First, what is a botanical? In gin making they are Juniper and various other berries, fruits, herbs, spices and seeds that are used to flavour the spirit, either by ‘cold compounding’ (soaking) or via distillation. But Juniper is always ‘primus inter pares’.
According to EU Spirit Drink Regulation 110/2008
‘The production of all gins must ensure that the taste is predominantly that of Juniper berries (juniperus communis) and there is a common minimum strength of 37.5% abv.’ [i]
The Gin Foundry sums up the importance of Juniper:
‘We would compare it to understanding the influence of casks for whisky fans, grapes for winos or dilution of ice for bartenders. Juniper is such an important aspect of gin that quite literally, it is not only the primary botanical used in gin but by law, it needs to be the predominant flavour in anything seeking to be classified as gin. The aroma and taste of Juniper is – or at least should be – the signature note in any gin, both on the nose and on the palate. Even the name Gin itself is derived from either the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, which both mean Juniper.’ [ii]
Gin Foundry, 2014
The gin maker then has the total freedom to use the various other berries, fruits, herbs, spices and seeds as a painter uses paints on his palette. A whole spectrum of ‘colours’ with which to ‘paint’ flavour into the spirit … and this is how I see my botanicals; I literally see the flavours in my mind and then choose my palette according to the type of gin I want to create.
Juniper is to gin what hops are to IPA: it’s not Gin without it. In times gone by it was used as a medicinal purge and as a cleanser it soon became a vital ingredient in the distilled elixir of the alchemists, as they sought to find a potion to give eternal youth. It has a predominant pine-flavour and is considered to be the base of the gin. Indeed, let us categorise it as sitting in our gin’s base section. This unique flavour to the gin is also assertive, and you’ll always find some more or less prominent expression of Juniper.
A majority of gins use Angelica root and we are no different. It also sits in the base section and is responsible for the earthy and slightly medicinal notes. It is widely found in the Nordic countries and so is a great addition to HRAFN GIN. It also acts as a flavour-binding agent which stabilises the taste profile – though this has not been proved chemically, it is part of the magic of gin’s botanicals.
Coriander seed is the second most used botanical in gin. Its contain pinene, as does Juniper and so the two complement each other. Another component is called linalool, also found in Mandarins – you know where this is going! The distillation of Coriander gives a complexity with its pine, citrus and spicy notes. Coriander with its elements of pine also sits in the base section, but its citrus and spice notes also lets it enter into the middle. Careful dosage and distilling smooths this journey from the base section to the middle.
One of my personal favourite botanicals is Orris. The dried and pulverised tuber root of the flag iris. It has a huge floral smell, which is very reminiscent of Parma violet sweets. This unusual floral note sits in the middle section giving a sweet but near imperceptible presence. The main reason gin makers use Orris, besides its taste, is to act as a fixative for the other botanicals, binding and stabilising the gin’s Nose and Taste. Again, the chemistry does not fully support this but years of gin making has made it a mythical ingredient.
Cassia is often unkindly called ‘cheap cinnamon’. The two plants are related, but Cassia, although it smells more fiery is more softer and sweeter in taste than Cinnamon. Like all spice it sits in gin’s middle section and Cassia’s complexity and softness gives a lovely horizontal warmth to HRAFN GIN. It is reassuring softness, rather than power, that gives an even mouthfeel unlike more pungent spices. Its association with the festive period and affinity to Mandarin orange is well known.
A special little spice to us at Raven Spirits. Cubeb adds the fire and prickle to the middle section of our gins. Reminiscent of black pepper, but with a faintly sweeter and more floral edge,
Cubeb gives gin, especially our ‘Thought & Memory’ its characteristic crackle on the finish and a deeper more resonant spice profile. It needs to be handled lightly as it can quickly dominate rather than enhance a gin’s profile.
And finally, we reach the jewel in the crown.
Sweet citrus fruits are usually used fresh in gin making and the peel is where all the oils are. Remember the linalool from the Coriander? Most oranges used in making are the more bitter Seville variety. But here at the Ravens’ Nest we sway to a different tune. The sweetness of the Mandarin soothes the spices and adds to their depth. It also gives a nod to the Angelica with an earthy tone and the volatile citrus oils spiral out of the middle section and into the Top. In fact, the scent of Mandarin oil can be quite narcotic.
Mandarin exists in all three sections of our gin and give a unifying balance to the whole as well as a sweet resonance that gives HRAFN GIN its unique ‘Journey of Taste’.
[i] Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 January 2008 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1576/89 [ii] www.ginfoundry.com/botanicals/juniper