What botanicals are used in gin? We are all for knowing more about what is in your drink; so over the next few weeks you can look forward to a series of blogs, with the aim of bringing you greater clarity of what is used in your spirit of choice. Starting with gin and the botanicals used in production, continuing on to rum and the regions and spices, finishing with a nightcap of whisky and the different styles.
Our customers often ask me about the flavour and style of gins, often being unsure of the flavour characteristics of London Dry styles or what is a flavoured gin. Many gin companies now detail the botanicals they use on the bottle, but just as many don’t. So that’s where we are here to help, delve in and learn more.
We shall start with the star of the show, well it wouldn’t be gin if it didn’t contain juniper! The law states that it must be the predominant flavour to be classed as gin and it even gets its name from it. There are around 60 - 70 different types of juniper and they are often found around the northern hemisphere. If you want some more information on the history of juniper in gin production throughout history check out this blog.
These little berries give the gin its characteristic piney flavour and are often the main flavour of London Dry gins. So if you are a fan of those classic styles here are some perfect gins to try! There are heavy hitting juniper notes in Sixtowns or British Polo if you are a fan of the classic G&T.
Bright citrus flavours in gin create such a delightfully refreshing drink with the gin influenced with lemon and grapefruit flavours. But oranges can also create autumn and winter inspired elements with warming and comforting flavours.
Citrus contributes massively to the final flavour of the gin and what style the distiller wants to produce, so read on as we break them down.
The lemon plays an integral part in the flavour of gin as the majority of distillers use it as a core botanical ingredient, the freshness helps to cut through the rich oily spices.
Lemons grow on small trees with straggly branches and leaves and there are around 40 different varieties. They were introduced to Europe from Persia, the real expansion of the growth of the fruit was when Christopher Columbus introduced it to the Americans when seeds were transferred to Hispaniola.
Lemon is vital, in our opinion, perfect as a final garnish in a G&T or the zest with its oils expressed in a martini. For those favouring the citrus forward gins Staffordshire Distilleries Lemon Gin plays homage to the fruit with loads of fresh lemon zest being steeped in the spirit before being distilled alongside lemon verbena and lemon thyme. Another great option is the bright summary flavours of Wildjac English Summer Gin, they even provide a comprehensive list of citrus botanicals on the label.
For me the orange brings a warmth to the gin that lends itself to autumn and winter tipples. Unlike its cousin, the lemon, it is often combined with spices and chocolate influences.
The trees bearing the bright round fruit are thought to have originated in East India/Southern China. They were introduced to the Roman Empire by the Persians which led to the distribution and growth in Europe/Northern Africa.
Distillers often use a variety of orange peels, from fresh to dried, fresh orange is usually from sweet oranges and the dried from bitter oranges such as the Seville. Traditional gins mostly use dried orange peel as they are based on old recipes when that was the only option. Modern craft gin distillers have started to move towards using fresh zest but both have their place depending on what type of gin you want to produce.
Gin with an orange influence are always very popular, we see this in the tastings and customer favorites in store. If you are a fan of the orange blended with traditional style of botanicals then we recommend What A Hoot Tawny Orange Gin. But a great curveball is the slightly wacky Jaffa Cake Gin, blended with cocoa, orange and real Jaffa Cakes.
The range of botanicals a distiller uses can lead to a clear distinction in flavour or can be the support act. There are a wide and extensive range of flowers, herbs and spices that can be used but here's a short list of some that have really prominent flavours.
Coriander is a main player in the gin world, often seen as the warm-up act to juniper. It is used in nearly every gin we stock adding a nuanced citrusy, nutty flavour.
Coriander is often the Marmite herb/spice that people either love or hate, but where would we be without it? Found in Southern Europe, North Africa and West Asia in herb and seed (spice) form, but most distillers will use the seed.
A gin where it plays a starring role is Twisted Nose. They have sourced it from the South Downs and distilled it slowly alongside peppery watercress and locally grown lavender.
Camomile is a beautiful plant with small flowers that look similar to daisies. They are native to many parts of the world. This plant is famed for its medicinal qualities with its uses dating back to the middle ages where it was used to treat stomach upsets and asthma.
It adds a beautiful warming note to the distillate and lovely aromatic qualities you would associate with a camomile tea. Another benefit is that it works beautifully with the other botanicals to create a softer gin.
Our favourite example where camomile works well with the other botanicals is Hemming’s Gin, this London Dry also has a lovely freshness from the mint and juniper.
These are some of the main stalwarts of botanicals, most people will be familiar with liquorice (you find it in allsorts of places) but the others might not be so familiar.
First we look at Angelica, a plant that originates in Syria but can also be found around Europe. In gin production the root is mostly used but also the seeds and flowers. When it has been distilled it has an earthy flavour with herbal notes. It often adds a base note to the gin supporting the different botanicals.
Liquorice has quite a powerful taste and is easily recognised in the gin. This botanical is native to Southern Europe and has a long and varied history. It adds the flavour you would expect to the gin but must be used in balance with the other ingredients as it can have an overpowering effect.
Orris root is the root of the iris and it takes a lot of work to harvest and process ready for distilling. The roots are dug up and dried for many years and then ground. Once distilled it adds a floral note as you would expect. It is often used in perfume production with Chanel No5 containing high levels!
Like I said earlier in the blog this is just an example of some of the botanicals the distillers choose to use in their gins. There are a vast array of fruits, herbs, spices and flowers that can be used to create beautiful and unique gins with flavour profiles to suit all palates.
Happy gin drinking!