Chile, known for its wines and piscos, turns to gin | ET REALITY


Last Hope Distillery is one of the only real cocktail bars in Puerto Natales, a horseshoe-shaped town surrounding a windy cove in Chilean Patagonia. To enter, visitors buzz speakeasy-style, then hang up their coats and settle into the bar. A waiter leaves a glass.

“Hello,” says the server. “Have you ever tried gin?”

The question may surprise international visitors, most of whom, familiar with the juniper-flavored liquor, have come on excursions to nearby National Park Torres del Paine. But gin is new to some Chileans, so Last hopeServers don’t make assumptions.

The approach came out of necessity, said Kiera Shiels, who moved to Chile from Australia with her partner, Matt Oberg, and opened the bar. Guests showed up not knowing what to expect. “They hadn’t had gin,” Shiels said. “They had barely had any cocktails.”

Última Esperanza, which began selling gin in 2017, was one of the first gin distilleries in Chile. But in recent years, the country’s gin industry has exploded. From Última Esperanza (in the south) to Native Gin (in the north), there are currently around 100 brands of gin across the country. And many are gaining international recognition.

Last year, a gin made by elemental gindistilled on the outskirts of Santiago, received a gold medal in it SIP awardsan international spirits competition judged by consumers, among others. Geneva Provincemade in the wine-growing area of ​​Chile, obtained the second highest score at the London Spirits Competition, just one of its honours. AND Tepaluma Ginin the highlands and rainforests of Patagonia, won a gold in the International Wine and Spirits Competition, one of several awards.

“You’ll see a lot more coming from Chile,” said Andrea Zavala Peña, who founded Tepaluma Gin, one of Chile’s first distilleries, with her husband, Mark Abernethy, in 2017.

“Whether the world knows it or not,” he said, “here we go.”

Fifty years after a coup d’état established a brutal 17-year dictatorship, and just four years after an outbreak of mass protests, Chile continues to struggle with deep social divisions. But the country is also working hard to rebuild its international reputation.

Chile, long known for its wine, is now an established destination for adventurous travelers after expanding its natural parks and attracting more visitors to Patagonia. Chilean gin, its creators say, can act as a bridge between these two marketing arguments, capitalizing on Chile’s reputation for producing distinctive alcohol and effectively bottling its wild nature.

“We have one of the last wild areas in the world,” explained Zavala Peña. “And the wild has a particular flavor.”

Crowned by the Atacama Desert, shoehorned by Patagonia and wedged between the Andes and the Pacific, Chile does not lack natural diversity. The country’s gin distillers aren’t just interested in making the best London Dry, said Teresa Undurraga, director of the Chilean Gin Association. Instead, they are also trying to make gins that taste like Chile.

“That’s why we use native herbs,” said Ms. Undurraga, founder of the distillery. Quintal Distillates. “We want to spread our flavors.”

Gin is an ideal base; The neutral juniper-based alcohol takes on the flavors of the added ingredients. Chile’s distillers hope that the herbs and berries they infuse can serve as a passport: an invitation to visit, taste and see. In fact, many Chilean distillers import alcohol. It’s easier and cheaper. The accessories, they say, are what counts.

“It’s like a painting,” said Gustavo Carvallo, co-founder of Geneva Province, contemplating the famous Colchagua Valley, which surrounds its distillery. Corn alcohol, which he imports from the United States, serves as his canvas. “All botanicals are colors.”

Chile’s booming gin industry reaches what it could be The end of a global renaissancesometimes called the “Generation” which began in Britain more than a decade ago, partly under the influence of the American craft distilling movement.

The spirit was once considered to be a relic of the colonial British trying to dodge malaria. But international experiments have aired its reputation. There are distillers in Spain, India, South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Vietnam, among many other countries. And now gin is considered sophisticated, even mundane. The ancient quinine hunter has been revitalized by his new cosmopolitan devotees.

Like many alcohols, gin can “capture a sense of place,” said David T. Smith, president of the Geneva World Awards and author of several books on gin, including “The Gin Dictionary.” But it is often easier (and cheaper) to produce gin than many other spirits, Smith said, which partly explains why the industry in Chile grew so quickly.

Jorge Sepúlveda, who created the recipe for elemental ginwhich I also win gold At this year’s London Spirits Competition, he learned the basics on YouTube in just a few hours, he said. He started in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic after being encouraged by a friend, Ariel Jeria, who works in advertising and noticed the growing interest in Chilean gin.

Sepúlveda was already a talented cook, he suggested. Why don’t you try the gin?

But Sepúlveda had barely tried gin before. So, while he was locked up, he began experimenting in a small countertop still. “I studied for two days,” Sepúlveda said, standing near the still of his distillery. “I said, ‘Okay, I can do it.’”

The first tests, he admits, were not perfect. So Sepúlveda reevaluated and opted for a method that uses the Fibonacci sequence to determine the proportions of his ingredients.

“That’s God’s number,” said Sepúlveda, a geophysicist who has since made other gin recipes using a similar philosophy. “Nature is physical. So it has to work.”

Chilean gin faces tough competition from the country’s three most beloved alcohols: pisco, whiskey and wine. But gin production has practical advantages.

The first is accessibility. Pisco comes from specific regions of Chile and Peru. (In that sense, it’s a bit like champagne or parmesan.) Not gin. It is an alcohol found everywhere, making it an everywhere alcohol. Anyone can do it.

“The gin recipe is infinitely adaptable, so you can do whatever you want,” said Henry Jeffreys, a Briton. drinks writer.

The second is time. Whiskey, considered by many Chileans to be the highest quality alcohol, takes years to mature in barrels. But the gin can be ready days after it is made.

Visitors to Last Hope Distillery, for example, can sip Last Hope gin cocktails while leaning over oak barrels to smell the first batch of Last Hope whiskey, which is years away from hitting the market.

The third is the lack of pretension. Wine, like whiskey, demands refinement. Only a well-educated drinker can discover the differences in origin with a single sip. The same is not true with gin. Botanicals are hi-hats, neon, easy to recognize and understand. Even the most uneducated journalist, sipping a gin and tonic after a multi-day backpacking trip in Patagonia, can sample the different flavors, many of which come from ingredients that were grown near the distillers’ homes.

Carvallo, from Provincia, harvests boldo from a bush a few steps from the distillery. (Chileans use tea made from boldo leaves as a folk medicine to relieve a variety of ailments, including stomach pains.)

“This is what moves us,” he said, rubbing a leaf between his fingers. “We are trying to show what Chile has in botany and its culture.”

In the heart of Santiago, Eduardo Labra Barriga is trying to make a gin that tastes like the city itself: “A gin from Santiago,” he said. “An urban gin.” he called him little bird, named after a little bird that flies everywhere in the city. And it relies heavily on lavender, rosemary, pink pepper and lemon verbena leaves, which grow on bushes throughout the capital. He and his wife have created a trading program: neighbors exchange blades for a cheaper refill.

Elsewhere in the capital, craft gins are still starting to take over in popular bars. Even among the city’s social elite, many prefer to stay with the familiarity of a high-end pisco or an imported whiskey.

As a result, some distilleries are hiring representatives to help promote their products.

Camila Aguirre Aburto works as a brand ambassador for Gin Provincia. Before designing a custom cocktail for a bar, Aguirre begins with a lesson; She knows that for Chilean gins to be successful, bartenders must teach people about the gin’s terroir.

First, he shares samples of dried juniper to explain the base flavors of the gin. It then shows off the botanical ingredients, such as boldo, that give the gin its flavour. Only then does he allow his customers to taste the liquor.

“Close your eyes, smell the gin,” says Aguirre, who learned English by watching the “Scream” movies and talking with friends. “Feel the forest after the rain.”

At first the invitation seems like a provocation. But then, perhaps, is that a lush valley on the palate? Or, perhaps, in the tickle of a nose, the winds of Patagonia? Is that Chile on the tip of your tongue?

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