Written By: Charlotte Voisey
Which is the only spirit you would never drink neat? Think about it.The spirit that was always destined for the shaker?
Born to be mixed, gin’s domination of early cocktails may not have just been an issue of timing. When we take a look at what makes up the botanical mix of a gin it becomes clear why gin was made for cocktails.
Recently, I have found it ever more exciting and easy to mix with gin. Not only are there many vintage cocktails to draw inspiration from as I peruse my latest reprinted purchases from eBay but it’s what’s in the bottle itself that is making things easier and more fun these days. The new style of gins on the market experimenting with the botanical mix shows that gin is no longer just about juniper and suggests that there is a whole new world of beautifully balanced gin cocktails waiting to be created.
Floral botanicals add delicacy and perfumed aroma to the flavor profile of gin. Hendrick’s Gin is particularly floral, using four different types of flowers in the botanical mix: elderflower, chamomile, meadowsweet, and Bulgarian rose petal.
“Botanical” is a term with no legal definition, or rather a concept with no limits, for the flavor profile of gin. To make gin you need a carefully selected collection of botanicals that will impart flavor and aroma during distillation with a neutral grain spirit. Using Hendrick’s gin as an example, I will deconstruct the botanical mix and, with a little help from my friends, take a look at some botanical inspired recipes.
Juniper berries are the core of the botanical blend. Juniper must be the dominant botanical in every gin. Originally incorporated into spirit for its inherent medicinal properties, juniper gave the first real style of gin its name, “Genever” (genver is the Dutch word for juniper). Juniper berries give a distinct flavor to gin, a dry spice that interacts well especially when combined with other botanicals. Hendrick’s gin also uses cubeb berries, known for their aromatic and peppery characteristics. One of my favorite newer classic cocktails with gin is the Bramble created by Dick Bradsell in London in the late 1990s (a bramble is a thorny plant bearing berry fruit). It is a good looking, fine tasting simple cocktail which highlights the berry notes of gin.
Few realize that coriander is a very dominant botanical in gin. The gentle spice of the coriander seed adds a key characteristic to gin and helps draw out citrus, especially orange peel. It was this combination that inspired the Ginger Figgle cocktail, teasing out the warm citrus and gentle spice of Hendrick’s. Gin and ginger work really well together.
If gin is nothing else, it should be aromatic. Floral botanicals add delicacy and perfumed aroma to the flavor profile of gin. Hendrick’s Gin is particularly floral, using four different types of flowers in the botanical mix: elderflower, chamomile, meadowsweet, and Bulgarian rose petal. These pretty, delicate flavors are fun to showcase in mixology, as seen in the Lady Danger by Jim Ryan.
Orange and lemon peel are vital to gin to provide clean, crisp, bright notes, keeping a delicate lightness to the balance of flavor. The essential oils in citrus peel add to aroma, keep dryness of flavor and are easy to pull out in a cocktail. A simple citrus zest snapped over the surface of a cocktail has tremendous impact on fragrance, while pink grapefruit, yuzu, kumquat and other exotic citrus fruits make for interesting ingredients for more involved cocktails.
Roots and Seeds
Some botanicals work to bind flavors rather than deliver one of their own. Take roots, for example. Both orris and angelica root are found in the Hendrick’s botanical line up. They work to promote other botanicals and ensure astringency and balance of flavor. Root botanicals give a subtle kind of earthiness and that was the inspiration for Joy Richard’s Nobody’s Darling. Caraway seed is another botanical of Hendrick’s gin which boosts the aromatic profile.
Then there are the unusual botanicals that add a twist to the botanical basket. In the case of Hendrick’s gin, it is cucumber. Cucumber adds a wonderful clean, crisp, fresh angle to the flavor profile, one that can be drawn out with mint, fresh light fruits of the season like watermelon or lychee, subtle herbs like lemongrass or thyme and proudly exacerbated with garden fresh cucumber muddled into a cocktail.
A great cocktail showcases a quality base spirit. The more you understand your base spirit, the more harmony you will mix with. When it comes to gin there are many paths to take depending on your mood. It is this versatility that simply can’t keep gin out of the shaker.
The botanicals of Hendrick’s gin are: juniper berries, cubeb berries, coriander seed, caraway seed, angelica root, orris root, elderflower, Bulgarian rose petal, chamomile, meadowsweet, orange peel, lemon peel, and cucumber.