Dragons are real, they come from Mongolia
“I bought a small still from America and started making gin at home for me and my wife… I just like the flavor,” says Chef Daniel Brooker. A dragon was born.
The craft revolution is hot in China. Whether it’s wine, beer, or spirits, there are tons of small-batch artisanal products hitting Chinese markets, and the quality is better than ever.
Among the wave of passionate producers behind the movement, there is a strong sense of commitment. And Daniel Brooker, a New Zealander who came to Chifeng in Inner Mongolia to follow his craft, is as committed as it gets.
Chef Brooker was offered a job in Beijing to open a hotel, and he saw it as a chance to start a new chapter in his career. “I was always a gin lover”, he recalls. He decided to make a career change and focus on distilling gin. “The more and more I learned about China, [I saw] how easy everything is to do here, compared to say, my country, New Zealand.” He set up a facility to make a gin unlike anything seen before.
Being a chef, Daniel has an educated palate. He clearly understands flavor combinations, making his approach to gin distilling unique. “I use a lot of techniques I use in the kitchen,” says the chef, “I use a lot of vacuums. When you vacuum something, the atmospheric pressure changes, and it has a lot of different reactions in different ingredients. The texture changes and you get a lot of flavors out.”
His fascination for dragons is in full display with his full-body tattoos, and these images came to mind when naming the red-hued gin that he’d created: Dragon’s Blood.
“[Dragon’s Blood] is a work in progress. Every time I do a batch, it gets better. We’re still developing the recipe,” says Chef Brooker.
Why Chifeng? Mongolia has cold weather, so people are heavy baijiu drinkers. “It’s quite a serious drinking game here,” says the chef. And it means that Chifeng has become the ideal place to distil gin. The water is just perfect, and spirits are all about the water.
Daniel has a small on-site orchard where he grows most of the ingredients that go into his still, making his creation one of the most handcrafted gins on the market.
“Everything we do is quality and design,” says Daniel, “We focus on the end user.” From the quality of the bottle to the label, to the wax dip on the top, to the seal imprinted on it. Everything is deliberate. They print the labels on organic, recycled, Japanese paper. That’s commitment, but the best is what’s inside the bottle.
Dragon’s Blood boasts an extraordinary set of ingredients: wild juniper, Mongolian mountain pepper, and organic Yunnan golden roses stand out.
As in many gins, orange peel is one of its secret ingredients, but not everyone can say they grow their own oranges, peel them by and, and sun dry them on-site.
Daniel makes two very different styles of gin: the original Dragon’s Blood and the new Gold Dragon, which is deliciously golden-hued after 12 months of barrel aging.
Gold Dragon has a particular set of ingredients, including Mongolian dessert orchid, a rare flower that blooms once a year and adds a discrete yet distinct herbal essence that really makes this gin stand out.
Both Dragon’s Blood and Gold Dragon play well with other ingredients. Cocktails made with these handcrafted spirits are unique. The intensity and clarity of the gin enhance different flavors without getting lost in the mix.
Chef Brooker is far from finished with his creations. In fact, he’s developing two more dragons, and the drinking world eagerly waits for them to be born.
Dragons exist, and they’re as extraordinary as they ought to be.
Listen to Chef Brooker’s insight only on your favorite podcast, Bottled in China.
Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer