What's in Gin

The Low Down on Botanicals


Gin, when mixed with tonic water, once seemed to be the sophisticated drink of college students everywhere. But it often gets overlooked in this day and age of quintuple-distilled premium Vodkas and sweet infusions of things they used to make grandmother’s perfumes with. Gin has never been an easy spirit, but then again it’s never been a single spirit either. Gin is a family -- a very close-knit family, but a family nonetheless -- that share certain traits: most notably a reliance on juniper berries for their main flavoring component. The word Gin, after all, comes from the spirit’s original name; Jenever, Dutch for Juniper!
So, what goes into your Gin then? Well, each recipe is different but the main ingredient of course is juniper berries: those purple-bluish little berries redolent of evergreen. Not surprising, since they are the fruit of an evergreen. So, what else is used in these sometimes-secret recipes?

Well, a typical Gin recipe may include some 5 to 10 botanicals. Some are very common, shared among almost all the major brands, while others are used in only a single recipe, a mark of distinction used to set one distiller’s Gin apart from all the others.

Here’s a brief rundown on some of the most common botanicals used in the production of Gin, and a few of the rarer ones as well.

Angelica Root
– I am most familiar with the candied angelica root used in some very traditional Italian cakes known as panettone. In Gin, this root, and sometimes even the seeds, is used to add an earthy, lightly floral element to Gin.

Cassia Bark – Some less scrupulous spice purveyors have been selling ground cassia bark labeled as cinnamon for decades and, truth be known, it’s a fair substitute. Another botanical with evergreen origins, this bark of a tree lends a pungent, spicy cinnamon flavor to Gin.

Coriander Seeds
– The leaves of the coriander plant (that’s cilantro, folks) are much better known to most people, though coriander seeds are a crucial element in the flavor of cola drinks. These seeds add some subtly spicy, earthy undertones to Gin and are one of the most common botanicals used after the requisite juniper berries.

Orris Root –  The root of a member of the Iris family, ground orris is used not only as a flavoring compound, contributing its lightly floral tone to the bouquet of many a Gin, but it also helps to bind the volatile aromatic compounds in solution.

Licorice Root – While we are all familiar with licorice, the flavor from the root is both particularly intense and bitter when compared to the candy some of us love. This botanical really helps to define the flavor profile of Gin with its bright, refreshing tones.

– Almonds are a surprisingly common element in Gin, contributing an aromatic sweetness and a base for other, more intense flavor tones to build upon.

Grains of Paradise
– These spicy seeds are a member of the ginger family and add their zesty essence to many a Gin. While their contribution tends to be mostly a spicy sensation as opposed to a distinct aromatic element, they do have an aroma that faintly recalls cardamom.

Citrus Peels
– A signature element in the bouquet of Gin, distillers have used a variety of fruits such as limes, lemons, oranges, and biter oranges to enhance the flavor and perfume of their Gins. Possibly the most important element after juniper berries, these fruits and the oils they contribute to Gin are one of main reasons Gin is so versatile a blending spirit.

Flowers – Some producers have added flowers to their Gins, aiming for a more perfumed nose.

Cucumber – This seems to be a signature element in only one gin. Along with rose petals, cucumber has been added to Hendrick’s Gin, making it one of the most distinct and perfumed gins on the market.

A Modern Tom Collins

* 2 oz. dry gin

* 2 oz. lemon juice

* 1 teaspoon sugar syrup

* soda water

* slice of lemon

* 1 Maraschino cherry


1) - Fill a tall glass with ice

 2) - Add the gin, lemon juice and sugar. Stir to combine

3) Top up the glass with soda water

4) - Garnish with lemon slice, cherry and serve

Mentioned in this article


  • I really enjoy Gin but find few varities available. I want names of great Gin's to look for on the internet. Help needed

    Oct 02, 2010 at 1:59 AM

  • Snooth User: marypeter
    423788 1

    Hendrick's, expensive but worth it. Plymouth gin is a bit less expensive and good enough to drink neat, difficult (but not impossible) to find outside the UK.

    Yum, can't wait until 5:00!


    Oct 02, 2010 at 8:41 AM

  • For cocktails: Hendrick's if you like the Cucumber thing, Bombay Sapphire if you don't.

    Beefeater for G&Ts.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 9:34 AM

  • Snooth User: Vinbansal
    430551 8

    Try Boodles and Tanqueray, Boodles may be hard to find.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 10:06 AM

  • Snooth User: thecatt
    579490 4

    Try to find the oringinal Dutch Gin Bols make one

    Oct 02, 2010 at 11:15 AM

  • Tanqueray 10 - heavenly distinctive.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 3:22 PM

  • Snooth User: sdr19899
    368490 35

    Agree 100% with marypeter. Hendrick's is wonderful.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 3:40 PM

  • Snooth User: mresler
    581355 1

    try Ransom Old Tom Gin, it's a pre-prohibition style gin made in Oregon, Old Tom is the style, slightly sweeter than London Drys. if you are a fan of Bombay Sapphire, give Zuidam Dry Gin a whirl, you won't be disappointed.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 3:59 PM

  • Snooth User: Fxcruiser
    557587 1

    If you want REALLY unique pick up a bottle of New Amsterdam! Even the bottle is hard to miss.

    Oct 03, 2010 at 7:52 AM

  • Snooth User: brgthegap
    584500 14

    Sapphire on rocks

    Oct 03, 2010 at 1:19 PM

  • Snooth User: tjeffrey
    124666 1

    For those who don't like cucumber:
    Boodles for Martinis, Tanqueray for G&T's, Bombay Sapphire works both ways. Now, thanks to Mary, I have to go find Plymouth!

    Oct 03, 2010 at 3:16 PM

  • an extra dry Tanqueray martini on the rocks

    Oct 03, 2010 at 3:23 PM

  • Snooth User: Dudell
    84489 4

    Bulldog Gin is an incredible gin. It is not sold nationally but you can purchase it online if your state allows alcohol to be shipped. It has 12 botanicals (main one being dragon eye which is like the lychee) and probably the best martini i've had.

    Oct 04, 2010 at 10:51 AM

  • Hendrick's is my fave, although I don't waste it in gin & tonics...for those a lesser gin will do.

    Oct 04, 2010 at 12:11 PM

  • Hendrick's from Scotland! Chilled & up with nothing in it but 2 or 3 thin slices of cucumber. Tanqueray Ten and Junipero are runner's up.

    Oct 04, 2010 at 1:13 PM

  • Hendrick's is great. I also recommend Cold River Gin, distilled in Freeport, Maine. It's a new gin, and may be hard to find out-of-state, but in addition to its wonderful blend of botanicals, it's actually gluten-free!

    Oct 06, 2010 at 8:29 AM

  • For new American gins try:
    #209 Gin from San Fran, Aviation from Oregon, Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin (Denver), or Bluecoat American Dry Gin (Philly).

    Hendricks is great especially straight, Plymouth is a great mixer. So many great gins so little time.

    Oct 13, 2010 at 3:03 PM

  • Love gin and it is nice to have more information about it, but it just wet the surface now I need to know more, well and have a drink

    Oct 15, 2010 at 11:38 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 233,910

    We'll be following up with another article on Gin next week! Thanks for the kind words.

    Oct 15, 2010 at 12:21 PM

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