Mill Street distiller sets herself apart with must-have gin release


Toronto’s latest gin mill has a few things that set it apart.

First, it’s housed in a brewery: the Distillery District’s Mill Street, which invested in a small still a few years ago, for making beer schnapps. Second, it produces a distinctively light and super-smooth gin that’s inspired by the flavours found in craft beer. Finally, it’s run by a woman, Martha Lowry, one of only a handful of female distillers in Canada.

Not that Lowry’s gender has any impact on the flavour of gin, obviously, but it’s a detail sure to make this release even more of a must-have amongst spirits enthusiasts. The first batch of 619 bottles sold out quickly and the second batch, available at Mill Street ($49.94, available in the facility’s bottle shop), is sure to fly off the shelves, too. Especially since the signature botanical “hero” of Lowry’s gin is usually associated with beer — namely, citra hops — meaning beer lovers are probably going to want to get a taste, too.

“Since I love beer, I knew I wanted hops to be in this gin, so I trialled 16 different hop varieties before I decided on the citra,” she explains. “When you distil them, though, you lose a lot of that bitterness and it ends up being a lot more perfumy. It’s quite a different flavour, actually.”

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Citra plays an important role in IPAs, which Lowry knows from her work on the brewery side of the operations. That began nearly three years ago, when she met Mill Street brewer Kaitlin Vandenbosch at a networking event for women in the beverage industry. At the time, Vandenbosch was also in charge of the brewery’s small distillation program, which was mostly dedicated to schnapps and a little bit of whisky, the first of which will be released this fall. Vandenbosch trained Lowry on the still until she was ready to take over Mill Street’s entire distillation program, including the schnapps, whisky and now gin — which just happens to be Lowry’s favourite spirit. And she had some pretty clear ideas about what she wanted from her first batch of gin.

“I tend to drink my gin straight, so I wanted to make sure it was really smooth, so it would make a great sipping gin,” Lowry says. “But I also knew that most Canadians drank it with tonic so I wanted to make sure it tasted good that way, too.”

Although she has no problem with tonic, Lowry advises drinking her gin in a very dry martini, stirred over ice with a small splash of light vermouth and garnished with a lemon twist.

That’s good advice, since the botanicals in this slightly oily gin are subtle. The spicy juniper you might expect to taste, for example, is almost non-existent after it’s been chilled and diluted in the martini-making process. The citrusy flavours of the hops would be lost in a wet martini.

Gin in every direction

The draw of the local gins is in this wide range of flavour profiles — it’s fascinating to see each distiller’s interpretation of “gin,” which can range from a spirit with a classic, understated balance of subtle botanicals to a potent, in-your-face wallop of a single signature botanical. We’re spoiled for choice now, with gins coming, not only from Mill Street, but also down the street at Spirit of York and, a little further afield, from all sides — North, East, South and West of the GTA.

Here are four relatively new 100-mile gins, each with unique characteristics, to pick up and compare:

North: Award-winning Georgian Bay gin ($39.95; 448597) is made with the country’s best water and botanicals sourced from around the world, as well as a little bit of wild juniper foraged in Muskoka. It’s light, citrusy and smooth and is probably even better-known for being the base spirit in the super-popular Georgian Bay Gin Smash.

Better known for being the base spirit for the ever-popular Georgian Bay Gin Smash, the award-winning Georgian Bay gin is good in a martini, too.
Better known for being the base spirit for the ever-popular Georgian Bay Gin Smash, the award-winning Georgian Bay gin is good in a martini, too.

East: There’s a lot of buzz about Bloomfield’s Kinsip House of Fine Spirits, some of which has been generated by a smart marketing move on their part — you can join their Kinsip’er Club and have a box of spirits and cocktail ingredients delivered to your door twice a year. The Spring 2017 box included the earthy and aromatic Juniper’s Wit gin ($39.95; 513390), as well as lemon-lavender cordial, hibiscus bitters and a recipe. Membership, it seems, has its privileges.

Join the Kinsip'er Club and get cocktail ingredients such as Juniper's Wit Gin delivered to your door.
Join the Kinsip’er Club and get cocktail ingredients such as Juniper’s Wit Gin delivered to your door.

South: Located in Grimsby, Dillon’s Distills is one of the original small craft spirits makers in Ontario and, with five years of distilling under its belt, it’s come up with several different gins to choose from, including its fruit-infused versions — strawberry, cherry and rose — as well as the original Unfiltered Gin 22, with its 22 botanicals. For our money, though, its Dry Gin 7 ($40.20; 413104) is one of the best things made there and probably one of the best London Dry style gins made in Canada, period.

Dillon's Dry Gin 7 is a great example of a London Dry gin, made close to the GTA in Grimsby.
Dillon’s Dry Gin 7 is a great example of a London Dry gin, made close to the GTA in Grimsby.  (Brad Moore/Giant Shoe Creative)  

West: Junction 56 is a welcome addition to the growing food and drink scene in Stratford, where the many farm-to-table restaurants are happy to have a local option for their craft cocktail programs. Available at the LCBO, Junction 56 ($34.95; 449181) is strong, spicy and has a bold juniper flavour, perfect for tall gin cocktails and, of course, the classic G&T.

Junction 56 is strong, spicy and has a bold juniper flavour, perfect for tall gin cocktails.
Junction 56 is strong, spicy and has a bold juniper flavour, perfect for tall gin cocktails.



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