Gin has a unique flavor, the reason why many people love it so much. But do you know what goes into making that flavor?
Despite its high popularity and the 5th highest sales position in the US spirit industry, many (even gin lovers) do not know what goes into making this internationally renowned, versatile, and exceptional drink. But don’t you worry, we have got your back. So what is gin made from? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Gin?
Gin is recognized by its distinct aroma and flavor. The distinct flavor is due to one of its ingredients — juniper berries. It is a small berry-like botanical without which a spirit cannot be classified as a gin.
The makers of gin take botanical ingredients and infuse them with a neutral spirit during the distillation process. Another criterion for a spirit to be classified as a gin is that it must contain at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).
There are many categories of gin, but makers do not make gin that falls strictly into those categories. They mix and match, combining different categories. Due to this, the variety of gins is increasing and what’s more, makers are including botanical derivatives from their or other locations to make the gin more authentic and representative of their culture and land.
Some types of gin are:
• London dry gin
• Plymouth gin
• New Western dry gin
• Genever gin
• Old Tom gin
What Is Gin Made from?
Now that we know a little more about gin, let’s find out what it is made from. Gin only needs a few ingredients, and they are:
1. A Fermentable Base
Alcohol production requires the fermentation of sugars (present in carbohydrates). Similarly, gin requires a base agricultural product that will undergo fermentation.
Typically, this carbohydrate is a grain or a fruit but can vary depending upon the brand or distiller. Some of the common bases are:
Apart from these, producers can also add any ingredient of their liking at this stage. Some of these ingredients are apples, honey molasses, carrots, and grapes.
Gin is a clear liquor like vodka and is made from the same bases. Both these liquids are also used to make similar drinks gimlets and martinis, and so are often confused.
However, the two spirits are very different. But what sets them apart? Their flavors. Gin has more diversity in flavors due to its complex composition and how it is made.
Another thing that makes them different is our next ingredient—Juniper Berries.
2. Juniper Berries
Did you know? Gin is short for genièvre, which means Juniper in French.
So, you must realize the importance of this ingredient. A Dutch chemist originally prepared gin for the treatment of kidney disorders. The elixir had the medicinal benefits of juniper and was supposed to cleanse the blood.
Juniper berry is not truly a berry. It is a cone with unusually merged and fleshy scales. They are the female seed cones produced by many varieties of juniper. Juniper gives the gin the piney and woody flavor that is characteristic of a gin.
Like most fruits and vegetables, the juniper’s flavors, colors, and some other characteristics change with changing conditions like climate, minerals, and soil. This contributes to distinct flavors, even when gins are distilled very similarly.
3. Other Botanicals
Gin is complete just with the sugar base and one botanical—juniper. However, to create a flavor profile beyond juniper, producers add other ingredients. These other botanicals could be fruits, flowers, spices, and herbs.
While some brands may use only a few botanicals, others may use 30 or more in their recipe. Also, knowing the exact list of ingredients is not possible, as many brands keep their ingredients a well-guarded secret.
While there is a huge list of botanicals, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used ones:
After juniper, coriander is the most common botanical used in gin. It is also referred to as Chinese parsley and is the seed of the cilantro plant. It makes a significant proportion of the gin and has a distinct spicy, nutty, and citrusy essence.
Angelica root is another very popular gin botanical and imparts earthiness and a little bit of sweetness to the gin. It also gives it a medicinal taste, and some producers may even use the seeds and flowers of the plant.
Although cassia bark is not a “true cinnamon,” it has a striking resemblance to cinnamon after being harvested and dried. It has a slightly sweeter flavor than cinnamon and a hot, spicy bite. Although it is hardier and thicker than cinnamon, termed “less delicate”, it is necessary for proper distillation.
Citrus fruits form the core botanicals for many gins. The most common fruits are orange and lemon, but others like lime, bergamot, grapefruit, yuzu, and pomelo can also be used.
Citrus fruits not only impart the signature citrusy tone but also add other flavors that temper the pungent tone of juniper. Some fruits also brighten the infusion, creating a more docile and delicate spirit. These fruits either add a bitter tone or a mildly sweet note.
One of the most expensive spices, cardamom is widely used in India, where it is a native plant. It has a powerful flavor and aroma that makes it very distinct from other ingredients. The taste is termed medicinal and numbing and makes the gin sweeter and smoother.
It is the root of the iris flower and looks very similar to ginger. However, drying the root can take up to five years, so this ingredient is only found in higher-end brands. It has a sweet and floral aroma and is also found in perfumes.
Licorice has very diverse flavors and can be sweet, salty, sour, and bitter all at once. It is similar to anise and interacts with juniper to form a very distinct flavor that not many appreciate.