As well as some excellent wines, Greece is known mainly for its indigenous spirits like ouzo, raki, tsipouro, and Metaxa. But gin? Not at all. There are only 2 or 3 made in the whole country, and only one currently available in the USA: Stray Dog Wild Gin. The first part of the name is a nod to the fact that a portion of profits goes to some of the country’s animal shelters — stray dogs (and cats) are a familiar feature in Greek towns and villages.
The Wild Gin part is because the gin originates not, as you might expect, in Athens, nor in Greece’s vibrant second city, Thessaloniki, but in the wild mountains of northern Greece, a few miles from the border with North Macedonia and 350 miles from Athens. The Aridea Mountains provide both the water source and the botanicals, the aim of Master Distiller Dimitris Melissanidis being to capture those flavors and aromas in a bottle.
One brief nosing of the gin and you know that he’s succeeded. You’re struck by the distinctive scent of pine trees on a hot Mediterranean day, as if you’d crushed some pine needles in your fingers and held them up to your nose. Juniper is still prominent, but the pine/cypress aroma blends with it beautifully, while there’s also lemony citrus and a mix of herbs.
On the palate the herbs become more distinctive, with the taste of sage quite evident, and with both rosemary and bay leaves not far behind, all mingling with that distinctive pine. There’s also a really bold citrus sweetness to it, but at the same time a savory taste. The juniper holds back but comes through overwhelmingly on the finish. The pine notes are caused by the inclusion of mastiha (mastic) resin, from the mastiha trees which in Greece grow only on the island of Chios so is one of the few botanicals that are brought in for the distilling.
The result is a classy gin that definitely has terroir, and goes brilliantly with a quality tonic. Perhaps the Greek craft spirits movement is on the rise.
A- / $41 / straydoggin.com