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 – 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