Gin is made from fermented grain mash and flavored by further distillation with botanicals. In layman terms, the answer to “what is gin made from” is as follows.
- Ethanol of agricultural origin
- Botanicals (with one being the Juniper berry)
The fermented mash can be made from grains such as wheat, barley, but also from potatoes, sugarcane, molasses etc. For instance, Rum is made from sugarcane juice or molasses.
The botanicals used to infuse flavors and aromas range from citrus fruit peels, seeds of coriander, anise, cardamom and pepper, to cinnamon sticks and roots of licorice, angelica, orris. The is no strict guideline as to which botanicals may be used. But without juniper berries, gin would not be…gin.
While the ingredients seem simple enough, producing that clear alcohol and steeping the ingredient mix in the right quantities is no mean feat. That is what separates the good gins from the bad and the ugly ones.
Is Gin gluten free?
Whether gin is gluten free or not depends on how its alcohol was made. If it was made from grains such as wheat, barley, rye, etc, then theoretically it cannot be called gluten free. One may argue that the multiple distillations to clarify the alcohol remove all traces of particulate grain matter. However, gluten proteins can be broken down into smaller parts, which may be too small to be distilled away. Therefore, people with gluten allergy and celiac disease are advised to avoid consuming gin if its origins were from a grain mix.
The main ingredients in Gin
The main ingredients are ethanol and water. But flavor wise, the main ingredient is Juniper berry.
Junipers are coniferous trees and the berries that grow on them are called Juniper berries. Actually “berries” is a misnomer as these are small fleshy pine cones whose soft scales meld into giving them a berry like appearance. The common Juniper, aka Juniperus communis, is used to flavor Gins. It grows naturally throughout the northern hemisphere, going as far north as the arctic.
Botanicals used to make Gin
There are numerous seeds, peels and roots that are used by distillers flavor gins. Below is a list of major ones.
After Juniper berries, coriander seeds are perhaps used the most to distill gins. Coriander is a herb most synonymous with Indian cuisine. For gin, dried seeds of coriander are used during distillation. This spice is used to impart a complex citrus top note to the gin. This citrus aroma maybe enhanced by using dried citrus fruit peels, but that is usually considered to be a cheaper alternative to coriander seeds.
Citrus fruit peels
The peel of citrus fruits such as Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit, etc contains more oils as compared to the white pith or the flesh of the fruit. That is why dried peels are used during distillation so that the alcohol can absorb the oils from them.
This is a critical addition to gins as it holds the oils from the other ingredients, preventing them from vaporizing away from the alcohol. Without such a binding agent to marry together the flavors, gins would not taste half as nice as they do.
Like the Angelica root, liquorice not only lends its sweet and warm flavor to gins, but also acts as a holding agent for other oils.
Black peppercorn provides its distinctive warmth and “peppery” notes to a gin. Amateur gin makers must use this sparingly as even a slight over dosage increases the “heat” in the gin.
Cinnamon evokes a feeling of warmth, as it is usually used in baking during cold winters. This spice comes from the Indian subcontinent, and is actually the bark of a tree.
Almond gives a nutty, smooth round-off to gins. It must be ground to smaller pieces before usage.
Popular Gins and their Ingredients
Below we provide a list of popular gins and botanicals that are used to make them.
Monkey 47 Dry Gin from southern German region of Schwarzwald (aka Black Forest), takes its name from the 47 botanical ingredients that are used to make it. Among them are six different types of pepper, Acorus calamus, almond, angelica root, bitter orange peels, blackberry, cardamom pods, cassia root, chamomile, cinnamon bark, lemon verbena, cloves, coriander seeds, cranberries, cubeb, dog rose,elderflower, ginger, Grains of Paradise, hibiscusabelmoschus, hibiscus syriacus, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lemon balm, lemongrass, liquorice, Monarda Didyma, nutmeg, orris, Kaffir lime , pimento, pomelo, rosehip, hawthorn berries, sage, sloe, etc. A third of these are sourced locally from the Black Forest, while the Juniper berries come from the Mediterranean. Last but not the least, local lingonberries make this gin complete in its taste and character.
Named after the oldest lady in Scotland who worked for the family who made this gin, Hendrick’s Gin contains juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, cubeb berries, grains of paradise, caraway seeds, elderflower, yarrow and chamomile. Hendrick’s unique taste comes from its use of roses and cucumber infusions. This gin is made in Scotland.
Bombay Sapphire Gin botanical ingredients
The ten ingredients that lend their flavors to Bombay Sapphire are almond, liquorice, juniper berries, angelica, lemon peel, coriander, cassia, cubeb, orris root and grains of paradise. These are sourced from all over the world, but the gin is made in the UK.
Tanqueray London Dry Gin botanical ingredients
Tanqueray’s gin is the world’s bestselling gin. Although Tanqueray’s recipe is a closely guarded trade secret, it is known to contain four botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica root, and liquorice. It is now produced in Scotland, although England was its original country of production.
Aviation Gin botanical ingredients
Aviation is an American dry gin. The seven botanicals used to make Aviation gin are: juniper, lavender, sweet and bitter orange peel, cardamom, coriander, Indian sarsaparilla, and anise seed, although the exact list remains undisclosed. Being an American dry gin, the prominence of juniper berry notes is not as high as in London dry gins. It is manufactured in Oregon, USA.
Beefeater Gin botanical ingredients
Beefeater Gin contains nine different botanicals according to its original recipe: juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, seville oranges, and lemon peel. It is made in London UK and is among the 5 best selling gins in the world.