Insights : Which Botanicals Work Best for Gin?
A Spirited Recovery
Gin’s comeback has been well documented. Until fairly recently, it was thought of as a drink for older generations and was exposed to precious little innovation. However, in the last decade gin has become increasingly popular, with many bars and supermarkets stocking large ranges of premium gin, and its partner in crime, tonic.
The UK’s Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) report for 2018, showed that this growth is still ongoing, with a 56% increase in gin sold vs 2017. Moreover, it showed that gin crossed the 1 Billion GBP mark for the first time, becoming the second most popular drink in the UK on-trade.
The Role of Botanicals
To be classified as a gin, a liquid must have juniper berry as its predominant flavour, and in the majority of cases this is achieved by distilling or redistilling the base liquid with botanicals (plant extracts), including juniper.
One of markers of the recent rise in gin has been the willingness of distillers to experiment with adding experimental combinations of botanicals. One of the most popular mainstream botanicals to be added was cucumber, with Hendricks Gin being a notable example.
However, since then flavor combinations have become more and more exotic and daring. Here are a few of the more common botanicals that are used for gin and then some more recent combinations:
The must-have. Although gin originates in Belgium and The Netherlands, the juniper berries used for gin production come primarily from Italy, Serbia, Macedonia and India. They carry a pine flavor and often have a fragrant, slightly citrus taste as well. This is of course the flavour that most people identify with gin.
A familiar flavour, coriander seeds are traditionally used in Asian cooking, especially in Indian food. It is the second most important botanical in gin and can add complexity, being nutty, spicy and slightly citrusy all at once.
This is often used to bring out the citric side of gin. The botanical is made from the peel as this contains most of the oils, allowing for a fuller flavour.
The bark from cassia trees in Asia is used to create a spicy botanical that is very similar to cinnamon. It tends to go well with liquorice flavours and can have a slightly sweet finish.
Angelica root is another common botanical in gin, and has a slightly bitter, earthy flavour that many consider to bring the flavours from other botanicals into harmony with each other.
New Combinations and Flavours
It’s not just gin that has experienced a revolution, but also tonic. In fact, many credit innovations to tonic as contributing significantly to gin’s sustained ascent.
In particular, Fever Tree made the excellent point that if the majority of your G&T is actually the mixer, then you shouldn’t compromise on the quality of your tonic. To that end, they introduced a range of flavoured tonics, designed to pair with different types of gins. For example, their Mediterranean tonic includes lemon & thyme, with lemon being a key botanical within gins and thyme growing in popularity as it is used in a couple of well-regarded and popular premium gins, namely Gin Mare and The Botanist.