So, what is gin? The simple version; gin is a white spirit flavoured with juniper and whatever else you like. Some people, not my people, but some people, say that gin is just flavoured vodka. Let’s get back to that once I’ve explained this whole gin thing.
Ethanol, neutral spirit or white spirit can be made from anything really, grain, potato, sugarcane, apples, grapes. Ethanol must be at least 96% alcohol by volume (ABV). Most gin distilleries buy in their neutral spirit in bulk. A very small number make their own neutral spirit.
At the gin distillery this neutral spirit is flavoured with juniper and other botanicals (botanicals is just a fancy word for plants, or herbs and spices, it makes us feel smarter). For a spirit to be gin, juniper must be one of the flavourings, otherwise any botanical can be used. The botanicals can be added as compounds, or macerated and distilled, or vapour distilled.This gives the gin its style which you can read more about here.
The juniper plant is a conifer mostly grown in the mediterranean, but found all over the northern hemisphere. That means it’s a pine. Yep, our favourite drink is made from a pine tree. Most people will tell you that the flavour comes from juniper berries, but they are in a tiny, tiny pinecone! Fun fact, male juniper trees create highly allergenic pollen, while female juniper tree are hypoallergenic. Just another example of the female of the species being more helpful than the male…
Flavour profiles of gin are similar to perfume, with top notes, middle notes and base notes which blend for a full flavour. Top notes are the most volatile flavours, meaning they evaporate very quickly and add lightness and freshness, in gin the top notes are citrus, floral botanicals and some herbs like lemongrass. Middle notes offer punchy flavour, juniper is a middle note along with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and cassia bark. Base notes are the earthy flavours that bind all the flavours together. They are often roots such as angelica root, coriander root and orris root.
The botanicals are distilled into the neutral spirit in the makers chosen way. The result is a very overproof gin which is mixed with water to the desired ABV. Most gin is 38-42% (must be over 38% to be legally sold as gin) and anything over 57% is Navy Strength.
The final important ingredient is water. If you’re following along, and not bad at maths, you’ll have figured out that close to half of a bottle of gin is water used to dilute the overproof as it comes off the still. So distillers as picky about the water they use as they are about the style and the botanicals.
Now you know a bit more about what goes into gin, you’ll understand why every gin is so different. Each distiller carefully selects and blends their botanicals to be an expression of their own vision of gin. This is just the briefest overview and there is so much more to learn about the science of gin , but what I’ve found is whether you know a little or a lot, gin is still just as delicious!