Chile, Known for Its Wines and Piscos, Turns to Gin

Last Hope Distillery is one of the only real cocktail bars in Puerto Natales, a horseshoe of a city that wraps around a windy inlet in Chilean Patagonia. To enter, visitors buzz, speakeasy-style, then hang up their coats and settle in at the bar. A server sets a glass down.

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

The question can surprise international visitors, most of whom, familiar with the juniper-flavored spirit, have come for a hike in nearby Torres del Paine National Park. But gin is new to some Chileans, so Last Hope’s servers don’t make assumptions.

The approach started out of necessity, said Kiera Shiels, who moved to Chile from Australia with her partner, Matt Oberg, and opened the bar. Guests would turn up, unsure of what to expect. “They hadn’t had gin,” Ms. Shiels said. “They’d barely had cocktails.”

Last Hope, which began selling gin in 2017, was one of the first gin distillers in Chile. But in the past few years, the country’s gin industry has exploded. From Last Hope (in the south) to Gin Nativo (in the north), there are now about 100 gin brands across the country. And many are winning international recognition.

Gin is an ideal base; the neutral, juniper-based alcohol takes on the flavors of 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 the alcohol. It’s easier and cheaper. The add-ins, they say, are what counts.

“It’s like a painting,” said Gustavo Carvallo, the co-founder of Gin Provincia, looking out at the famous Colchagua Valley, which surrounds his distillery. The corn alcohol, which he imports from the United States, serves as the canvas. “All the botanicals are the colors.”

Chile’s booming gin industry comes at what might be the tail-end of a global revival, sometimes called the “Ginaissance,” which began in Britain over a decade ago, partially under the influence of the American craft distilling movement.

The spirit was once seen as fuddy-duddy — a relic of colonial Brits trying to dodge malaria. But international experiments have aired out its reputation. There are distillers in Spain, India, South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Vietnam, among a slew of other countries. And gin is now seen as sophisticated, even worldly. The old-world quinine chaser has been reinvigorated by its new cosmopolitan devotees.

Like many alcohols, gin can “capture a sense of place,” said David T. Smith, the chair of the World Gin Awards and the author of several books about gin, including “The Gin Dictionary.” But it’s often easier — and cheaper — to make gin than it is to make many other spirits, Mr. Smith said, which is partly why the industry in Chile grew so quickly.

The third is a lack of pretension. Wine, like whiskey, demands refinement. Only a drinker with a certain training can tease out the differences in origin from a single sip. Not so for gin. The botanicals are hi-hats, neons, easy to recognize and understand. Even the most unstudied reporter, drinking a gin and tonic after a days-long Patagonian backpacking trip, can taste the different flavors — many of which come from ingredients that were grown near the distillers’ homes.

Mr. Carvallo, of Provincia, harvests boldo from a shrub mere steps from the distillery. (Chileans use tea made from boldo leaves as a folk medicine to soothe a range of ailments, including stomach aches.)

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

Sahred From Source link Travel

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