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Mahón Gin

What is it?

Mahón Gin or Gin de Mahón (previously known as Menorca Gin or Gin de Menorca) is a Gin made in Maó-Mahón (previously called Mahón). Maó-Mahón is the capital city of the Balearic Island of Menorca, found in the Mediterranean Sea off the Eastern peninsula of Spain. This type of Gin has been made on the island since 1708 and is perhaps most notable for its strong juniper flavor, compared with most other Gins – being more dry and floral than bitter – and is best known by the brand Xoriguer (pronounced “sho-ri-gair”).

History

Maó-Mahón is a seaport and happens to be one of the largest natural harbors in the world, and as such has always proved to be of great importance, from a naval and military perspective. For this reason it has often found itself occupied by the forces from other nations at one time or another including: Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Arabs, Byzantines, Moors and…the British.

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714) a joint force of Dutch and British captured Menorca from the Spanish in 1708. The British were quick to understand the importance of the port in Mahón for it’s navy and, under the Treaty of Utrecht, gained permanent control of Menorca in 1713. Now, a large British naval garrison stationed on the island requires a large quantity of alcohol to keep them happy – it was a part of their agreed daily pay and rations – not to mention the need to resupply other members of the Royal Navy as they passed by. So, with a Gin craze that was sweeping across England at that time, it meant a large amount of Gin had to be imported to Menorca. It didn’t take long for resident Menorcans to realize a business opportunity when they saw it, and many local distilleries arose to supply the sailors with Gin.

This bustling and booming cottage industry continued, except for a short hiatus when France gained control of the island from 1756 to 1763, up until 1802. At this point in time, Under the Treaty of Amiens Menorca was returned back to Spanish control and, the British Navy departed resulting in the need for Gin production dropping significantly. Although a few distilleries managed to continue operating, as the locals had gained a taste for Gin, many closed down. The remaining distilleries, which had previously used cereal grains to produce their alcohol, gradually moved to using grape-based wine alcohol, as it was a better growing crop given the islands climate.

The One & Only

One of the distilleries, which had closed down after the British left, did see a significant revival. In 1945 Miquel Pons Justo, using the family Gin recipe that had been handed down through the generations, decided to reestablish the Pons family distillery. Across the decades it saw continual growth as it strove to meet increasing market demand. Although Miquel the founder died in 1981, his three daughters have continued the business under the Pons family control.   Since this time the company has bought out other distillers in the city, Petit in 1981 and Beltran in 1985, to become the only Gin distillery left operating in Mahón. Today they employ around 30 people and produce about half a million bottles per year, 60% for the local market in the Balearic Islands, with the remaining 40% going to Spain and other countries. Their brand Xorigeur, has become the official drink of Menorca, and is the only one existing in the category of Mahón Gin today.

Geographical Designation

In 1997 Menorca recognized this type of Gin should have special regional status, and the Insular Council of the island gave it the geographical name “Gin de Menorca”. This was ratified by the European Union in 2010 when they granted a Geographical Indication (GI) as “Gin de Mahón.” Effectively, this means the drink is protected within this geographical location i.e. the term can only be used if it is made in Mahón.

Making Mahón Gin

When it comes to making Mahón Gin, the regulations required for it to meet the standards for the category are minimal. Besides needing to be made within the city of Maó-Mahón it must:

  • Be made from Ethyl alcohol derived from agricultural products (e.g. grains, grapes etc.); and
  • Use Juniper Berries with an essential oil content of 7 to 9 parts per thousand.

Drinking Mahón Gin

Xorigeur is rested in barrels of white American Oak and it does have a degree of sweetness from using a grape-base however, it is neither, a Barrel Aged Gin nor an Old Tom Gin. Instead it is better treated like most other Gin and works perfectly well in many of the usual Gin based cocktails (i.e. Gin and Tonic, Martini, Negroni, Tom Collins etc.). Mahón Gin does however have a local drink it is used in for on Menorca: Gin and Lemonade. Called Pomada by Menorcans, it uses 1 part Xorigeur and 2 parts real lemonade and is served with at least several lemon slices as garnish. During the hot and dry summer months on the island, it is not unusual to find this being served with crushed ice as a “slushy.”

The Future

Before 2010 this was a relatively unheard of Gin unless you had been to the Balerics. The Geographical Designation status has certainly brought it out of the shadows, and today it has something of a cult status, especially in countries where it is hard if not impossible to find. Its popularity seems set to continue but how much is down to novelty is difficult to tell. Who knows, if the popularity is high, perhaps there will be some new producers of Mahón Gin appearing soon?



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