19 February 2014 16:49

The Intricacies of Gin

Although it has never been one of my favourite spirits to drink, the mystery that surrounds the unique tastes and flavours of gins has always fascinated me.  I think the allure of the product is in the botanicals and the different elements they bring to each expression of the category.

The other factor which makes the production method of this product so interesting is the fact that it is produced from a completely neutral grain spirit. The grain spirit is only the first step to producing quality gin and the top gin houses of the world will make sure they begin the gin making process with the highest quality triple distilled spirit. There are even some who distill their spirit more than three times. At this stage we have a spirit which is completely flavourless.

Most people can tell you that the flavour in gin is derived from juniper berries but very few are aware of the other botanicals that add to the aroma and taste of the final product. Master distillers use their skill and knowledge to select only the finest botanicals. Farmers from all over the world will send their botanicals to these gin houses in the hope that their crops are selected.

Juniper berries are normally selected from the Tuscany region which, as most of us know, is famous for its wines and cheeses. The juniper berries selected will have a big influence on the flavour of the gin, and distillers will make use of berries that have almost reached full maturity as this is when they have the best flavour.

To balance the juniper and to give the citrus and lemony flavours and aromas to gin, distillers will use coriander. Corianders are found all over the world and once again the master distiller will select on only the finest. Interestingly, the name 'coriander' is derived from the Greek word 'koris' meaning "bug' because of its almost beetle-like appearance.

Angelica root, orris root, cinnamon bark, anis, caraway, orange peel, lemon peel and cassia bark are some of the other botanicals used in gin production. Redistilling the spirit in these botanicals is what gives gin its unique flavours.

The history of gin is one shrouded in mystery with many stories of depression, cures and the evils of the product. A Dutch apothecary known as Fransiscus Sylvius is credited with the invention of Jenever when he flavoured aqua vitae with Juniper.  By the mid-1600s, numerous small Dutch distillers (some 400 in Amsterdam alone by 1663) had popularised the re-distillation of malt spirit or wine with juniper, anise, caraway, coriander, etc. which were sold in pharmacies and used to treat such medical problems as kidney ailments, lumbago, stomach ailments, gallstones, and gout. It was found in Holland by English troops who were fighting against the Spanish in the Eighty years war and where the term Dutch courage came from. Gin emerged in England in varying forms as of the early 17th century, and at the time of The Restoration enjoyed a brief resurgence. It was only when William of Orange, ruler of the Dutch Republic, seized the British throne in what has become known as the Glorious Revolution that gin became vastly more popular particularly in crude, inferior forms, where it was more likely to be flavoured with turpentines.

Today we have many fine gins available to us as bartenders, and many great cocktails. However I prefer to look to some of the classics from time to time and these are some of my favourites:


Gin Fizz

2 shots Plymouth Gin

1 shot fresh lemon juice

½ shot sugar syrup

½ of an egg white (albumen)

Shake hard with ice, and then strain into a tall glass, which contains a little ice (2 or 3 cubes). Then top with aerated water/ soda water.


Tom Collins

2 shots Plymouth Gin

1 shot fresh lemon juice

½ shot sugar syrup

Build over ice in a tall glass (Collins), then top with soda water; garnish with a lemon slice.



1 shot Plymouth Gin

1 shot Campari

1 shot sweet vermouth

Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled short glass; garnish with an orange twist.



Article by Etienne Schlechter, Owner of Bartenders Workshop and chairman on SABA (SA Bartenders' Association)

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