Drink of the Week: Vara Spirits High Desert Gin
Scent memory is a powerful phenomenon. In fact, it is supposedly our sense of smell that is most closely related to the formation of memories, and hence why the whiff of a specific dish can send your mind reeling back to your grandmother’s kitchen. And so, it was an appreciation for the ability of aroma to conjure the essence of a place that inspired the High Desert Gin from Vara Spirits in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In our November/December 2022 issue, we explore the Albuquerque drinks scene, and, as a result, a bottle of the High Desert Gin crossed my desk. Having also grown up in the high desert of the southwest (Flagstaff, Arizona—a destination worth visiting), I was immediately struck by the gin’s unique aroma. While the juniper is prominent, it also leans heavily into earthy botanicals like sage and anise. “When hiking in the summer months, heavy, brief rain will often pass through the mountains on hot afternoons,” explains assistant winemaker and distiller Djuna Benjamin, of her inspiration for the gin’s botanical bill. “The notes from sage, juniper and earth co-mingle with brief humidity—a specific smell that I find unique about the desert in New Mexico.”
Both a winery and distillery, Vara crafts the High Desert Gin with grape distillate, rather than grain, creating a crisp and delicate medium for the botanicals to shine. A pop of bright citrus and a slight creaminess balance the gin’s earthier scents and flavors. I’d keep the preparation simple, like a Gin & Tonic or crisp martini, to appreciate the evocative aromas. $46, varaspirits.com
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