Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Stray Dog Wild Gin: A Treasure of Greek Botanicals

At Committee Ouzeri+ Bar, you can find a variety of Greek spirits, such as Ouzo, Tsipouro, and Mastiha, some of which have recently been used in cocktails. On my most recent visit there, I made a new discovery, a Greek gin called Stray Dog Wild Gin

I'm very selective as to gin, but the Stray Dog thoroughly impressed so I had to seek out a bottle, to sample at home, to experiment with cocktails. Fortunately, I was able to get a couple bottles ($32 each) at the Malden Center Fine Wines

Let's begin with a little background on Gin. 

What is Gin? Under the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 27: Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, Part 5--Labeling and Advertising of Distilled Products, in Subpart C--Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, section 5.22(c), it states: “Gin” is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof."

Juniper, a crucial ingredient in Gin, has been revered for at least two thousand years for medicinal purposes. Around the 16th century, it would be the Dutch who would finally distill a juniper-flavored alcohol, which they called Genever, creating a spirit that was intended to be something other than a medicine. Around the 1690s, Genever began to be exported to England and it quickly become the most popular spirit, especially with the lower classes, and it was renamed gin.

However, besides juniper, the regulations are very loose as to what other botanicals and ingredients can be added to Gin. This gives much leeway to producers to create their own unique gin blends, and also allows for producers to use more local ingredients, giving a sense of place to their gin. This can help anchor certain types of gins to specific locations.

I'm not a fan of those gins with an overly strong juniper taste, far too piney for my preferences. I feel that the other botanicals get lost in those gins, vastly dominated by the juniper. I much prefer gin which has a more balanced melange of botanicals, and more and more of those styles of gin are being created. 

Not many distilleries in Greece are currently producing gin, but that is likely to grow with time. So, it will be very difficult to find Greek gin in the U.S., as only a few have been exported. The only Greek gin I've ever tasted is the Stray Dog, and it is certainly a fine example of a well-balanced gin.  

The idea for Stray Dog Wild Gin originated in 2017, when Johnny Livanos was on a hike in the Crete. Livanos, who lives in New York, is part of the famed Livanos Restaurant Group. During the hike, they were drinking Tsipouro, and Johnny decided to pick some wild herbs and add them to the spirit. After an hour or so, he tasted the Tsipouro again and savored its taste with the herbs. He saw an opportunity there, to create a new Greek spirit made with numerous botanicals.  

Livanos eventually met master distiller Dimitris Melissanidis, in Aridea, Greece, a 3rd generation distillery whose family has long produced traditional Greek spirits. Melissanidis had actually been experimenting with gin, as well as collecting wild herbs in the mountains of northern Greece. They hit it off, and eventually created the Stray Dog Wild Gin. 

The gin is made with a number of wild-foraged botanicals as well as other ingredients, including sage, fennel seed, rosemary, mastiha, bay leaf, lemon, orange, cardamom, juniper, and coriander. They also use mountain spring water. It is also hand-crafted in small batches using traditional copper pot stills. Livanos' objective was to create a taste of Greece through their gin, 

On the nose, there are definite notes of juniper, although it's more subdued than many other gins. You'll also find other herbal notes mixing with the juniper. On the palate, it's a smooth and compelling gin, with a wonderful melange of herbal and citrus flavors, where the juniper is but one aspect of the whole. It is well-balanced, with all of the ingredients working harmoniously together. Each sip seems to bring something different to your mouth, and it's easy to slowly sip a glass and savor its complexity. 

This is certainly a gin which you can enjoy on its own, maybe just over some ice. An excellent drink for the summer. I also made my first cocktail with it, simply adding some Jalapeño Limeade to the gin. I very much enjoyed the drink, the slight spicy heat of the japalpeno enhancing the herbal notes. This is a versatile gin, and I'm sure you can think of plenty of cocktails you can make with this fine gin. Highly recommended!

I'll end by noting that Stray Dog Wild Gin is also a supporter of animal welfare, and a portion of all their sales is donated to organizations and shelters in Greece that provide food, veterinary care and homes for stray animals. As an animal lover, that certainly makes the Stray Dog Wild Gin even more appealing.

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