Italy is enjoying a gin renaissance as spirit lovers and innovative distillers tap into the country’s rich history and great produce to craft stellar modern gins.
Italy is not all Campari, Barolo, super Tuscans and grappa. One of the delights of travelling around Italy is discovering regional drinks and their producers. And that includes finding out at long last that Venice has its own gin. Made by Venetian architect Fabio Muriotto in the grappa-making town of Bassano, it is a celebration of the city’s history.
“We use Santonico or marine absinthe from the northern Venetian lagoon, which was once used to treat the plague; coriander, which was traditionally thrown from the float during Carnival time; grains of paradise to celebrate Venice’s trading past; Garda lemons, and juniper collected from the Venetian woods of Cadore,” says Fabio.
Joining the ranks of spirit producers the globe over, Italy is seeing a renaissance of gin production as Italians and visitors alike turn to craft spirits that tell timeless stories of the country, its people, and its ingredients.
“In 1258, the first School of Spice Apothecaries was founded in Campo San Bartolomeo in Venice,” says Fabio. “By the fourteenth century, the guilds were divided into the apothecaries ‘de fin’, who devoted themselves to medicine, and the apothecaries ‘de grosso’, or the grocers. Inspired by the period when exotic ingredients first began to arrive in Venice from the Far East, Gin Venice is no mere spirit – even the bottle features motifs sparked from that specific historical moment; one of the master glassmakers of Murano has handcrafted every single murine present on each bottle.”
Disaronno International has also announced the launch of a new Italian gin, inspired by motorsports. It’s called ENGINE.
The creation of fashion and spirits entrepreneur Paolo Dalla Mora, this bold new craft spirit is made in Langhe, the heart of Italy’s car industry, using Ligurian sage, lemon, liquorice root, and damask rose. The vacuum-distilled gin even comes in a tin oil can.
The Italians have been slow off the starting grid with gin-making. Sicilian lemons, Ligurian Pernambuco sweet oranges, grapes, bergamot peel and Umbrian juniper, Italy has long had all the ingredients to make great gins. And they now they’re making them.
Grapeheart Gin uses Amarone della Valpolicella a rich, expressive red wine from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy while Wolfrest Gin’s Alba edition is made by social media strategist Valentina Barone and oenologist Giovanni Alessandria using Piedmont truffles. Last year, seven kilos of Alba truffles went into making 500 litres of gin.
Founded in March 2020 by four friends – Davide Frigerio, Roberto Riva, Sabino Civera and Vittorio Somaschini- while sipping G&Ts by Lake Como, Lombardy’s Gin Goccia (meaning drop) uses roasted red Valtellina Valley apples. Says trader Vittorio: “We can’t complain about all the testing and trials. We had to get the balance right!”
Frigerio, a chef, recommends Goccia drizzled on oysters, as a marinade for fish or meat, or even to compliment apple tarte tatin.
In addition to “classic diatomaceous earth and vegetable carbons”, elderflower and fragments of Michelangelo’s favourite white Carrara reportedly go into Gin David, Florence’s masterpiece.
A walk through Sicily’s historic lava beds inspired Volcano Gin. “Our gin is a tribute to the extraordinary territory of Etna and its flora,” says Stefano Lo Giudice. “The cap, hand-drawn by a local craftsman, is made with Etna volcanic sand so that a piece of Etna can travel with every single bottle of Volcano Gin, wherever it goes.”
The bittersweet broom flower is the first botanical to break through the lava rocks and restart life after an eruption. It grows around Mount Etna in Sicily and is one of the explosion of tastes and flavours which makes you remember this unique craft spirit.
Founders Alessandro Malfitana, Stefano and Diego Pollicina are self-proclaimed “ambassadors to Mount Etna”, Europe’s largest active volcano and the highest peak in Italy south of the Alps. It is the world’s first lava field-to-bottle gin.
“Until a few years ago, gin production in Italy was not widespread,” says Stefano. “Now, there are many distilleries, especially in Tuscany. Italians are great master distillers of grappa, so why not gin?”
Ravenna has produced the world’s first Pinot Noir gin, Ginato. Its Melograno version combines Barbera grapes and Sicilian pomegranates, while Ginato Clementino features Nebbiolo grapes and Clementine oranges and Ginato Pompelmo features Sangiovese and Sicilian pink grapefruit.
Maraschino cherries are grown in the Euganean Hills in the Veneto region of Italy to make Luxardo sweet cherry gin. Girolamo Luxardo started his company in the 1900s but the area had been making distillates since 1833. The company, which moved from Zara to Torreglia, also makes liqueurs and pastry flavourings.
Grappa makers like Pilz, Tolsini and Poli now also make gins. Says Jacopo Poli; “With grappa, the grape plays a role. With gin, the distiller can be more creative. Our Crisopea bain-mare still allows us to distil at lower temperature and our Marconi uses the Muscat grapes and the waters of the Pedemontore Veneta at the foot of the Dolomites.”
Even Sardinia has Silvio Carta. “In the ’50s, my grandfather founded the company making Vernaccia wine,” says Alberto Mason. “Our slogan is Armonia della natura, wine, liqueurs and spirtis of Sardinia, made in the wild”.
Silvio Carta was the first Sardinian distillery to make gin; its Giniu Gin is made with Mirto/myrtle, lentissimo, salvia and elicriso, an endemic plant. The bottle is unique. It has no labels and is made using serigraphy, a silk screen printing technique. Its pale pink “Pigskin Gin” is aged in chestnut barrels for six months.
Musician Jack Savoretti has invested in Portofino Dry Gin. “Portofino is a destination that makes people dream. We want to show the real Portofino, and the people who live there and bring it to life. More than a postcard, we see our brand as a door that opens to the secrets of our village and we think of our gin as the sail of the ship that carries us closer to our vision.
O’ndina claims to be “The Spirit of the Riviera”, while Milan has Giass Milano Dry Gin and Rome is represented by V11 Hill and the Gin del Professore range, which is reinvigorating lost styles of spirit production. Its range includes Old Tom Crocodile Gin in which elderflower, vanilla and Jamaican pepper or allspice is infused in unfermented grape juice.
Del Professore Gin was the idea of Leonardo Leuci, Roberto Artusio, Tony Parlapiano and Alessandro Procoli, the founders of The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy in Rome, which offers pre-prohibition “bathtub style “ drinks and Jerry Thomas (alias “The Professor”!) recipes. They selected Antica Distilleria Quaglia in Piedmont to make drinks in the spirit of Italian herbal traditions.
Federico Cremasco discovered a classic 1946 Italian liqueur text written in 1946 employing mountain pine, melissa, iris, imperatoria, savory, clary sage, wormwood, yarrow, Calabrian liquorice, saffron, orange blossom, hyssop and marjoram. A barman and owner of the Polcenigo cocktail bar, his company Fred Jerbis (Fred’s Herbs) is based in his herbal laboratory in Montereale Valtellin in east Italy’s Friuli region. His Gin 43 is 43% ABV and contains 43 botanicals.
Soon we could be all having “Fred and tonics” and downing a “Volcano” or two as we taste unexpected new territory.
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