Juniper! Your Guide to Gin Botanicals & Ingredients
It is widely known that gin gains its distinct flavour from distillation with juniper, but what exactly is juniper? Are there also other required botanicals be able to call a gin a gin? In this article we explore the commonly and less-commonly used botanicals in current gin making practices.
What is Juniper? Where does it come from?
To be called a gin, of any classification, it is essential that the distillation process includes the use of juniper. The juniper shrub is from the cupressaceae, a conifer family that includes redwoods and giant sequoias and grows all around the world. The juniper plant, however, is mainly found throughout the Northern Hemisphere and includes between 50 and 67 species, depending on the classification system used. Be careful though, most of these species are inedible, some are poisonous and only one, Juniperus communis, is used in the flavouring of food and alcohol.
Despite common misconception, it isn’t the berry that is used in the gin making process it is, in fact, the oil from the seeds inside the berries. These oils have a piney, peppery, bittersweet taste that gives gin its unusual, signature flavour.
I have some Juniper. What other botanicals do I need?
Strictly speaking, once you have juniper in your distilled spirit, you have yourself a gin. If you just left it like that though you wouldn’t have much taste. There are no rules as to which botanicals you can use from here on out. Although there are many botanicals that are more highly regarded than others by distillers around the world, due to their distinct flavour notes.
The next ten most popular botanicals, behind juniper, are coriander seeds, angelica (root and seeds), lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, cardamon, licorice root, cinnamon, cassia (chinese cinnamon) and lavender.
Lesser used botanicals
After this you can use anything edible to add to the distilling process - every distiller is using their own secret blend of ingredients to put their gin out on top. These include a whole range of fruits, herbs, spices, nuts, edible flowers, vegetables, grains, tree extracts and plant leaves. If it has a flavour, chances are someone has tried it in a gin!
Australia Native Botanicals
Increasingly Australian gins are branching away from traditional botanical ingredients used by the rest of the distilling world by using the whole heap of interesting and diverse flora and fauna on their doorstep. These unique botanicals are helping to put Australia on the global gin map, creating their own distinctive flavours resulting in multi-award winning gins. From green ants, bush tomatoes, lemon myrtle, tasmanian pepperberry, murraya, eucalyptus, macadamia, finger limes and much much more, the Australian gin maker is spoilt for choice in their creation of their magnificent gin.
What is a flavoured gin? How is it different to the botanical flavours in a gin?
A flavoured gin is different to a gin using botanical flavourings in its distillation process. The flavouring comes afterwards and is usually mixed with a standard gin, post-distillation, in the form of either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic liqueur. Usually the flavouring is fruity, but as this becomes more commonplace, distillers are branching out further and further to create a unique product. From wine varieties to old-school lolly flavours, there are hundreds out there just waiting for us to try. The Infusionist has even managed to bottle the flavour of a mystical unicorn. Now that’s what we call impressive!