From Mallorca to the UK, meet the sun-soaked spirit that packs plenty of local flavour.
You may be surprised to learn that gin has a history in the Balearic islands stretching back to the 18th century. In 1708, Britain took possession of the island of Menorca and – after a number of battles and ensuing treaties – it went permanently back to Spanish control in 1803.
If you know the history of gin, you may know it was in this same period that the ‘gin craze’ first took hold in Britain. It is perhaps of little surprise that a love of the spirit was passed onto local Menorcans and remains a favourite to this day. A number of local distilleries use a grape based spirit to distil gins that are drunk with bitter lemonade, a concoction known as ‘Pomada’.
The neighbouring island of Mallorca (or Majorca to us Brits) remained relatively untouched by British influence until the mid20th century when tourists were drawn by the white sand beaches and azure Mediterranean Sea. Gin was a much later addition to the local menu.
It was in 2014 that Stefan Winterling and Eva Maier first started to distil their distinctive Mallorcan gin, GIN EVA. Stefan and Eva are both winemakers by trade. Stefan’s family own vineyards in the Pfalz region of Germany, so it was a natural path for him to follow. When training in Germany, he met Eva, a Spanish oenologist and shortly after moved to Spain so they could be together. Mallorca is jokingly called Germany’s 17th state because of the number of German tourists, so it may seem the obvious choice for the couple to have set up home there.
The very first experimental batch of GIN EVA was made in the couple’s kitchen. Things have moved on since then with Stefan able to dedicate himself full-time to the distillery in late 2017. The gin is still produced entirely by hand in a 150-litre copper still. Great care is taken with each tiny batch and only 70 bottles are made with each distillation.
Each GIN EVA ingredient is chosen by Stefan and Eva to infuse the gin with the local flavour, producing a liquid essence of Mallorca.
Local shores are abundant with Phoenician juniper, which is a wild variety that thrives in warm climates on sandy and rocky soils. There are higher amounts of essential oils contained in its berries than in the northern European juniper varieties most often used in ginmaking, which are sweet and fruity in flavour. Mallorcan juniper results in herbaceous flavours along with a hint of sea salt that tells of its coastal origin. The juniper for GIN EVA is all collected by hand from the dunes of El Trenc, a stretch of white sand beach towards the southern tip of the island.
Mallorcan sun-ripened lemons and oranges are another key component to GIN EVA’s flavour which are collected from Sebastian, the local citrus farmer. Every ingredient is treated with similar care and chosen to fuse deliciously with each of the others, including angelica root, coriander, bitter camomile, cardamom and lavender.
Stefan freely admits that his first experiments in distilling were not universally successful, using too many botanicals in too great a quantity and the final product not matching his original vision. It took a lot of learning and experimentation with individual botanicals to reach the right balance of ingredients. He believes that the perfect gin is a neverending challenge, and the hard-work and creativity required to handmake gin brings him fulfilment. The final recipe is proof that less can be more.
Stefan also says, distilling has more room for more experimentation than the winemaking that began his career. When making wine you must wait for the grapes to ripen before you can even begin and it is hugely reliant on the weather each year, having little control over the factors that make a great vintage. Stefan appreciates the freedom that distilling gives him to produce new gins year-round.
To extract the maximum aroma into each batch of gin, Stefan’s winemaker patience comes back into play. There is a long maturation of the gin with the botanicals and citrus fruits, of up to several weeks. It’s a slow process but worth the effort for the resultant levels of flavour and aroma.
Although less reliant on the seasons with fresh, local ingredients available year-round, there is seasonal variety in the ingredients. For example, the difference in flavour between a fully sun-ripened lemon versus a green one with sharper flavour. But these small variations give each batch of gin special character and the makers of GIN EVA believe this link back to nature should be celebrated.
In this month’s Gin Discovery Club, we feature GIN EVA’s Signature Gin but recently Stefan’s creativity has gone into making some very special limited editions too. The first of these was GIN EVA Bergamot, made in 2017 and released in a limited edition of just 937 bottles. It was the result of an experiment to make a gin with the delicious yuzu fruit, a rare citrus that originates in Japan.
Stefan and Eva met Franc, a citrus grower from Valencia who specialises in exotic varieties of fruit – like kumquats, Meyer lemons, yuzu and bergamot oranges. While impressed by the intensity of flavour from the yuzu, even more impressive was the distillate made with Franc’s bergamot oranges – a highly aromatic fruit which began as a hybrid of lemon and bitter orange. When combined with juicy Macedonian juniper, there was a depth of flavour that belied the simplicity of the ingredients, and so nothing more was added.
This spring will bring GIN EVA’s next seasonal release. It is an extra dry Olive Gin which makes the perfect addition to a classic dry martini. This is made with La Mallorquina olives, a local variety that can only be found on Mallorca. The olives are harvested from trees that are centuries old located in the Tramuntana Mountains, another example of Stefan’s commitment to showcasing ingredients with unique flavours and a story to tell.
The attention to detail goes right up to the bottling stage, with each bottle filled and labelled by hand before being packed carefully into cases by Stefan to make its journey into the world. GIN EVA is popular locally as well as in Stefan’s native Germany. They’ve also collaborated with fellow German, Benjamin Peifer, to produce a signature gin for his Michelin-starred restaurant Intense, in Kallstadt, Sweden – calling the collaboration Gintense.
GIN EVA only came to the UK in late 2017, after Samantha and Andrew Smith came across the gin by chance and realised its unique flavour and story could stand out from the crowd of gins already on the market here. If you’re craving a bigger taste of Mallorcan sunshine, then you can get your hands on a bottle of GIN EVA on the Flavourly bottleshop.