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Good Spirits

Visit Argentina today and you’ll hear complains about the economy. The country had 50% inflation in 2021 so the gloom is reasonable. That makes any positive news shocking. Argentine entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, surprised about the country’s current startup talent, said earlier this month that it seems that the worse the country goes, the more powerful its startup founders:

Varsarvsky is based in Spain. You might find it harder to get locally-based Argentine businesspeople to say something nice about the country right out. Soften them up first at one of the new gin bars that have started to open up in Buenos Aires. For example, have a chat at Invernadero by the National Library while sipping a Haruki gin & tonic with sesame oil. That could make anyone see the bright side of even a terrible market.

Who are the entrepreneurs putting out these wonderful craft gins in Argentina and why make them now, in the middle of a crisis? Invernadero’s literary-inspired menu makes you want one of each, but only offers a cryptic story of nature overcoming adversity. By our own libations we have three theories to explain Argentine craft gin: fads, profits, and water.

Consider first if gin-making is one of Argentina’s notorious business fads. You could compare it to craft beer, which took over Buenos Aires a few years back, when every block in the bar district had at least one brewery. Most are now gone, though beer quality and variety has improved a lot. It’s more than you can say of cranberry farming, which was all the rage twenty years back and has now vanished. It’s hard to imagine an elixir like Alquimista gin, infused with clove and cardamom, could suffer the same fate.

The makers of Alquimista got a copper still in Switzerland with a plan to take “the art and science” of gin to Cordoba, Argentina’s second largest province by population and home to its first university. Their plan sounds less fad and more pioneering, like that of Argentina’s winemakers, who established the first wineries in the province of Mendoza to the west in the late 1800s. A hundred years later they started targeting export markets with fine wines, in a great example of our second theory: to survive in Argentina’s chaotic business environment, you need to command hefty profits. Hence the carefully crafted gins that Alquimista and other distillers are producing.

But can Argentina really support gin production? It wouldn’t be the first time. Dutch distiller Bols has made gin in the country since 1936. A third theory to explain the renewed interest in gin-making is that Argentina’s abundant supply of fresh water makes high quality gin possible.

Combine our three theories and perhaps you get a cocktail worthy of Invernadero. Like the Orwell Cooler, with Martini, Pimms, and cucumber. Verb Company recommends it.