The world probably doesn’t need another gin. The Amazon, though, is in urgent need of our attention. It seems ridiculous to laud the launch of another brand when consumption and convenience are to blame for environmental catastrophes on the scale of the fires currently engulfing the world’s biggest rainforest. It’s something Simone Caporale was well aware of when conceptualising Canaïma – a new small-batch gin with the majority of its botanicals sustainably sourced from the Amazon basin and from which 10% of global sales are donated to two Amazon conservation foundations.
It might also seem tokenistic to talk about “gin with a conscience” at a time when businesses are merrily ticking social justice boxes to sell more stuff, but this is far from eco-tokenism. The facets that make up Canaïma – its ethos, ingredients, and branding materials – wouldn’t exist without partnerships with Tierra Viva Foundation and Saving the Amazon. The latter works to plant, photograph and geo-reference trees, creating a virtual forest and putting it back into the hands of indigenous communities, and the former has helped Canaïma to commission hundreds of traditional woven baskets and coasters, each handcrafted by indigenous women.
By rebuffing the mass-produced branding that typically comes with the launch of a new spirit, and instead putting money into the communities which have been stewarding this mighty forest for generations, Canaïma has positioned itself as a kind of mini antithesis to the economic greed that’s tearing the Amazon apart.
Its ingredients are as carefully, consciously sourced as its branding materials. Canaïma National Park blankets three million hectares of south-east Venezuela, and became the focal point for the master distillers’ search for the “perfect balance” of unique botanicals. To find them, they worked with a handful of communities in the Amazon basin, whose members selected 10 native herbs and fruits including merey (cashew), seje, acai berry, and native fruits like copoazú, uva de palma, and túpiro.
These Amazonian botanicals join traditional gin ingredients including grapefruit, orange, passionfruit and juniper, and are then individually treated, macerated and distilled in small batches of 500 litres by the team behind Diplomatico Rum in Venezuela. The entire process happens in DUSA’s distillery, at the foot of the Andes mountains at La Miel. Intense, fruity aromas meet lush, damp greenery and hints of black pepper in the finished product, an original flavour profile best paired with Simone’s recommendation of grapefruit soda. Less bitter than tonic water and with fewer interfering flavours, grapefruit soda gives the Amazonian botanicals a chance to dance on the palate.
Pairings recommended by Como-born Simone should probably be adhered to. In his five years at The Artesian at The Langham, he and mentor-turned-business partner Alex Kratena were credited with reinventing the 5* hotel bar experience. He was crowned Best Bartender of the Year, rose to YouTube fame as “cocktail maestro” on Jamie Oliver’s DrinksTube channel, and The Artesian topped the World’s 50 Best Bar Awards for four consecutive years.
It would be unfathomable for a drinks legend of Simone’s stature to launch a new spirit without its own signature cocktail menu, and so he doesn’t disappoint. The Amazonian G&G is an easy favourite: a straightforward twist on the G&T with Canaïma, grapefruit soda and lime, but the spirit’s rare botanicals come into their own in the Fog Cutter – a tropically sweet blend of Canaïma, Diplomatico planas, cognac vsop, fresh orange juice, almond syrup, lemon juice and sherry cream.
Canaïma as a concept was born from Simone’s trip to the Peruvian Amazon, where witnessing the destruction of the rainforest’s fragile ecology in real-time sparked in him a desire to take action. Dinner with the founder of Diplomatico Rum back in 2016 reaffirmed his need to “do something”, and the pair set about thinking how best to self-fund a new product while supporting and sustaining Amazonian communities.
“People should be aware that when you’re talking about the Amazon rainforest you’re talking about birds, animals, water, fruit, biodiversity… and then we’ve got deforestation, illegal mining, the [production of the] majority of the narcotics used in London every weekend… so that’s the Amazon nowadays, it’s not just plants and birds”
To counter the fact that “we fill our mouths every day with the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘recyclable’”, while little action is actually taken, Canaïma’s labels are made from previously recycled, fully biodegradable paper. “If you leave a bottle outside in the rain, in a few weeks it will disintegrate – without releasing any particles” says Simone.
For a small-batch gin, Canaïma’s sustainable credentials can’t really be faulted. Fledgling brands like this one drawing attention to the environmental and human plight of the Amazon may seem like a miniature drop in a huge capitalist ocean, but until international trade and policy changes, every miniature drop counts.
Words by Jade Hammond