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What are Gin Botanicals?

Along with juniper many Gin’s are distilled with botanicals to give them their distinctive flavour, fragrance and colour.

Gin like other clear spirit drinks such as rum and sake are low in congeners or impurities produced during fermentation and are often responsible for the taste, aroma, and colour.

Along with juniper many Gin’s are distilled with botanicals to give them their distinctive flavour, fragrance and colour.

Botanicals give gin its flavour profile:

  • Spicy - Coriander, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Ginger, Nutmeg

  • Sweet - Honeysuckle, Elder flower, Vanilla

  • Earthy - Angelica root, Liquorice, Rosemary

  • Floral - Lavender, Hibiscus

  • Nutty - Almond

The qualities of botanicals present in gin is achieved mainly during the distilling process makes. The use of botanicals in the production of gin makes it one of the most diversified spirits in the drinks industry.

Gin distillers have an array of botanicals to choose from including essential oils, spices, fruit, plants, herbs, flowers, nuts and seeds. There is a tradition within craft distilleries to use or forage botanicals that represent the geographic location of the distillery.

It is this combination of traditional, unique and unusual botanicals that are used across the world to create many different gin flavour profiles. It is these flavour profiles that inextricably bonds the brand identity of the distiller with the gin that they produce.

By definition Gin is a juniper-forward spirit whose base alcohol of ethanol has to have an agricultural origin either from wheat, barley, rye, molasses, potatoes or grapes. There must be at least 37.5% ABV of pure alcohol in the total volume of liquid. There a number of juniper variations including:

  • British Juniper - Juniperus communis

  • Common Juniper - Juniperus intermedia

  • Alligator Juniper - Juniperus deppeana

  • Pinchot Juniper - Juniperus pinchotii

  • Ashe Juniper - Juniperus ashei

  • Western Juniper - Juniperus occidentalis

  • Bennett Juniper - Juniperus occidentalis australis

Gin is essentially a clear drink composed of water, alcohol, and infused with compounds derived from plant materials, fruits and essential oils used in its production.

Each gin will deliver the hints of juniper slightly differently in terms of taste because of the mix of organic botanicals and the essential oils extracted during various distillation processes.

The preference in gin production is to distil using copper stills over other metal options because of it is relatively inert against chemicals and has the ability to remove impurities from both the base spirit and botanicals during the extraction of essential oils.

The properties of copper means that firstly, it is a good thermal conductor and many times greater than that of stainless steel, it is inherently hygienic, and hostile to bacteria, viruses and fungi settling on its surface and during the process of distillation any sulphur compounds bind to the copper so clarifying the distillate.

There are principally three processes, that can be used in combination, whereby ethanol is used to draw-out rather than cook the essence of each botanical. Each of these processes extracts the oils and sugars from the cells of each botanical and combines with other compounds to influence the flavour of the gin.

Before distillation begins botanicals can be steeped for up to 48 hours by soaking or macerating them in the base spirit of ethanol.

When the steeped liquid is distilled the essential oils and aromatics are carried and infused into the vapour before being condensed back into a liquid. Steeping botanicals is regarded as the most traditional and most widely-used method of gin distillation.

An alternative process, though less intense and tending to favour subtle blends of gin, is vapour infusion. This form of distillation uses a Carterhead Still where botanicals are are placed in a copper still. The vapour is then infused with essential oils and aromatics rather than the original base spirit liquid before it exits the still condensed back into gin in the spirit safe. The flavour profile of this process is described as a lighter and fresher distillate by comparison to other gins that have bolder flavours and aromatics.

The third process of extracting essential oils is vacuum distillation or cold distillation that extracts essential oils and aromatics without the use of heat unlike a pot still. A process that was originally developed in the pharmaceutically industry gives the option to change the flavour profile of the gin by changing the boiling temperature and distillation of ethanol, water and the water-soluble compounds from botanical with the use of a vacuum. Vacuum distillation provides the opportunity for botanicals to be individually distilled and limits the absorption and mixing of essential oils and aromatics to create unwanted flavour combinations that impact upon the final gin flavour profile.

The vacuum as a method of distillation acts to infuse the base spirit of ethanol with the essence of botanicals by decreasing the environmental pressure above base spirit to below its vapour pressure and to a point that is lower than its equivalent boiling point.

By lowering the boiling temperature of ethanol, the more delicate botanicals essential oils and aromatics that are normally heat sensitive are preserved and not lost.

Vacuum distillation delivers an intensely fresh taste to gin with additional nuances of each botanical not lost due to the application of heat.

It is these essential oils derived from plants that determine if a gin has a pine, woody, peppery, citrus, spicy, floral or minty flavour profile. Both the mix of flavours and how they interact that will determine the organoleptic sensory experience by the consumer as they use their senses of sight, taste and smell to judge, compare or contrast the quality of the gin.

The variety of essential oils derived from plant material is often determined by climate, rainfall, or geographic location. Only those essential oils that are defined as oleoresins (solvent-free) and natural extractives, including distillates, are generally recognised as safe for use in food products.

The list of botanicals include:

  • Angelica Root - Angelica archangelica

  • Almonds - Prunus dulcis

  • Basil - Ocimum basilicum

  • Bergamot - Citrus bergamia

  • Bitter Orange - Citrus × aurantium

  • Black Pepper - Piper nigrum

  • Calamus - Acorus calamus

  • Cassia - Cinnamomum cassia

  • Caraway - Carum carvi

  • Cardamon - Elettaria cardamomum

  • Cinnamon - Cinnamomum zeylanicum

  • Chamomile - Matricaria chamomilla

  • Clary Sage - Salvia sclarea

  • Clove - Eugenia caryophyllata

  • Coriander - Coriandrum sativum

  • Cucumber - Cucumis sativus

  • Cumin - Cuminum cyminum

  • Elder Flower - Sambucus nigra

  • Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare

  • Geranium - Pelargonium graveolens

  • Ginger - Zingiber officinale

  • Grapefruit - Citrus X paradise

  • Hibiscus - Malvaceae x

  • Honey

  • Lavender - Lavandula spica

  • Lemon - Citrus limon

  • Lemongrass - Cymbopogon flexuosus

  • Licorice Root - Glycyrrhiza glabra

  • Lime - Citrus aurantifolia

  • Marjoram - Origanum majorana

  • Meadowsweet - Filipendula ulmaria

  • Mandarin - Citrus reticulata

  • Melissa - Melissa officinalis

  • Mint Mentha spicata

  • Myrtle - Myrtaceae x

  • Oregano - Origanum vulgare

  • Orris Root - rhizoma iridis

  • Peppermint - Mentha piperita

  • Petitgrain - Citrus aurantium

  • Pomelo - Citrus maxima

  • Roman Chamomile - Anthemis nobilis

  • Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis

  • Saffron - Crocus sativus

  • Sage - Salvia officinalis

  • Spearmint - Mentha spicata

  • Star Anise - Illicium verum

  • Tangerine - Citrus reticulate

  • Thyme - Thymus vulgaris

  • Wild Orange - Citrus sinensis

  • Wormwood - Artemisia absinthium

  • Ylang - Cananga odorata

  • Yuzu - Citrus junos

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