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Ungava Gin

Review: Ungava Gin (43.1 % ABV)  87/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on April 16, 2013

Ungava Gin is a product of Domaine Pinnacle a family owned orchard and cidery located on a beautiful heritage property near the historic village of Frelighsburg in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Although primarily known for their Ice Cider and Maple Creams, Domaine Pinnacle also produces a very unusual Gin called Ungava.

In case you do not know, the Ungava Peninsula sits at the northern extreme of Quebec, between Labrador and the Hudson Bay. This is at first glance, a barren uncompromising land situated atop the tundra of the North Canadian shield. There are no trees to be found, and Tundra stretches (seemingly) endlessly from Ungava Bay in the east all the way to Hudson Bay in the West. To the North are the cold waters of the Hudson Strait which separates the Ungava Peninsula from Baffin Island to the North. This is (again at first glance) not the ideal place from which to begin the idea of creating a new gin.

However, if one looks a little closer (although, of course, you must look in the summertime), and if one talks to the Inuktitut people who have lived in the region for centuries, one will discover that there are a variety of botanical plants growing in the tundra right before your eyes. Six of these unique arctic botanicals (which grow wild in the region) are used in the construct of the Gin that bears this regions name. These botanicals, Nordic Juniper, Crowberry, Labrador Tea, Cloudberry, Arctic Blend, and Wild Rose Hips are hand-picked in the summertime and serve to bring a unique Northern Canadian charm to the Ungava Gin. (Note: I could find no information regarding other more typical botanicals in the Ungava Gin’s construct; however, a careful reading of the website information does not rule this out. I believe it is likely that there is more to the Ungava gin than just northern botanicals. Unfortunately my website inquiry to Domaine Pinnacle could not confirm or deny my supposition.)

I was provided a sample bottle of Ungava Gin by Crush Imports, who are responsible for its importation here in Alberta.

SAM_1084In the Bottle 4.5/5

The Ungava Gin arrives in the squat rectangular pot shaped bottle shown to the left. I like what I see especially the unique label which displays the syllabic characters of the Inuktitut people who live in the Ungava region. I believe what is written on the label is the Inuktituk version of the name “Ungava” which translates to English as “towards open water”. This is a reference to the region at the mouth of the Arnaud River which flows into Ungava Bay in Northern Quebec. More of the Inuktituk syllabics surround the label adding to the Northern character of the bottle presentation.

The bottle itself is clear showcasing the brilliant yellow colour of the spirit. According to the website information this colour is at least in part natural, resulting from the process of steeping the botanicals to draw out their flavour.  The presentation is topped by a plastic screw cap closure. The closure was the only deterrent I could find in the presentation as only two threads sealed the bottle and the topper was rather flimsy. (Plastic closures however, are much better than pressed on metal caps for sealing spirits.)

In the Glass 8.5/10

The Ungava Gin, as you can see, is a brilliant yellow colour. As I indicated earlier, I do not now whether this colour is 100 % natural (emailing the producer netted no response on this subject either). However, I find the distinctive colour adds to the overall intrigue of spirit.

When I tilt my glass and give it a twirl, I see the liquid leaves a bit of a sheen on the inside of my glass and then drops a multitude of small leglets back down into the gin. The initial breezes above the glass display a nice triumvirate of juniper, lemon citrus and floral scents which seem to be integrated well with each other. As I let the scents and smells drift in the air, it seems to me that the juniper is taking the lead role in that triumvirate. The citrus smells seem to contain elements both of lemon and grapefruit zest with a touch of orange Curacao riding along in between. A bit of heat has built up in the breezes, reminding me of ginger and coriander, and the floral smells have settled into the shape of blue iris and violets. Overall the Ungava appears to be a moderately complex gin with the nose reflecting a nice balance of ingredients along with perhaps a touch of pleasant sweetness.

In the Mouth 52/60

When I take a cautious sip, the flavour of lightly bitter juniper takes the lead followed very quickly with a firm heat which seems to be contain both a pungent spicy (coriander and ginger) component, and a zesty citrus component (lemon and grapefruit peel). A touch of red berries (crowberry or cloudberry perhaps) lie within the flavour complex as does a very noticeable earthiness (reminiscent of angelica root).

The flavour of the Ungava Gin represents a nice melding of piny bitterness and herbaceous spiciness with lemon citrus. The floral elements within serve more as an accent than as a main attraction. I found myself drawn to the complex flavour profile which was moderately aggressive and perhaps much more traditional than I expected. The northern botanicals either mirror traditional botanicals very well, or they are used in a judicious manner in combination with more traditional botanicals.

I mixed a few gin cocktails and was very pleased with the result. The aggressive juniper and the forward spiciness of the gin pushes through the mixed drinks adding welcome character to the cocktail experience (see one of my recipes below).

In the Throat 13/15

The finish features the bitterness of juniper accompanied by a firm punch of ginger and cardamom spice. There appears to be just enough floral and citrus sweetness along for the ride to bridge the gap making the ending enjoyable. The strong push juniper and spice bodes well for cocktails.

The Afterburn 9/10

It is very nice to find such a wonderful gin made right here in Canada. The bitter push of juniper and the firm pungent spiciness the Ungava Gin brings across the palate help to bring welcome character to the cocktail experience. Although I could not get to the bottom of the brilliant yellow colour, nor the complete make up of the botanicals, I am not hesitant about recommending the Ungava Gin as an excellent spirit for spring cocktails.

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

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Suggested Recipes:

North of the Ungava Peninsula within the body of water known as the Hudson Strait is an arctic island which was named Nottingham Island by English explorer Henry Hudson in the 1600s. The island has been used historically for hunting and fishing by the surrounding Inuit communities, and it is known to harbour a large number of walrus during the summer months. The island and its summer inhabitants serve as the inspiration for the name of my cocktail.

Nottingham Walrus.SAM_1086Nottingham Walrus

2 oz Ungava Canadian Premium Gin
1 oz Orange Juice
1/2 oz Lemon juice
3/8 oz sugar syrup
ice
Cucumber

Peel and Slice a 4 to 5 inch length of cucumber lengthwise
Add one length of cucumber and a few ice-cubes to a suitable rocks glass
Shake the gin, juice and the sugar syrup over ice in a metal shaker
Strain into the rocks glass over the ice and cucumber
Stir once or twice with the cucumber and serve

Please Indulge in my cocktail suggestions responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!

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My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

9 Responses to “Ungava Gin”

  1. Omineca Greg! said

    Thanks for answering Stilldaddy’s question, I wondered the same thing.

    I’m not much of a gin drinker myself, but I bought a bottle of Ungava for my wife as a gift. We’ve made two trips to the Arctic, and have many happy memories of our times spent there. Everyone owes it to themselves make the trip if they can possibly manage it, it’s like being on a different planet, or in distant epoch. Especially if you’re Canadian…it’s part of our heritage, and I can’t help but feel happy and blessed that we have this unique landscape and culture as part of our nation.

    After I saw your review, I did a little head to head tasting with the Ungava, and my wife’s usual tipple, No. 3 London Dry. Like you, I was interested in trying a New World gin with ingredients native and exclusive to the Canadian North. To be honest, although I could tell them apart, I didn’t really have a strong preference for either gin. The biggest two differences were the mouth feel (the Ungava was creamier, I’m guessing because of the lower ABV) and the nature of the citrus components (hard to put my finger on it, but although both had a complex of citrus tastes, the Ungava was coming from the lemon/lime side and the No. 3 from the grapefruit/orange, although I feel bad saying that because it’s really reductionist…maybe it would just be better to say that the citrus personality of each were distinctive from each other.)

    Anyway, then I mixed some Fluffy Ducks (don’t laugh at me, that’s a good drink! A lot of manly man drinks have names like that!). I was hoping the Ungava’s yellow colour would make the drink look different, but really there was no discernible difference, either in taste or appearance. That is to say, they were both excellent! I’m sure a martini would have been a better vehicle for what I was trying to accomplish, but that wasn’t what I felt like drinking at the time.

    I just wanted to write something to let you know I appreciated the review, and to second your opinion that people should give the Ungava a chance if they’re interested in checking out a new gin.

    Greg!

    • Hi Greg

      Like you, I have spent an amount of time in the North (for me it was working on several large construction projects over a period of two years in the early 90s). It is a wonderful place full of wide empty spaces and solitude. My best memories were fishing from the shore of the Arctic Ocean and catching Arctic Char with my Panther Martin spinners, but I also did a great deal of hiking and exploring for quartz and other natural crystals. The Ungava Gin brought those memories back to me (in a good way).

      Cheers!

      • Omineca Greg! said

        Yikes!

        I was just reading my comment back and I realized that “I didn’t really have a strong preference for either gin”…would probably be interpreted as me not liking either of them..what I meant was that they were both very good, and I couldn’t choose one over the other! I wouldn’t want to give people the wrong idea…

        I’m glad to hear you’ve had an opportunity to go up North. It really is a special place. We did some fishing in the Mackenzie Delta and caught pike mostly…I actually don’t know much about fishing, but I have friends that do…they don’t mind taking me along, because even if I don’t know about catching them, I know about cooking them!

        Well, I’ll leave you alone now, I think I’ll pick up a bottle of the Booker’s tomorrow based on your recommendation (two bottles in the local area, I’d better hurry…)

        As always, thanks for the tips,

        Greg!

        • By the way,

          What’s your recipe for Fluffy Ducks?

          • Omineca Greg! said

            There are lots of recipes for “Fluffy Duck” out there, the common ingredient is advocaat, after that they’re all over the place. The ones that use gin are all fairly similar to each other, with just tweaks on the proportions. If you like (or potentially like) the creamy frothiness that advocaat brings to a cocktail, but just find it too rich and sweet (after all, it is very rich and sweet), this might be a good drink for you, the bitterness of the gin is a nice foil for the sweetness of the other ingredients, and the soda as the mixer brings in a lean austerity that makes the whole thing more “adult” tasting than if you had used 7-Up or some other sweeter mix.

            Fluffy Duck

            1 oz gin
            1 oz advocaat
            .75 oz triple sec
            .75 oz fresh squeezed orange juice

            Shake with ice and strain into tall glass filled with ice.

            Top up with club soda, and stir until mixed. Garnish with orange slice.

            I like this drink because it finds the elusive spot between the more intense cocktails, where you really know you’re drinking booze (the ones I normally favour) and the easy going ones where the alcohol completely disappears (which of course, also have their place). I know you have lots of readers, so even if you don’t think that sounds like your thing, maybe one of them will give it a try. Advocaat’s kind of a love it or hate it thing, so I wouldn’t expect too many people to just have a bottle sitting around…

            Greg!

            • I grew up around Advocaat (being Dutch and all) and as a kid I used to eat it over vanilla ice-cream as a bed time snack. Until the one day when my Mom made an unusually strong one (I was about 12) and I ended up sick and throwing up all night. I never really touched Advocaat after that. I like your recipe though. I am not adverse to adding soda to my cocktails as this makes for a more an enjoyable deck drink I can sip while letting the dogs heat up on the barbeque.

              Cheers!

  2. stilldaddy said

    Chip,

    I’ve been following your blog for about a year now, and I thoroughly enjoy your reviews. I typically drink bourbon but as I branch out to other spirits like scotch, rum, and cognac, I find the variety of reviews you offer to be helpful and always interesting to read. I’ve read enough now to know some areas where our palates and preferences meet and some areas where they differ which is helpful when I’m looking to try something new and check to see if you’ve reviewed it. Thank you for keeping this blog.

    I wasn’t sure where to ask you this but I was wondering why comments are open in some reviews (like this one) and closed on others (like your more recent review of Booker’s)?

    • Hi Still Daddy.

      It’s rather complicated, but my blog is separated into what are called posts, and what are called pages. The posts introduce my reviews and my articles, and they contain links to a the actual pages where the full articles and reviews are written and stored. (I constructed it this way to make it easy to organize the reviews.) The blog software allows you to automatically close comments on posts after a certain amount of days; but the comments on the pages must be manually turned off or on.

      I have had a growing problem of not being able to administer and vette all of the comments I receive. This is because I believe there is a legal obligation on my part to verify accuracy of comments and not publish anything that could be in any way defamatory, and many people just do not understand that they cannot just throw out unsubstantiated information and have it published here. I receive many more comments than I actually publish, and I decided I had to control the amount of comments I receive by turning off comments on older published material.

      Because it is so cumbersome to manually go back and turn off comments all the time, I decided it would be easier going forward to only allow comment on the front page postings because they can be administered automatically. As for Ungava Gin, I messed up and left the comment section open and thus you were allowed to comment here. (You should have commented on the front page.

      Going forward, persons will only be able to comment on the introductory postings and I will be leaving the comments section open for each posting for 60 days. I feel this gives my readers adequate time to respond to my review, and relieves me the burden of responding to comments written on material that is 2 to 4 years old. (The changes will take some time to fully implement.)

      • stilldaddy said

        Chip,

        Thanks so much for the response. I didn’t expect that much detail; thanks for taking the time to write it. I can appreciate the tedious and cumbersome task of filtering all of the comments that come your way, especially with how popular your blog is. If I comment in the future, I’ll be sure to comment on the post and not the page. Thanks again for keeping your blog, and keep up the good work!

 
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