Everyone seems to be ginning it, but how much do you actually know about what goes into your favourite Gin? Can you, for example, recognise the botanicals just by tasting the Gin? Juniper is the key botanical; the spirit can’t be called Gin without juniper. There are a few other core botanicals that are found in most gins, but beyond that, the rest can be almost anything. The botanicals are berries, herbs, fruit, seeds and roots, which all contribute to the flavour of Gin.
The spicy and aromatic taste of juniper is the signature note in any Gin. For extra juniper, try Sipsmith V.J.O.P.
Coriander seeds will add citrusy notes, nuttiness, warmth and a hint of spiciness when distilled. It is the second most used botanical after juniper. Did you know the seeds are actually the dried fruits from the plant?
A good rule of thumb is to think of Juniper, Coriander and Angelica as the holy trinity of Gin botanicals. Angelica adds earthiness and it is slightly bitter. Angelica root is commonly used, but there are some Gins using the flowers or seeds instead.
Orris root is taken from iris flowers. The flowers grow for a few years, after which the root is taken out and left to dry for over five years before it can be ground to spice. Orris root adds floral and earthy notes to Gin. It is also commonly used in perfumes.
Boring, but important
Cassia bark is similar to cinnamon and this often leads to confusion between the two botanicals in both taste and texture. Cassia bark adds a sweet flavour with an extra peppery punch.
Adding dried or fresh peel of orange adds freshness and sweet citrus notes, although some bitter oranges are used in Gin as well. The dry peel of Seville Oranges is commonly used in Gin, but there are some Gins that use fresh peel of sweet orange.
Lemon peel is a very popular botanical in Gin. It creates candied and zesty notes on the nose, and adds a tart but fresh flavour when tasted. If you are a fan of citrus-forward Gins, try Malfy Gin Con Limone.
This botanical gives a lengthy finish, although not necessarily a “nutty” one. It has a slight warmth on the palate yet the taste is earthy and a little bit sweet.
Cinnamon bark is a delicious botanical. It is sweet to taste and has a hot aromatic smell.
The name Liquorice was derived from the Greek word meaning sweet root, descriptive of its long-lasting, sweet and woody flavour. Liquorice neutralises any bitterness that might come from other botanicals, bringing out the best in them. It is similar to anise, but without the menthol.
Not for everyone
Both green and black Cardamom are used in Gins. Both are slightly sweet, but green is strong and intensely aromatic, and is also one of the most expensive spices in the world. The black cardamom has a smoky flavour, but is not so bitter. Try Opihr Gin or Sacred Gin (they also have a special Cardamom Gin if you’re really into this botanical).
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime is a lumpy, uglier version of key limes. The leaves are both floral and citrusy. When used in Gin, the citrus note is slightly more aromatic than your usual lemon peel, and the citrus flavour comes through later on. Try Berkeley Square Gin for a noticeable taste of Kaffir Lime.
Even writing this makes me gag. Why would you put coconut in Gin? If you want to try it, look for Hoxton Gin, which is more commonly used in cocktails than as a G&T.
Chamomile is sweet and aromatic; its flavour is often stronger in Gin than when in teas.
A very perfumed and floral botanical, Elderflower can be used instead of rose, violet or honeysuckle for a floral scent, but it also works nicely together with lavender, chamomile or honey to create an inviting bouquet of floral notes. Try Silent Pool Gin for a lovely balanced bouquet of different floral notes.
Rhubarb brings sweetness and subtle sour notes to Gin when combined with other botanicals. Warner Edward’s Rhubarb Gin is slightly lemony with notes of cooked rhubarb. It blends beautifully with juniper and other spicier botanicals. Try it in a Gin Sour cocktail, or if you like it sweeter, make a Dry Martini, as the rhubarb will shine through and bring enough sweetness.
Fun and different
Seaweed obviously brings a lot of saltiness to Gin. Try Dá Mhile Seaweed Gin. It is made with other botanicals and makes a lovely addition to seafood. It’s like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. I loved it! Another Gin to try is Shetland Reel Ocean Sent Gin, which has a lovely balance of saltiness and spice.
Pink peppercorn is spicy, but when used in Gin it is not overly hot. The light spiciness of pink pepper works nicely together with sweeter botanicals. Try St Giles Gin or Pink Pepper Gin for a more intense flavour.
Oh yes, you read it right. Anty Gin is made with wood ants. The ants give the Gin a slightly citrusy notes. Give it a go if you can afford it, a bottle is priced at £203!
Silver Birch Tree Sap
Silver birch sap gives refreshing sweetness to any Gin. Very Nordic, don’t you think? Try Blackdown Sussex Gin. It makes a perfect Martini together with Blackdown Sussex Vermouth (also made with the sap from silver birch trees)!
There are many varieties of Mint used in Gins. Apple Mint or Water Mint, for example, are often locally grown and hand-picked by the distillers. Mint adds a lovely freshness to any Gin (try Shetland Reel Gin for apple mint). Another slightly minty fresh Gin is Daffy’s – they use Lebanese Mint.
Sea buckthorn is rich in oils and high in vitamin C (15 times more than an orange!). It adds a fruity and crisp flavour to Gins like Napue or Rock Rose. Another similar berry-like fruit is a Rowan Berry, which tends to be more delicate in flavour. It is commonly found in Scottish Gins such as Caorunn Gin (rowan berry actually translates caorunn in Gaelic).
As you’ve probably got the idea – there is an endless number of botanicals used in Gin. The present trend in Gin distilling includes many locally foraged botanicals as these create unique flavour combinations, making the Gin differ from others. For example, many Scottish Gins use various local ingredients such as heather, bog myrtle, bleaberry, kelp, carline thistle, meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, wild water mint… the list goes on. You can also find many herbs in Gins, anything from thyme to rosemary to sage, all of which also make a great garnish for G&T.
My worry is that the growing demand of local (and unique) ingredients will have a long-term impact on the environment when the growth of the botanicals can’t meet the demand of the Gin. Does it matter if all the botanicals aren’t from the same local source but bought elsewhere? I think this is something every Gin drinker should consider before buying a bottle of Gin.
What is your favourite botanical? What style of Gin do you like?
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