The fresh prince of Good Airs

Príncipe de los apóstoles yerba mate gin.
Príncipe de los apóstoles yerba mate gin.
Renato “Tato” Giovannoni is a leader in liquor. You might not know his name, but it seems likely that pretty soon you’ll be waxing lyrical about his juniper-based elixir. Remember sipping on a lovely Tanqueray and tonic? Or perhaps your juniper infusion of choice is Beefeater? Whatever your preference, you probably haven’t made a G&T with one of those imported spirits for some time, thanks to customs regulations.

Fear not, gin fiends, Saint Tato to the rescue with his Príncipe de los apóstoles, a high-end brand with a definite Argentine identity thanks to its yerba mate infusion.

With a background in tending Buenos Aires bars as well as graphic design, Giovannoni, a co-owner of Retiro’s Florería Atlántico bar and restaurant, says: “I’ve always loved what I do, but knew that I needed to move over from bartending to consulting.”

That drive took him to the UK to work for Gaucho Group, but even 10 years ago he was aware that Argentina wasn’t making good spirits. “People were only focused on making popular things that weren’t very good quality. And I thought the same, that it would be really expensive to make something good,” he says.

Working for Gaucho in London two and half years ago, Giovannoni met with a tiny distillery called Sipsmith. “At the meeting, someone wanted a new gin creating and they said yes, but if you buy 300 bottles from us. This guy only had one bar and it sounded too much for him, so I raised my hand to offer my services.” The seed had been sown for a new high-end product.

“I started thinking of recipes to make an Argentine-style gin, and I invented one on a train journey back from Manchester to London. The original idea was to make four gins coming from different parts of Argentina and they were going to be named after different animals, but then it turned into one, which identified the product more with the botanicals’ origin.”

Although the main elements besides juniper berries – peppermint, eucalyptus, pink grapefruit skin and mate – that go into Príncipe de los apóstoles come from the province of Misiones, Giovannoni’s gin is made at a small distillery in Mendoza. “That meant it was more economical than making it in Buenos Aires,” he adds.

Only the finest ingredients made the gin cut. For example, the mate he uses comes from a native Indian plantation, from plants that are more than 100 years old. And the combined infusion results in Latin America’s first top-end gin brand.

“I made a lot of samples but with different botanical combinations, and lots of people tried it and liked it, telling me ‘it’s ready now’. But I wanted to wait until I felt like launching it – and now I drink it every day. And I’ve made something that I like, which is good.”

With an original batch of 4,000 bottles, Príncipe de los apóstoles is available at a few other BA watering-holes such as Verne Club, Bernata, Fernet and HG Restaurant, whose owners know a good thing when they taste it: demand has been high as the figures show. Giovannoni has also sold to the UK’s Gaucho, and there’s been plenty of regional interest. “We will redistill at the end of September, as the mate leaves will be in their prime — this time we’ll be making 8,000 bottles.”

Príncipe de los apóstoles is also a signature in a bottle, with personal history inside. “It’s based on the way we drink terere in the north of the country, with cold water and orange or pink grapefruit. Plus, it takes me back to my childhood in Pinamar, when we added eucalyptus to hot water in winter,” he says.

Locally, the gin market is making a welcome return, Giovannoni adds, which could in part be down to the popularity of other luxury gins such as Hendricks. “It was very popular in the 1980s, but it’s back; people are starting to drink it again — we make two different G&Ts at Atlántico, for example. And as I go to Europe a lot, I saw that gin was big and that the market was open, plus there wasn’t an Argentine gin made with typical botanicals from here. And of course, I like gin!

“Perhaps making a vodka would have been easier, but everyone is launching vodka, and this identifies with Argentina much better.”

With regard to esthetics, the graphic designer within played a large part and many elements from his original label — such as a late 19th century font — remained on the light blue-and-white label.

Giovannoni says: “The bottle is simple. First, it’s not easy to get bottles in Argentina! And we didn’t want to buy bottles from abroad as then we’d have the problem of not getting them in through customs. Plus the idea was make it look like they could have been bought from a pulpería 150 years ago. We’ve bought up all the bottles we could.”

Giovannoni drinks his Prince Charming on its own, as it is 40 percent proof — “that’s how people are starting to drink them” – or with a dash of Cynar, tonic water and sprig of eucalyptus.”

Besides his gin, which is named after the Misiones town of Apóstoles founded by the Jesuits that was originally called Príncipe de los apóstoles, he is also set to launch Pulpo blanco ginger ale and tonic water this spring.

Although he won’t be revolutionizing the Fernet market any time soon, rest assured that modern gin history is in the making — and we should thank Tato, the patron saint of mate-infused juniper berries, for it.

Príncipe de los apóstoles
Available from Florería Atlántico and other wine stores
140 pesos

Buenos Aires Herald, August 4, 2013

Ph: Courtesy of Tato Giovannoni

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