Gin can be described as tasting fruity and spicy, hot and sharp, or as piercing and jumpy—and all of these phrases reflect the quality of the base alcohol used to make the gin (as well as the types of botanicals included in the distilling process).
The staple botanical is the juniper berry, which is actually a tiny blue cone with compressed thick scales, and in parts of the world is used as a spice condiment.
The juniper berry must always be present in gin. However, the individual characteristics that make up each type and flavor of gin are driven by the taste of the distiller and their flair for creativity and experiment.
How I would describe the taste of gin
Classic gins, which refer to the plainer gins that rely solely on the juniper berry, are the ones that will attract terms such as piney and piercing, refreshing and lemony.
Contemporary gins are characterized by the addition of other botanicals besides juniper. For example, the lavender gin has been described as cleansing, or like potpourri or perfume and even divine, which really means that there are no words for it (yet)!
To another drinker, lavender gin will taste like soap! But that same opinion will change if the gin is served differently. For example, the presence of ice and further botanicals—a thin slice of lemon—will transform the experience. Such is gin!
Aged gins are claimed to be stronger and smoother. Experts argue over the outcome though, with some claiming there is no difference; that gin does not lend itself to the aging process.
Others declare that aged gin is a better and more unique product, meant to be enjoyed neat and with flavors that sing.
Navy strength gins, which are higher in alcohol and more intense in flavor, are often described as heady, floral, creamy, lurking, and surprising. These phrases describe heavier and deeper experiences.
Where do the flavors in gin come from?
The unique flavor experiences in gin are a result of the combination of botanicals used during the distillation process. And these depends on choices made by the distiller.
The most common botanicals include:
- citrus peel
- angelica root
- orris root
- cassia bark
Many countries are beginning to utilize local botanicals. For example, in Australia, some common gin botanicals include:
- lemon myrtle
- finger limes
- cinnamon myrtle
- bunya nut
- bush pepper
- bush tomato
Distillers now venture into the unusual to attain more unique and more intense taste experiences.
In Australia, there is a popular gin called The Seven Seasons Green Ant Gin, which utilizes green ants to achieve what distiller, Brendon Carter, describes as a distinct citric zing.
Why do people like gin?
Gin holds its place as a unique distilled alcoholic drink because it is distinctive, versatile, has character, and looks ravishing when dressed up and presented in a cocktail.
Gin lovers are very eloquent within the vocabulary of gin appreciation and they continue to articulate the taste and origins of every useful botanic and its associated flavor.
Gin, which has medicinal roots, became useful in England in the 1600s because the base alcohols were so poor in quality that they were almost undrinkable. The addition of gin made the base mixture both palatable and interesting.
Gin is now, like the lobster, marketed at the high end, and with a niche that is unable to be invaded by substitutes. As the gin distillery industry has developed, so have the varieties, so you can now find flavored gins of all kinds, from citrus to rhubarb!
Why do some people not like gin?
Non gin-drinkers find the distinctive flavors and flavor combinations uncomfortable. They also report that the spicy heat sensations are heavy, cloying, or just too much.
It was also once considered a drink for the ladies, perhaps because it was considered lighter in alcohol and because it took on lovely colors, such as pink. However, the quality and individuality of gin have made it a drink of interest to anyone who appreciates the distinctive flavor.
The complexity of the botanicals is, to be fair, something of an acquired taste. A simple Gin & Tonic is a good introduction if you're looking to taste gin for the first time.
What is the secret to the best gins?
Distillers focus on the quality of the base alcohol, which is the base liquid before the juniper berries are added. The base alcohol is from grain or grape skins, and although is meant to be neutral, it rarely is.
As the tastes of gin appreciators have developed and sharpened, distillers continue to search for solutions to the base alcohol and ways to refine it further. The more untarnished the base, the better the end product.
Apparently, the clarity of the base allows the botanicals to get a better hold and prevents a stain appearing in the aftertaste. The discerning gin drinker can often detect an aftertaste and even name its source.
Of course, the best gin is subject to personal taste, as is the best way to serve it. You'll need to experiment to form your own opinion on this!
How is gin usually served and where?
Gin is most often served in a cocktail, and usually with cold tonic water and ice—the classic G&T. Botanicals are often added, either dried or fresh.
Gin enthusiasts say that cold and clear mixers will allow gin to display its best interior. This means the play of botanicals within the drink.
The gin flavor profile does not shine with darker and heavier mixers such as coca cola, for example.
Gin cocktails are served in all manner of glass and metal ware, with the need to keep the drink cold always paramount. Drinking gin neat is also possible, and usually includes at least one dried or fresh lemon wedge to give the botanicals a voice.
Pairing food with gin is not considered very useful, as the powers of gins are expressed through tonics and garnishes rather than through food flavors.
Gin is now served everywhere where people gather to have a drink, with the choice of gins depending on individual taste rather than significance of occasion.