What are botanicals? The magic inside your gin.
I often talk about gin and its botanicals much to the delight (dismay) of my loved ones.
I’ve mentioned previously that gin is one of the more complex drinks because first off it can be distilled from any alcoholic drink of your choice, giving it a base taste, and second because of the botanicals that it is distilled with.
What are botanicals?
Let me start off by explaining what botanicals are. Once the alcohol of choice has been distilled to become a pure alcohol that will be used for gin, various natural plants and herbs are introduced during the second distillation to create varying types of gin. These are known as botanicals.
The first three botanicals that are almost always used in a gin are; juniper (well that one HAS to be in the gin for it to be called gin), coriander seeds which on a molecular basis are extremely similar to juniper (this is why they work well together, it adds a citrus and slightly spicy flavour) and angelica root which is more of a fixative or a binding agent. Angelica has an earthy flavour that is often mistaken for the juniper.
Also interesting to note is that the locations the botanicals are harvested from also have an effect on the flavour of the gin. For example Macedonian Juniper would taste slightly different to one harvested in North America (it also sounds cooler).
From there, any number and range of botanicals can be used just depending on what the final gin should taste like. Many gins introduce unusual and exotic flavours and a number keep them a secret so that prying eyes don’t learn their unique recipe. Each gin obviously has its unique taste which they understandably wish to preserve.
What is a London Dry gin
A London-Dry gin means that there are no sugars or additives after the distillation process. Originating during the 1700’s when bathtub gin was rife, people grew tired of the inferior quality of alcohol being produced and thus put specific standards in place to monitor gin production. London Dry doesn't mean it was produced in London, just that there is nothing added making it a 'dry' gin.
In looking at botanicals you can determine what garnishes to use. Most gins use coriander and some sort of citrus, this is why gins are usually served with a lemon but you can change it up to be a grapefruit, orange or even some coriander seeds which will help bring out that citrus flavour believe it or not. Fresh coriander is a personal no no for me because it tastes like the underside of shoes but the seeds are tolerable.
Different gin botanicals
Hendricks gin uses cucumber which is why you often find them served with a fresh slice. Apparently they also use elderflower so an elderflower tonic would work well here as well.
Opihr Oriental spiced gin uses crushed black pepper as a botanical which is why I included it in my most recent video making a G&T with spiced gin, as well as Cubeb which comes across as pepper. To view the blog and video click here https://www.samsambutdifferent.net/single-post/2017/07/28/Crafting-an-unusual-Opihr-spiced-gin-and-tonic
Caraway is a common botanical which has a menthol and peppery taste to it, used in Monkey 47 gin, you can try add a dash of caraway liqueur to a G&T.
South African gins, especially Cape Town based, tend to use fynbos as botanicals because it is native to the Cape. Table Mountain supports 2200 fynbos varieties which is almost incomprehensible but the more commonly known are Rooibos, Honeybush and Buccu. For this reason, adding a little steeped tea to a Rooibos flavoured gin isn’t the worst idea. It’s also possible to serve some of the amber and stronger tea flavoured ones with ginger beer instead of tonic. I know it sounds odd but take my word for it. Alternatively you can read up about it in the Woodstock Gin Company piece that I wrote https://www.samsambutdifferent.net/single-post/2017/07/24/The-best-reason-to-visit-Woodstock-yes-its-gin
Chamomile, the lovely relaxing flavour can be found in Tanqueray No.TEN. so fresh chamomile flowers will make for a pretty and flavoursome garnish there.
Beefeater uses blood orange so instead of a lemon, pop in a segment of blood orange and see the flavour change.
I’m hoping that by now you have a little bit more of an understanding of my obsession with gin. The way one garnish can change the taste and how what works in one gin may not work with another.
I am still fairly new in the garnishing and cocktail making game but what I would suggest for any other novices out the is to have a look in your liquor cabinets, see what gin you have, discover the botanicals and try your own garnish tasting at home. If orange is a botanical then cut a sliver of peel, pop it in your mouth and try crush it a little to release the flavour and take a small sip of neat gin after having taken one neat one with no flavours first. This way you will be able to taste the difference in flavour and experience what botanicals really do. I also want to hear from you. What gins do you have and what botanicals have you discovered? Email me or let me know on Facebook what you are playing around with.