St. George Spirits of Alameda, Calif., was founded by Jorg Rupf, a German immigrant and a former judge in his home country. It started in 1982 – before people had begun speaking of a craft-drinks movement in America – by making fruit-based eaux-de-vie like those for which Germany's Black Forest is famous. It grew, and it gained Rupf renown for his pioneering role as an entrepreneur in a big-brand-dominated world.
The founder, who retired in 2010, championed local ingredients, and this fine gin – created by new proprietor and master distiller (and St. George veteran) Lance Winters – is a splendid example of the company's emphasis on "terroir," a term borrowed from the wine world. While most gins rely overtly on juniper for their defining flavour, this one takes us on a California-forest and chaparral tour. Most prominent among its botanicals is Douglas fir, which imparts a fresh, pine-like essence. Then there are California bay laurel, coastal sage and fennel along with several more essences (including orris root, angelica and juniper) more familiar to gin-o-philes.
In my experience, offbeat gins often have trouble finding their balance, veering so deeply into uncharted waters at times that they come across more like bad shaving cream or discount-motel-chain soap. This one's a fresh, woodsy-breezy change of pace. Perfect for a dry martini, it might be wasted on a gin and tonic (but don't let that stop you if that's your pleasure). Available in Ontario in limited seasonal quantities, various prices in Alberta, $59 in Quebec.