What do you get when you combine that most English of spirits with that most Argentine of drinks? A gin made with mate, of course. That's right, Argentina is now home to an artisanal gin made with, among other things, leaves of yerba mate, the stimulating communal drink shared with gusto by Argentines and other South Americans. As as you might expect, it's quite the experience on the palate.
Argentines have been anglophiles for at least a century. Private schools and lawn clubs in Buenos Aires have stuffy English names, and posh Argentines of a certain age speak English with clipped accents that would make Queen Elizabeth II proud. There's even an old chestnut by Jorge Luis Borges, possibly Argentina's greatest writer, calling Argentines "Italians who speak Spanish, act French, and want to be English." Plenty of them still order a "gintonic" when the weather gets hot.
But despite that history, Argentina spent decades without a truly artisanal gin of its own making. No longer. Tato Giovannoni, one of the country's foremost mixologists, has brought Principe de los Apostoles (Prince of the Apostles) mate gin to market in cooperation with Mitre Fortin SRL. The name comes from the town in Misiones province that was home to the country's first mate plantation.
Enough background, though. How does it taste? On its own - and we strongly encourage you to try it neat - it conveys warmth and sweetness with floral overtones, bringing out its eucalyptus and peperina, a species of mint indigenous to Argentina. The feel is rich and pungent, echoing the highly extracted character of many Argentine wines. When paired with tonic and lime, the gin's flavors become more herbal. The mate comes into its own, accentuating the bitterness of the tonic and citrus rind.
All in all, it's a fine gin for cold days as well as hot. Like the herb it's based on, the gin offers a cozy embrace, especially when passed around with friends. It's a unique product that should inspire a slew of cocktails, from a country that's only now rediscovering its cocktail culture. Salud!