Gin is made from a neutral spirit flavoured with juniper and several other ingredients like roots, fruits, herbs, seeds and berries – all known as botanicals. But what botanicals can be used and what flavour do they add to gin? In this short guide to gin botanicals, we’ll explore the most commonly used botanicals and their properties, as well as giving some gin-tastic suggestions for your next G&T.
Short introduction to gin
As we mentioned in The History of Gin and its Origins, gin’s name comes from the Dutch word genever, which means juniper. Its origin dates back to the 12th century, when Italian monks created the drink as a medicine to combat the bubonic plague.
But gin really took off when Dutch medical professor Franciscus Sylvius, distilled alcohol from macerated juniper berries in the 17th century. The result of this distillation was gin, although at the time it was still known as genever.
Gin has a surprising number of ingredients
Juniper was the first botanical, but not the last. Over the centuries, distillers have incorporated and blended all kinds of botanicals and spices in their usually top-secret recipes. The number and/or quality of botanicals involved in the making of each gin is what makes each gin unique. The most traditional formulas have 5 or 6 botanicals, but there are gins with more complex recipes with 10, 20 or, in the case of Monkey 47, up to 47 botanicals!
While we won’t explore 47 today, we will discover 11 of the most important gin botanicals.
1. Juniper Berries
All gins need to be made with juniper berries to be classed as a gin. These small blue berries have digestive properties and are responsible for the bitterness of gin.
2. Coriander (or coriander seeds)
In both plant and seed form, coriander is widely used in gastronomy. When added to gin as a botanical, it lends sweetness, acidity and bitterness.
3. Angelica root
This has been one of the essential ingredients in the preparation of gin since the original recipe was invented. Together with coriander and juniper berries, it forms what’s known as the Holy Trinity of gin botanicals.
This botanical appears in many gin recipes. It’s the aromatic plant par excellence thanks to its mild, herbal, fruity and sweet aroma. It’s highly appreciated for its soothing, digestive, dermatological, antiseptic and anti-rheumatic properties.
Fruits such as orange and lemon are commonly used in the production of gin to add acidity. Mainly it’s the rind that’s used, although sometimes it’s the whole fruit.
Originally from India, the pods and seeds of this plant have been used in a multitude of gins for two centuries. Distilled together with juniper, it gives gin a wide range of aromas and flavours.
We couldn’t forget this classic spice. Green, black, white and pink pepper is used to make gin. This multifaceted spice lends unique spicy notes to gin.
This spice is extracted from the inside of the bark of the cinnamon tree and has been widely used in the distillation of gin as a botanical for many years. It has sweet, earthy, slightly spicy and highly aromatic notes. It’s said to have aphrodisiac properties.
8. Iris root
In recent years, gin creators have begun to use it for its potency and its versatility which allows it to be combined with a wide range of other gin botanicals. Iris root enhances the other botanicals in the recipe and gives them harmony. It provides herbal and floral aromas with other botanicals.
This botanical has only started to be used relatively recently. This Mediterranean shrub has bitter notes and sharp acidic hints and is generally used in Mediterranean gins. Rosemary is very aromatic, and its smell and taste is unmistakable.
With its strong flavour, this spice brings spicy hints with great finesse. It combines particularly well with cloves and cinnamon. But beware: its potency means you need to use it with caution, as it can overpower other nuances of the gin.
This is just an introductory selection and by no means exhaustive list of the most important and common gin botanicals. Saffron, flower petals, clove, basil, thyme, liquorice, olive leaf, green walnut, cucumber, and hibiscus flower, are just some of the other common gin botanicals that are well worth investigating and trying. While there are countless delicious gins out there made from a wide range of botanicals, we’d like to recommend you some of Drinks&Co’s favourites:
Translated by Chelsea Cummings from Raúl Pérez’s original article: Los botánicos de la ginebra. Los más importantes y por qué se utilizan