Juniper is the only botanical required to make a gin, a gin. In general, juniper manifests in gin with one of five primary facets: pine-forward, herbaceous, green, resinous and waxy.
It is part of the legal definition in many places. Gin must have a “predominant” flavor derived from juniper.
Popular botanicals in gins
For centuries, gins have often featured an accord of juniper, coriander, angelica, some sort of citrus fruit, and orris root. Many gins rely on this to create the “classic” gin flavor. In modern times the botanicals that are in use have expanded greatly. Many of these “contemporary” flavors like cardamom, lavender and cucumber are recent innovations in gin. Some of these botanicals have only taken off in gin since the late 00’s during the Gin Renaissance
Next to juniper, coriander is the most common botanical in gin. Coriander seeds, better known as the seeds of the cilantro plant can represent a significant proportion of the botanicals other than the juniper in most gin.
The common variety of Angelica used in gin has been cultivated as a vegetable since at least the 10th century in Northern Europe. Often, the root is used in gin, owing to its intense, fragrant odor, though others parts, including the seeds, may be used.
Cinnamomum cassia is differentiated from “true” cinnamon. Cassia is prized by distillers. The bark is thicker, and although some describe the flavor as being “less delicate” than true cinnamon, the thicker, hardier bark is better suited to distillation.
Citrus fruits are a core botanical of many gins.
Lemon and Bitter Orange are the most common; however, the range is as varied as the family of citrus itself. Bergamot, Lime, Australian Finger Lime, Yuzu, Grapefruit, and even Pomelo. And that’s only the beginning.
Cardamom is among the world’s most expensive spices, only surpassed by vanilla and saffron. The plant is native to Southeast Asia, in particular India which has been one of the world’s largest producers since the days of the spice trade.
The aroma of cucumber is slightly melon and bitter. People describe it’s flavor as “green.” Cucumber distilled often takes on a stewed vegetal flavor and therefore many distillers, taking cues from early cucumber-gins like Martin Miller’s and Hendrick’s have turned to adding cucumber after distillation.
So common in modern gins that one gin writer remarked, “Lavender is the quintessential American botanical.”
Though widely used in modern American gin distillation, Lavender and its distinctive essential oil has been popular in cooking and perfume for centuries.