Not generally accessible
Vilanova i la Geltrú,
Gin Mare, which falls under the umbrella of Global Premium Brands, is made in the small Spanish fishing town of Vilanova i la Geltrú on the Costa Dourada (literally 'golden coast') in a former chapel which sits in the grounds of the family-owned Destilerias MG. What, I hear you ask, is a chapel doing in the grounds of a distillery? Well, the property was originally a monk's retreat, which the Giró Ribot family bought in the 1950s to house their growing drinks business.
The chapel which now houses Gin Mare's pot still used to stand on the town's beach and is where local fishermen would pray for a good catch and a safe return before they set out to sea. In the 18th century the monks moved the chapel from the beach, brick-by-brick, after the town's mayor decided the chapel was detrimental to the beach, the town's major asset.
Barcelona is only 50 kilometres away but the bustling city is a world away from the relaxed way of life of the town of Vilanova i la Geltrú on the Catalonian coast, between Cunit and the mouth of the Ebro River. As Barcelona grew, so the small fishing town became popular as a weekend retreat for Barcelona city dwellers, attracted by the town's splendid sandy beach, hence the mayor's insistence that the chapel was moved as the beach, rather than the fishing industry, started to drive the town's economy.
The Giró Ribot family have been making aromatic cordials and dealing in wine since 1835 - after all, this is the Penedés wine region. By the early 1900s, they had also become distillers of brandy and whisky. During the Spanish civil war, Manuel Giró Sr was hiding in the local mountains when he noticed an abundance of juniper bushes growing there. So began the family's connection with gin, and in 1940 it launched the highly successful Gin MG brand which is now one of the best-selling gins in Spain.
Brothers Marc and Manuel Giró Jr, the grandsons of Manuel Giró Sr, represent the fourth generation of the distilling dynasty. They were raised to enter the family business and, in the shadow of the family's successful MG Gin, understandably wanted to assert their own contribution to the family business. They sought to create a new, truly-Mediterranean gin inspired by the area in which they grew up, using locally sourced botanicals.
The brothers realised that while they had the production skills necessary to produce a great gin they lacked marketing skills and a route to market. Hence, the brothers entered a strategic alliance with Global Premium Brands to develop Gin Mare, with the brand owned fifty-fifty by the Giró Ribot family and Global Premium Brands, with Global responsible for packaging, marketing and distribution of the brand.
In 2007, development of the new gin commenced with the family's highly experienced distillers using a mini pot still to test 45 different botanicals, each separately distilled and the resulting distillate assessed. The abundance of locally available botanicals made choosing which ones to use all the more difficult. Indeed, when forced to flee France during the revolution, the Monks of Chartreuse chose to establish their abbey in nearby Tarragona, where they produced the now collectable and very rare Tarragona Chartreuse liqueur, using Catalonian botanicals in place of those from their home in the French Alps.
The local Catalonian region is famous for its Arbequina olives and, of the 45 botanicals the brothers tried, these proved key to the creation of a genuinely unique gin worthy of the region. Cultivation of the prized Arbequina olive trees has remained organic and the olives are harvested by hand so as not to bruise the fruits, which are mainly pressed for extra virgin olive oil production. Due to this variety's relatively small size and low juice yield, Arbequina is one of the most expensive olive oils available. To make Gin Mare, 15 kilos of olives are used in each distillation batch. These are broken with an electric crusher prior to maceration in the still.
Along with the Arbequina olives, Gin Mare uses rosemary, basil and thyme from the Mediterranean along with more traditional gin botanicals: coriander, cardamom, citrus and, of course, juniper berries, which are hand-picked from the Giró Ribot family's own estate in Teruel. The variety of juniper which grows abundantly on the family's land produces a berry with a very soft skin. The family says these wild juniper berries are vital to the flavour of its gins, and only these hand-picked berries are used to make Gin Mare.
The citrus (cítricos) maceration also has Mediterranean origins and is a blend of sweet oranges from Seville, bitter oranges from Valencia and lemons from Lleida. The fruits come to the distillery whole and are hand-peeled to produce long zests which are macerated in French-made barley neutral spirit for a year in stainless steel flagons. Each maceration has 14kg of peel macerating in 40 litres of neutral spirit reduced from 96% alc./vol. to around 50% alc./vol. Presently, a year's production calls for 200kg of orange peels and 80kg of lemon peels. To put that in perspective, even when expertly peeled, it requires 8 to 9kg of fruit to yield just one 1kg of peel.
Of the other botanicals, the thyme (tomillo) comes from Turkey, basil (albahaca) from Italy, rosemary (romero) from Greece, coriander seeds (coriandro) from Morocco and cardamon (cardamomo) from Sri Lanka. While the trio of citrus zests are macerated together, most of the other botanicals are macerated separately for more than 36 hours and then individually distilled.