What’s In Gin? A Gin Botanicals Guide
Have you ever taken a sip of your expertly mixed, beautifully garnished gin and tonic and thought: where are these intricate flavours coming from? What are the ingredients in gin? The answer: botanicals, and they come in all shapes and sizes.
The word botanical means any plant or part of a plant which is valued for a particular use, whether that be keeping us healthy with their medicinal or therapeutic properties, or delighting our senses with their vibrant flavours or scents.
Many gin botanicals have more than one use, but all are celebrated for their flavourful and aromatic contributions to the gin in our G&T. Do you prefer fruity or herbaceous? Sweet or sharp? We’ve put together a list of some of the best gin botanicals around, and why each of these wonderful herbs, roots, seeds and berries make perfect gin ingredients.
Juniper berries are smooth, round and juicy, but here’s a crazy fact that not many people know: they’re not actually berries at all, they’re cones. Imagine a pine cone but less spiky and much much jucier! Juniper berries are the key botanical in all gins - and it's actually against the law for a drink to be classified as gin without that classic, pleasantly piney juniper flavour. Crush a juniper berry between your fingers and lift it to your nose, and it’s as though the smell of gin has started a party in your nostrils. And we all love a good gin party.
Juniper berries can be grown in many different climates, with differing temperatures and soils affecting their flavour and scent, lending different characteristics to a gin depending on where its juniper was grown. You can try the fresh, earthy fruitiness of naturally grown Scottish juniper berries in Smugglers Gin.
Lemon verbena is one of the best substitutes for lemons to create a citrusy tasting gin. Its fresh, delicate citrus flavour results from the concentrated aromatic oils released from glands on the underside of the leaves. This gin botanical can be grown in Northern climates, meaning Scottish gins such as Smugglers Gin can be just as zesty without having to (unsustainably) transport lemons from warmer countries. In short, Lemon Verbena is helping to save the planet! Try Smugglers Spirits' citrus forward London Dry Gin and see if you can tell the difference, we bet you can’t!
After juniper, coriander seeds are the second most used botanical in gin. The flavour profile of this popular gin botanical is a herby, citrusy spice, which blends together perfectly with juniper, as well as citrus botanicals. A slightly more understated citrus than lemon verbena or lemon balm, coriander will often come through after the initial zesty hit when you first taste the gin, following through with a refreshing finish.
As you can probably tell from the name, this herbaceous gin botanical loves the Scottish land and climate, making it an obvious choice as a base botanical in Scottish gins. Scots lovage grows plentifully at The Secret Garden Distillery in Edinburgh, along with the other fragrant gin botanicals in this list. They grow naturally at the foot of the Pentland Hills with just soil, water and loving care, and are hand harvested to reduce carbon footprint and protect the environment. As well as being a great gin ingredient, Scots lovage also has medicinal properties, and has been used throughout history to aid digestion.
The root of the Angelica plant is often used as a gin botanical due to its earthy flavour which grounds the body of the gin. Angelica also compliments sweeter gin ingredients, since the root has been traditionally candied for use in baking. Angelica’s beautiful white flowers are very attractive to pollinating bees, and the Angelica plants at the Secret Garden Distillery are often surrounded by bees and wildlife. The root is hand-harvested for use as a botanical in Smugglers Gin, but the gardeners make sure to leave some to keep the bees happy!
Opium poppy seeds may sound like a controversial choice for a gin botanical, but they are perfectly safe to consume and add a nutty flavour reminiscent of lush woodland to the gin. Despite coming from the opium plant, these seeds are often used in baking and are safe to consume in food and drink. That’s because opium is found in the milk of the poppy, which leaks onto the seeds as they grow, so a thorough wash removes any opium from the equation. You may have heard stories of people failing drugs test after eating a poppy seed bagel, and this can happen when small amounts of the milk are missed at the washing stage. However, these trace amounts of opium are never enough to replicate the effects of opiate use. Therefore, you can discover the wonders of opium poppy seeds in Smugglers Spirits' Old Sins Gin - and while we can't guarantee you won't be high on the flavour, you won't be getting high off the opium!
Geranium is a hugely popular botanical not just as an ingredient in gin, but because of its aromatic oils, which have a powerful calming effect on the body and mind. Native to South America, these colourful flowers made their way over to Europe in the 17th century - lucky for us, as we use it alongside violet and rose petals to give our Navy Strength gin its all-natural purple colour, which transforms to scarlet when the gin is mixed. Fun fact - the colours in Old Sins Gin will vary batch to batch due to the seasonality of the botanicals, but it will still change colour, demonstrating the true magic of nature! Geranium adds a delicate, floral rose flavour to gin, which beautifully compliments a juniper base.
Natural Scottish Botanicals
Each botanical adds something uniquely special to a bottle of gin, and a collection of complimentary botanicals can create a gin flavour like no other. All the botanicals on this list and many more can grow and thrive in Scotland, lending their charms to Scottish gins such as Smugglers Gin and Old Sins Gin. Now all that’s left to do is give them a try!