This is the first in a series, over the next few months, of looking into what makes gin taste like gin. The underlying botanicals that have been carefully chosen and blended by the Master Distiller. The obvious place is to start with the heart of gin, Juniper.
Without it that bottle of gin on your shelf isn’t really gin. The juniper berry is what does the legwork in gin. Except for the fact it’s not really a berry, it’s a cone as Junipers are actually coniferous plants. You never know, that little fact might be handy in a pub quiz!
Whilst there are between 50-67 species of juniper, the one that produces the ‘berry’ we are most familiar with is Juniperus communis (common juniper). It’s a plant that has the largest range of any woody plant as it can be found right across the northern hemisphere in North America, Europe and Asia.
Historically juniper was used before gin (as all good gin lovers know), in Genever as far back as the late 16th century, and it is often also been associated with the cooking of game. As well as culinary uses it has been used for medicinal purposes, and can apparently aide urinary tract infections and has been shown to help treat diabetes. Thought I’m not sure there are any medical studies showing the same outcome can be achieved by drinking gin.
Flavour wise the ‘berries’ impart pine notes into the gin, and as gin should always have a backbone of juniper running through it and it’s probably the one smell that everyone will associate with gin. It’s also worth noting that legally a spirit cannot be called unless it has juniper present in it. What helps distinguish all the gins from each other is the other botanicals used alongside the juniper, and the ratios of them.
There are also some micro-distilleries starting to look at other species of juniper, such as Juniperus occidentalis which is the most dominant juniper variety found in North America, as used in the Cascade Mountain gin. Who knows whether other juniper varieties will become more prevalent as time goes on.
How do you like your gin? Strong juniper dominant flavours, or just light touches of it?