While Italy is renowned for its award-winning wines, elegant cocktails and delicious sun-soaked juices, surprisingly, it is also more quietly recognised for its bold, alcoholic botanicals, namely gins. Envy Italy takes an eye-opening and altogether more “refreshing” trip into the world of distilling in Italy.
Italy has, on several occasions, claimed to be the birthplace of gin, with a suggested lineage dating back to the eleventh century when monks on the coast of Salerno used juniper berries to flavour their own homemade spirit. Today, the country boasts a variety of distinctive craft and hipster gins, all of which are swiftly finding their way into the coolest bars and luxury restaurants around the world.
The gin journey is a complex one, with the most obvious starting point being Apecchio, in the heart of the Le Marche Region, where Giuseppe Collesi opened his distillery in 2001 with the “Collesi” name being accredited as a brand of excellence ever since. The calcareous water from Monte Nerone, the best barley grown on the Collesi estates and precious juniper berries typical of the Apennine Mountains earned Collesi Gin the award for “Best Italian Gin” at the World Gin Awards 2018. Judges noted, “We are in front of a very well-balanced but decisive drink that, thanks to the sweetness of visciola sour cherries, donates a singular sensory experience.”
Another great, contemporary enterprise is a collaboration between distiller Carlo Quaglia and The Jerry Thomas Project in Rome (one of the World’s Top 50 Best Bars). It is here that Il Gin del Professore was born. Inspired by the illegal production of alcohol during prohibition times, this modern yet sophisticated infusion is produced entirely with wild juniper from Umbria and Tuscany.
A common thread appears to link each independent Italian gin producer: ancient recipes and distilling techniques are combined with cool branding and clever marketing strategies. These modern gin brands may be small, but they are definitely mighty.
Mì & Tì gins are handcrafted by Origine Laboratorio in northern Italy and their distinctive brews use yuzu and Lapsang Souchong tea in one label and cherry and chamomile in the other. With accolades and endorsements galore, Mì&Tì (Small Batch Italian Gin) received the Silver Medal in both the Tasting and the Packaging Design Competition during the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2018. The products received praise indeed: “Outstanding spirits that show refinement, finesse, and complexity.”
Another perfection seeker on the path to gin nirvana is master distiller and former cook Florian Rabanser, who constructed the perfect recipe to create Dol Gin, the first gin distilled in the Dolomites. With 24 alpine herbs, lemon from Lake Garda and elderflower, the result is not a drink but pure botanical energy, achieved through extreme care and a liberal dash of imagination.
If you are in search of authentic, Italian tradition, Sabatini Gin will satisfy your desire for a classic and sophisticated gin. Produced by the Sabatini Family in the province of Arezzo using nine different botanicals, this fragrant premium gin also represents a bond of respect between Tuscany and England, where the final distillation takes place, according to the sacred rules of master distiller Charles Maxwell (Thames Distillers Ltd).
Likewise, traditional VII HILLS Gin has a finely balanced character that releases its light, citrusy aroma when combined with other ingredients, expressing its versatility to create superb cocktails. It is worth mentioning that the distillation process takes place in the Torino Distillati factory, owned by the Vergnano family, the same clan who created Malfy Gin, another notable brand that takes its name from the renowned Amalfi Coast. The four different versions (Originale, Malfy with Amalfi Lemons, Malfy with Sicilian Blood Oranges and Pink Gin) are exported all over the world.
Lastly, we visit a label that celebrates a symbiosis between England and Italy. Dating back to the Second World War, Riviera Gin is the first gin to be produced by distilling Sangiovese wine. Derived from a recipe hidden in a drawer among old papers it has been brought to life again in the guise of a gin so excellent that it complements and enhances the flavours of gourmet cuisine. It even features on the menu of Michelin-starred restaurants such as Guido a Rimini and Il Piastrino a Pennabilli.
With a gin menu so vibrant and inspiring, reaching a decision on which gins should be mentioned in this article was never going be entirely pain-free, especially considering that the whole scene of distilling in Italy is very much evolving. It is certainly true that each distillery has a story to tell whether young or old, each is experiencing well-deserved success, achieved through real devotion and respect for a land that never fails to produce.