What Are the Primary Botanicals Used in Making Gin?

Gin has come a long way since it was first invented in the 1600s, and today, there are many types of gin. Let’s go over a few of the primary botanicals, some of the unique flavor profiles these create, and the best ways to use various gins.

What Are the Primary Botanicals Used in Making Gin?

Gin is a distilled spirit that is typically made from juniper berries, which give it its characteristic flavor. Other botanicals, such as coriander, angelica root, and citrus peel, are often used to add complexity and depth to the flavor of gin. The exact combination of botanicals used in gin can vary depending on the brand and the style of gin being produced. Some gin brands, though, create a unique flavor profile using less common botanicals.

Uncommon Combinations

Some examples of unique botanical combinations include G’Vine Floraison gin, which uses grape spirit as a base and adds botanicals like juniper, green cardamom, and licorice root. Monkey 47 gin includes 47 different botanicals, including unusual ingredients like lingonberries and spruce shoots.

The Botanist gin, which is made on the island of Islay, Scotland, uses 22 locally foraged botanicals, including heather, gorse, and myrtle. Aviation gin uses botanicals such as lavender, sarsaparilla, and orange peel to give it a unique flavor profile.

Affecting the Flavor Profile of the Gin

Different botanicals can have a significant impact on the flavor profile of gin. The most important botanical in gin is juniper berries, which give gin its characteristic piney and slightly medicinal flavor. Coriander seeds are often used as a complementary botanical to juniper; they provide a gentle spice and citrusy notes. Angelica root adds sweetness and an earthy, slightly musky flavor.

Citrus peels such as lemon and orange can also be used to add a refreshing, bright, and zesty note to the gin, and orris root gives a floral and slightly powdery note to the gin. Some other botanicals and their flavors include:

  • Cinnamon – adds a warm, spicy flavor
  • Liquorice – adds a sweetness and a slight anise flavor
  • Orange blossom – adds a floral and citrusy note
  • Cassia – adds a warm, spicy flavor

About Sloe Gin

Sloe gin is a type of liqueur made by steeping sloe berries (also known as blackthorn berries) in gin. The sloe berries are first picked in the fall, typically after the first frost, as they become ripe then. They are then steeped in gin along with sugar for several weeks or even months. The result is a sweet, deep red-colored liqueur with a unique flavor profile.

Traditionally, sloe gin is made with a gin base that has been distilled from malted barley, but other types of spirits, such as neutral grain spirits, can also be used. Sloe gin has a distinct fruity flavor with notes of almond and cherry. It is sweeter and less juniper-forward than a traditional gin. It is typically consumed as a digestif, on its own, as a mixer with tonic, or in a cocktail.

Some popular cocktails using sloe gin include The Sloe Gin Fizz and The Sloe Comfortable Screw. It should be noted that in some countries, such as the US, there are products sold as “sloe gin” which are artificially flavored with sloe and not made by steeping the berries in gin. In the UK and EU, “Sloe gin” must be made with at least 25% sloe berry juice.

How We Got Here

Gin has a fascinating history that spans centuries and continents. From its medicinal roots in the Middle Ages to the diverse and versatile spirit we know and love today, gin has undergone a remarkable evolution.

17th Century

It all started in the Netherlands in the 17th century when genever, the first gin-like spirit, was invented. Genever was made by distilling malt wine with juniper berries and other botanicals, giving it a distinct malty, almost whiskey-like flavor. This spirit quickly became popular in the Netherlands and soon spread to neighboring countries like England.

18th Century

In the 18th century, gin truly came into its own in England, particularly in London, where it became an extremely popular spirit. This led to the development of London Dry gin, which is made by distilling neutral spirits with juniper and other botanicals.

The term “London Dry” refers to the dry, juniper-forward style of gin that was popular in London during this time. Brands like Beefeater, Tanqueray, and Bombay Sapphire are some of the most well-known examples of London Dry gin.

19th Century

As gin spread throughout the world, different regions and countries began to develop their own distinct styles of gin. For example, Plymouth gin, which is made in Plymouth, England, has a slightly sweeter and more floral flavor profile than London Dry gin; its smoothness and complexity characterize it, and it’s recognized by the European Union as a geographical indication, meaning only gin made in Plymouth can be called Plymouth gin.

In the 19th century, Old Tom gin, a sweeter style of gin, became popular in the United States.

Modern Gin

In more recent years, the gin industry has seen a resurgence of interest and experimentation, leading to the development of many new and unique styles of gin. Navy strength gin, for example, is a style of gin that is bottled at a higher alcohol content (57% ABV or higher), giving it a bolder and more assertive flavor.

Sloe gin, as we previously discussed, is a sweet liqueur made by steeping sloe berries in gin. It has a distinct fruity flavor with notes of almond and cherry. Contemporary gin, also known as New Western Dry gin, is a style that breaks away from the traditional juniper-forward flavor profile, and it allows distillers to be creative and use different and unique botanicals.

All in all, gin has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a medicinal spirit. The experimentation and creativity of distillers throughout history have led to the development of many different types of gin, each with its own unique flavor profile and story.

Choosing Types of Gin

Different types of gin can work better in different cocktails depending on the flavor profile of the gin and the other ingredients in the cocktail. London Dry gin, which is characterized by its strong juniper flavor and high alcohol content, works well in classic gin cocktails such as the Martini, the Gimlet, and the Tom Collins. 

Plymouth gin, which is made in Plymouth, England, has a slightly sweeter and more floral flavor profile. It can work well in cocktails that pair well with those flavors, such as the Plymouth Gin Sour. Old Tom gin works well in cocktails that call for a sweetener flavor, such as the Old Fashioned. Genever gin, which is the original style of gin and has a malty, almost whiskey-like flavor profile, can work well in cocktails that pair well with those flavors, such as the Dutch Mule.

When it comes to flavored gins, they can be a bit trickier to use in cocktails, as their flavors can overpower other ingredients. However, if used in small quantities, they can add a unique twist to a cocktail. It’s always worth experimenting with different gins to find the one that works best in a particular cocktail. And don’t be afraid to try new things; sometimes, unexpected pairings can create delicious results.

Best Gin Cocktails

There are many delicious gin cocktails that you can try. Here are a few that are particularly interesting and unique:

The Aviation

This cocktail was created in the early 20th century, and it’s known for its unique combination of flavors. It’s made with gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and crème de violette. This combination of ingredients creates a delicate balance of sweet and sour flavors, with a hint of floral notes from the crème de violette.

The French 75

This cocktail is a classic, and it’s known for its effervescence. it’s made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and champagne. The bubbly champagne and the tangy lemon juice create a refreshing and elegant drink that’s perfect for special occasions.

The Martinez

This cocktail is considered the predecessor to the Martini. It’s made with gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters. The combination of botanical gin, sweet vermouth, and the addition of maraschino and orange bitters give it a unique and complex flavor profile.

The Corpse Reviver No. 2

This cocktail is a classic from the 1930s. It’s made with gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, and absinthe. It’s a perfect balance of sweet, sour, and herbaceous flavors, and it’s traditionally served as a pre-lunch drink to “revive” the drinker from the night before.

There are lots of gins to try and endless ways to combine gin with other flavors for unique and interesting drinks. Stop by Town’s End Distillery & Stillhouse and try something new!

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