As you would expect, gin’s flavour radiates from its core botanicals, and a helpful signpost for these flavours can invariably be found on the bottle. Of course, this wouldn’t be a particularly useful read if all we had to say was: ‘read the bottle’. So, it’s worth adding that, thanks to the way flavour is carried through distillation, it doesn’t always follow that a botanical listed on the label, will be obvious. Hence us providing this very useful guide on how you might want to use the gins you stock.
When it comes to understanding gin flavours, one essential profile is Juniper. Handpicked from the mountains of Macedonia and Italy, juniper gives gin that fragrant, slightly resinous, piney and occasionally bitter quality. If customers ever suggest they don’t like gin, this is invariably because they don’t like the bitter, pine notes on juniper-forward gin. Rest assured, there is always a gin to be found that will please them, you simply need to understand the degrees of juniper expression. For example, historically customers were drawn to Bombay Sapphire because the juniper moves towards the softer, slightly sweeter and floral qualities of the botanical, while the bitter pine is far less pronounced. Interestingly, much like hops in beer, gin enthusiasts are craving a big juniper hit at the moment, with a brand like Herno actually using juniper wood cask to further enhance this pine expression. It’s also worth noting, that a punchy, juniper-forward gin really competes with tonic water, so can be a wise choice in a g&t.
When we talk about spice in gin, the most common botanical a distiller will be utilising, is coriander, Specifically coriander seeds. Coriander is second in their importance for gin makers and when dried the essential oils impart earthy thyme, floral notes and crucially a citrus top note in gin.
For earthy, musky notes we can thank angelica root, but here is an example of a botanical that might not be predominantly in place for flavour. Angelica root is also used to bring other flavours together and distillers will often measure it in the botanical bill so that is has a very subtle flavour profile.
Orris Root is another crucial ingredient in some gins, but again, putting the light violet aroma aside, this ingredient is mostly used as a fixative, common in the perfume industry and a common allergen.
Then there’s liquorice root imparting the light flavours you might expect, earthy notes are also relevant here, but they are not potent since liquorice is more crucial for its glycyrrhizin which carries sweet flavours across in distillation.
In contrast, there are those that you’d expect to deliver. Desmond Payne for example introduced Japanese Sencha into his Beefeater 24, specifically for the tannins, so it plays a key role in flavour and mouthfeel. Adnams Copper House has hibiscus, taste it carefully and you can pick up on the subtle floral note. Cardamon, the third most expensive spice in the world, imparts a higher spice note (Mysore) or eucalyptus flavour (Malabar), and can also adds a lavender or citrus note to gin. And Cubeb berries contain the piperine compound which brings a spicy pepper kick but combines it with limonene to balance that with citrus. Two very popular profiles in gin.
More common though, would be citrus peels.
Lemon and orange are both often used in flavouring gin, but rather than the flesh the distiller looks to extract the more potent oils from the skin. Some distillers have added grapefruit, some lime, and some are adding whole fruit. This should all be considered when you’re looing to play with the gin in mixed drinks, or searching for an appropriate garnish.
All flavours in gin matter, each provides a conversation point but also an opportunity to launch a drink into different directions, whether it’s simply showcasing the botanicals in a Martini or g&t, or using the gins in complex cocktails. Hopefully this flavour diagram will help you focus some of those decisions.
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