Every Gin Tells A Story
It's been more than a decade since gin took the spirits world, both in bars and at home. Of course it had its favourite filler in tow: tonic water. But before we dive headfirst into the deep ends of Gin & Tonic, let’s begin by understanding gin and how it’s made.
Gin is a spirit that initially appears simple - from its production, over to aroma, and its so called mixability. You might be right to classify gin as an easy-going spirit, but that is a deceptively simple description. Basically, it's the same as with hamburgers, pizza Margherita or whisky sours: seemingly simple its attraction lies in exactly that -- drinks that are classic for a reason and remain steadfast through its use of simple ingredients, they’re allowed to shine through the use of only one or two more ingredients. It’s tempting to think you’ve landed in the aromatic safe haven of Gin & Tonic, and yet, it’s not quite that simple.
From Meadow to Swallow
This is all primarily due to the botanicals. These can be selected in a variety of ways. Some distilleries take a "the crazier, the better," approach and make use of ingredients such as thistle blossoms, jiaogulan, cassava bisamei or Indian tulsi basil. Or you take the regional route: German gins for example often contain angelica root, nettle, chamomile blossoms or violets.
In any case, and this is true across all borders, gin’s focus is the juniper berry. In Gin, juniper is basically hailed as the main aromatic ingredient. Even the language around the spirit makes no secret about this, since Dutch genever (= juniper), a juniper schnapps, was brought to London during the Dutch-Spanish War. The gin crisis began there and, while the government attempted to get it under control by intervening, a rapid professionalization in production was achieved. Thus, the juniper-heavy classic dry gin was born. You can read more on the form the macerated spirit has taken on today, and the differences between the different variations, here.
Maceration is the most important step before distillation. It describes the process of steeping the herbs in alcohol, allowing the base spirit to take on the aromatics. If the alcohol is heated additionally, it’s called a digeration. If the aromas are created by simply steeping the herbs in alcohol, it’s called percolation. These methods are often combined, much like gin botanicals. It’s easy to throw whatever you like into your gin, enjoying the freedom of fools in its production, which is why we consider making gin an excellent hobby these days. However, it’s important to consider all your aromatics before beginning production and plan for what you’d like the outcome to taste like. After all, if you want to cover a specific landscape, you have to get up early. Once you know what you want, you’ll be working with a limited amount of botanicals and the knowledge of how these develop over time, heat and distillation lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or: the bucket of gin at the end of a hot sauna? You get it. Basically, if you want to distill gin, you must become intimately acquainted with your future distillate.
Finding the Finns
For example, let's take a distillery that received a lot of media attention at the beginning of the gin hype, Hendrick's Gin. The finished distillate lends its flavor from eleven botanicals. However, they also flavor their spirit with the essence of cucumber and damson rose after distillation. That's not a bad thing by any means - but this means that it is no longer a London Dry Gin, as this category specifies that all flavors are added before the distillation process. And of course, it explains the prominent fresh cucumber and floral rose aromatics. This is a classic gin that does not care much for categories and regionality - a decision that is up to each producer.
Then we’ve got those that pay very attention to the ingredients’ origin, such as Ferdinand's Saar - which, just like Hendrick's, is a dry gin. Because its region is known for its Riesling grapes, these find their way into the gin, just like the lavender growing next to the vineyards, homegrown lemon thyme, as well as juniper, sloe, rose petals, and angelica from the garden. Those who know and like Riesling will also find its aromas in this gin’s flavor palette.
And that's the exciting thing about gin: a lot is allowed, yet not everything makes sense. Because a gin is always the result of its history and the thinking behind it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’ll be evident in your gin. It’ll be indecisive. If, for example, you’ve got five friends in a sauna who come up with a plan and fall in love with the specificity of rye you’re in luck. Oh wait, that’s our story. However, we’d like to think you can taste this in our finished gin.
Because this is our personal Kyrö blog and not a spirits magazine, a final note on why our gin tastes the way it does: besides juniper (of course), our gin is characterized by sea buckthorn, birch, and cranberries. Perhaps not the first rye gin the world has ever seen, but the fact that we use only 100% rye as our base spirit remains a rare fact. Because rye grows in Finland in abundance, just like our other botanicals.And all of this was decided in a sauna. And, as we famously know, what happens in the sauna … ends in a spirit.