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Master distiller’s journey: crafting gins with unusual beginnings

Priit Palk Tohi Master DItiller intervjuud andmas

The gin landscape seems to be full of flavors, but there is always room for good creators. The latest addition to these exciting spirits is Tohi Cloudberry Gin with its unique flavors. Finally! Why finally? Because we had heard about the arrival of this new spirit nearly three years ago.Tohi Distillery master distiller, Priit Palk, explains that, unlike many other ventures, which are rushed into production without fully thinking through all the details, they wanted to thoroughly develop everything for Tohi spirits. Including the gin itself, the brand, marketing, production, and the team. Tohi entered the market only when, in Priit’s and his business partners’ eyes, the product was completely ready. It’s an extremely unique approach, reflected in the final taste, appearance, and soul of the gin.

A personal gin journey

Palk admits that his journey with gin is simple. He has always been a big fan of gin and has gone through the typical development curve: from quantity cocktails served by the bucket to more refined cocktails served in a glass.

“I’ve always loved gin. I like that it’s not too sweet, and gin can be used extensively in creating new drinks. However, I haven’t been a gin connoisseur for long, only about ten years at most. The turning point was in Malaga, where we were served gin and tonics in high-stemmed copa glasses with beautiful ice cubes and a sparkling drink poured over citrus. Watching and sipping that, I felt something changing within me. Full disclosure, the cocktail that changed me was a completely ordinary – Beefeater gin with tonic from a balloon glass, nothing special, but for me, it was life-changing,” says Palk.

Red Cabbage and Spruce Needle Gin

But what was truly life-changing became apparent five years later when Priit decided to make the best gin himself. Priit is also known as a pub owner with several bars and restaurants in his hometown of Tartu and now in Tallinn as well. His connection to good flavors, spirits, and cocktails has been long and continuously evolving. Gin production, however, had an impromptu beginning.

“Unexpectedly, I had a small eight-liter pot still at home, which I had bought for some reason. I don’t even remember exactly why. In my free time and out of curiosity, I started putting herbs and citrus in it, experimenting with flavors. And in the long run, the results were worth bottling,” says Palk.

Gin Experiments

The “childhood” of Tohi gin is a diverse collection of very strange but incredibly aromatic experimental gins: Priit doesn’t exaggerate when he says that he put everything that came to mind into the still. This led to the creation of red cabbage, spruce needle, and even tangerine gin. And tasting them, it must be admitted that all of these could find their way to the market – perhaps not very widely, but as a small batch, gin enthusiasts would grab them right off the shelf.

The surprise that made Priit seriously consider gin production came when he distilled a liquid containing cloudberries. In addition to the wonderful aroma, taste, and response in cocktails, cloudberries are simply a bit mysterious but very tasty berries. Cloudberries became one of the most important pillars of Tohi spirits, the reason why this drink is highly appreciated.

The road from Priit’s tiny still in his kitchen to the bottle and the store shelf turned out to be longer than initially planned. Of course, they could have gone to produce their drink like a gypsy in some distillery already in operation, but the new gin producers had a different plan. First, they needed their production, their brand, and some connection between them all. So, they began searching for a place to produce their spirits, and after allegedly just half an hour of searching, Tohisoo’s old distillery in Kohila stood out. It had a connection to the history of beverage production.

Establishing own gin distillery

Tohisoo distillery was bought within a week, and digging into history revealed that it had once belonged to the father of the world-famous explorer Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen. Now they had the brand name and the bird from Bellingshausen’s coat of arms for the gin logo. Equipment was purchased from Germany, Japan, Slovakia, and Italy. As the only handcraft gin producer, Tohi also has its bottle, produced at the Järvakandi bottle factory.

“It might seem that we took too long to make gin. However, we wanted to create something that was fully ready and the best: a production facility where people could be allowed in right away, a great product, an exciting story, and history, and so on. From this foundation, it’s now easier to move forward,” says Palk.

The plan is to introduce several more drinks under the Tohi label, some of which are already in bottles, awaiting finishing touches. Whether we will ever get to taste red cabbage, spruce needle, and tangerine gin under the Tohi label remains to be seen. Priit isn’t saying no or yes yet…

Source: Martin Hanson, Delfi Oma Maitse