Mountains…
It’s no surprise that this history, coupled with the availability of fresh, natural ingredients, makes Italian gins so enjoyable. But it’s when they are combined with the refreshing mountain-spring waters, lakes and a wide range of botanicals from the north of Italy that some exceptional gins are produced.
Malfy Gin Originale is from the beautiful Turin area. The water for Malfy Gin Originale comes from the lakes on the magnificent Monviso Mountain range close to the border with France.
Vergin Gin from Alpines is made using various flowers, juniper and other herbs from the Italian Alps.
Dol Gin is distilled using only botanicals found on the Dolomites, with lemon zest from Lake Garda. Their wonderful botanicals include wild anise, elderflower, angelica root, caraway and rose hips.
Origin Gin is a single-botanical gin, obviously that botanical being juniper, which comes from the Province of Arezzo in Tuscany.
How to drink it
Personally, I haven’t seen many balloon glasses used for G&Ts in Italy, but the glass shape varies between venues. Since Italy is blessed with herbs and other botanicals, I always recommend using these to garnish your G&T.
With more citrusy gins (such as Malfy Gin Con Limone) I would recommend skipping the lemon garnish and using a sprig of rosemary or thyme to bring out the herbal notes. Try Malfy Gin Originale with Indian Tonic Water and a slice of Italian blood orange to enhance the subtle citrus notes. Both Malfy Gins also work well with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water
For delicate and floral gins I recommend using a mint or cucumber garnish, or if you wish to bring out the juniper flavour in the lighter gins, garnish with juniper berries. Don’t be shy about playing around with flavoured tonics. Fever-Tree Elderflower tonic, for example, makes a great addition to floral gins.
In Italy an aperitivo is a popular way to catch up with friends and enjoy a pre-dinner drink. Aperitivo includes a range of snacks, often from the buffet, and a drink. As you can probably imagine, most Italians are drinking Negronis, but have you heard about Cardinale? Mix equal measures of Malfy Gin Originale, Campari and dry vermouth, stir with ice and strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. I have to admit it can be like Marmite, you either love it or hate it, but it is worth a try. Basically, Cardinale is a more bitter version of a Negroni… Do you think you could handle it?
What is your favourite Italian gin? Do you experiment with different garnishes and tonic waters?
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Biggar & Leith, but, as always, all opinions are my own.