Millions of years ago, the Black Smokers of Troodos gave rise to a distinctive flora. Now, they’re the inspiration behind a gin that captures the essence of Cyprus. ALIX NORMAN gives it a try
Where would you find the Black Smokers? Why, in the Troodos mountains of course! But they’re probably not what you think…
Otherwise known as ophiolites, the black smokers of the Troodos mountains are age-old formations. In scientific terms, they’re a type of hydrothermal vent that forces 400-degree Celsius water up from the crust. And in that water, we get countless rich minerals, which oxidise to form black deposits…
In Cyprus, the black smokers that – hundreds of thousands of years ago – formed the mountains were rich in countless minerals, especially the copper from which the island took its name. Once cooled, this singular geological profile allowed for the formation of a unique flora: distinctive botanicals that typify the Troodos region. And its these botanicals which lend their flavour to the island’s newest artisan gin; named, of course, Black Smokers.
The brainchild of expert mixologist Paris Christofides, Black Smokers quite literally captures the spirit of Cyprus. “Here,” he explains, “we have a narrative inextricably linked with the story of our own island: the tale of a geological happening that created our mountain flora. Close your eyes and you can almost travel back millions of years and feel the tectonic shifts that led to the eruption of the vents, to the formation of the island, to the slow spread of the plants, trees and flowers that grew from the soil…”
Working with CyHerbia herbalist Miranda Tringis and distiller and owner of the Lambouri Winery Roland Wig, Paris created Black Smokers to be “a light, easy-to-drink gin that’s aromatic, citrusy and elegant enough to be enjoyed throughout the year. It’s not just another gin on the market though,” he notes. “It’s the essence of our beautiful country; it’s the smells and tastes – a gin that comes from the produce of this earth, a gin that is connected with the formation of this unique terroir.”
The Black Smokers taste profile is the result of extensive research, as well as numerous trips to the mountains. “Roland and I went deep into the Troodos forests,” says Paris. “We listened to the silence in the wind; we felt the movements of the earth; we imagined the rich history in the soil. There’s a wildness up there,” he muses. “An energy that exists nowhere else in the world…”
The result is a mix of 12 local botanicals, light in juniper and overlaid both with earthy spices and a crisp and fragrant bouquet. There are notes of coriander, angelica, oregano, peppercorns, citrus, pine… The scents and tastes that make the Troodos range unique.
While the initial profile was created by Paris, the botanical notes were strengthened by Miranda, whose knowledge of local flora was invaluable. “Botanicals,” she explains, “are plants whose properties and aromas lend themselves beautifully to the making of drinks and other products. But what’s most interesting is that almost every drink, from zivania to ouzo, was first created as medicine thanks to the health-giving properties of their specific botanicals.”
Gin is based on juniper, an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant plant that’s known to be high in nutrients, promote antibacterial and antifungal activity, and possess the ability to regulate blood sugar. But Black Smokers references a panoply of other endemics: angelica, oregano, coriander, citrus…
“When Paris invited me for an initial tasting, I discerned the botanicals and suggested those that needed to be strengthened a little,” Miranda explains. “And then, in my mind’s eye, I travelled to Troodos – to the deepest, richest, greenest depths of the region where Mother Earth comes into her own – and concentrated on the tastes and smells that infuse the air.
The result is, she adds, “the taste profile of the Troodos mountains: a gin that’s entirely based on the aromatic plants of Cyprus. It’s light, airy, delicious – the kind of spirit that cools and uplifts, calms the mind and body.”
“Gin,” Paris continues, “is a diversified spirit, you can take it anywhere in terms of taste, but it will always remain an elegant drink – something you could imagine being enjoyed in refined parlours across the world! While we’ve lived through the vodka revolution of the 80s and 90s – all added fruit and colours and designer bottles!” he scoffs – “and then the rum uprising, and lately the whisky trend, gin is a constant classic. It’s an experience; a collector’s item, a discovery. It conjures up memories in a way no other spirit can. Plus, pair it with tonic and you have an all-weather booster!”
As an expert mixologist, it’s Paris whose skills are most evident in Black Smokers. And the labour of love took him no small amount of time. “A mixologist is a psychologist of taste. People tend to think it’s a title given to anyone who can mix liquids and stir them in a fancy-looking glass!” he chuckles. “But the truth is it actually takes years of study: how spirits are produced, their history and geographical significance, a knowledge of relevant factors such as wars, economies, and world evolution. And this extensive knowledge goes into the creation of any new drink.”
Taking into account “what a new label actually represents,” he continues, “you can plan according to the ingredients; considering the herbs, spices, temperatures, and procedures. Our challenge,” he adds, “was to create a Cypriot gin that is uniquely elegant; fragrant with the citrus and herbs of the island. So you work with skilled distillers such as Roland, you draw on the knowledge of expert herbalists, like Miranda. And you blend, you taste, you smell… You carefully curate the liquid textures that present the most pleasing composition…”
And what you get is the perfect serve. “Add Black Smokers to a long glass with good ice, Indian tonic, a few black peppercorns, and the zest of a fresh Cyprus orange squeezed on top and dropped in the drink,” Paris suggests. “And you’ll have a liquid tribute to our island. The true spirit of Cyprus.”
A 700ml bottle of Black Smokers Gin costs €43.50 and is available from local cavas, as well as through the Facebook page ‘Cyprus Gin Black Smokers’