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Black Fox from Saskatoon is one Canadian distiller exploring oaked gin.

Centuries ago, when gin was transported overseas in barrels, it arrived in North America not crystal clear and clean, but woody and aged, with a distinct yellow hue. As time progressed, shipping methods evolved to utilize stainless steel and plastic containers, keeping the alcohol clear. Now, craft distillers are rediscovering the potential of barrelling the spirit.

“The theory is that some of these old classic cocktail recipes – the ones that would have been made before the First World War – may have been made with an aged, barrelled gin,” says John Cote, co-owner of Black Fox Farm & Distillery in Saskatoon. “If you try a negroni with oaked gin, it’s spectacular.”

In addition to Black Fox, which took first place in the “cask gin” category at the World Gin Awards in 2017, other small Canadian distilleries such as Park in Banff, Wild Life in Canmore, Odd Society in Vancouver and Victoria Distillers in Sidney are adding to oaked gin’s growth. By law, you can’t sell whisky until it has been barrelled for at least three years, but gins can be barrelled for as few as five months, making it a shorter-term investment.

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“The inside of the barrel is charred, so it acts like activated charcoal,” Cote says. “It’s taking some flavours out of the gin, but the alcohol is extracting vanilla and tannins – the woody, resinous flavours – from the barrel.” The result is a spirit that’s mellow but complex with herbal, floral and citrus notes. “Everyone understands what gin is, and everyone understands what whisky is,” says Cote. “If you like both, you can do some fun things.”

Black Fox Oaked Gin, $87 through blackfoxfarmanddistillery.com.

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