While I have been busily exploring the ginaissance I have been rattling off various botanicals to be found in the gins I have tried and reviewed without paying much attention to what each of these components actually are and what they might bring from a taste perspective to the drink. I have duly chastised myself and will start from this post to give a brief pen picture of some of plants you are most likely to find making a contribution to a gin.
Naturally, the starting point must be juniper or to give it its Latin and botanical tag, Juniperus communis. What may surprise you is that the juniper is a conifer and that the all-important bluish-purple berries, which take between 18 and 36 months to mature, are cones. When dried they become purplish-black in complexion. Junipers are dioecious which means that there are male plants and female ones and for pollination to take place, the pollen from the male has to make its way to the female, usually courtesy of the wind. The berries have a slightly piney flavour (natch) with hints of fruitiness and pepper.
Coriander (coriandrum sativum) is closely related to vegetables such as carrots, fennel and parsnips and is an annual plant. It grows to about two feet in height and has distinctive flat, green leaves and white flowers in bunches which look like upside down umbrellas. It is the seeds that the gin distiller is after which have a floral aroma. Coriander’s involvement in the making of gin is deep-rooted – it has been used in Gordon’s since 1769 and Tanqueray since 1830 – and it is estimated some 9 out of 10 gins deploy it.
Another favourite ingredient amongst gin distillers is angelica or to give it its delightful botanical tag, angelica archangelica, which like coriander is related to the carrot. As a plant it grows to up to 7 feet in height and has broad leaves which branch out around 3 feet and a profusion of flowers, yellow, white or green, which cascade up from a single stem like fireworks. But it is the roots that the distiller is after and tricky things they are too. They are harvested and dried but the taste profile – it has a bitter, earthy flavour – changes depending upon whether the roots are whole or crushed or powdered and it dissipates as the root ages. Probably over two-thirds of gins use angelica.
The orris root comes from any plant of the species iris germanica or the iris to you and me. I have a load growing in the garden. What is important about the orris, chemically, is that it acts as a fixative which means that it stabilises more volatile aromatics. It takes about five years to dry the root – so I am not sitting on an immediately realisable gold mine – and the roots are ground before use to extract the all-important oil. It has a woody raspberry or violet aroma but generally lurks in the background of a gin, helping to bind the other botanicals in use. Although it often takes a backseat, gins without orris tend to lose their aromas more quickly than those which have it.
Because I have stocked up on some old favourites and am still working my way through some of my more recent additions to my collection of gins, I have no new gin to review this time. This will be rectified next time but I will also continue my tour of some of the key botanicals which distillers use.