Gin Botanicals, Decoded

What separates cucumber-tinged Hendrick's from pine-heavy Tanqueray? Botanicals. We look at 15 bottles and ingredients to break down what's in your gin.
Illustrations by Alan Baker

The subtle flavorings that make gin so delicious can seem downright inscrutable. Many producers don’t even list ingredients on their labels, which only sustains the mysteries of gin, whose lore has been elevated by the likes of fictional characters such as Jay Gatsby and James Bond.

But we’re here to take the guesswork out of gin. This guide lists popular gins based on their dominant flavors, collectively known as botanicals. Pine-like juniper is required for gin, though distillers can tune that juniper note to be a whisper or a wallop. Beyond that, botanicals can vary widely. The most common include spices (coriander, cardamom, anise), flowers (rose, lavender) and citrus peel (lemon, grapefruit). Use the guide below to identify a flavor you like in old standbys, and perhaps, find a new favorite gin.

Note: The botanicals listed are as provided by the producers. Where unavailable, tasting notes were used to identify botanical flavors.

Martin Miller's gin illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Angelica

Martin Miller’s Gin

The root of this flowering plant adds a warm, musky herbal note that some describe as truffle-like. Angelica also is used to flavor various herbal amari and liqueurs that include Chartreuse, so this might be a fine choice to mix in a classic Last Word cocktail, which contains both gin and Green Chartreuse.

Also Try: D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin (angelica, chamomile, star anise)

Bombay Sapphire East bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Black Pepper

Bombay Sapphire East

Bracingly spicy peppercorn is used to add piquancy to a wide range of dishes, so it shouldn’t surprise that black pepper is a common flavoring for many gins, too. Bombay Sapphire East emphasizes ingredients sourced in Asia that include Vietnamese black peppercorn and Thai lemongrass.

Also Try: St. George Dry Rye Gin (caraway, black pepper)

No. 209 gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Cardamom

No. 209 Gin

These plump, aromatic pods often are found in Asian cuisines, but they lend their earthy fragrance and warming sweetness to liquor as well.

Also Try: Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin (cardamom, cumin, cubeb pepper), Four Pillars (cardamom, coriander, Tasmanian pepper berry leaf)

Citadelle Gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Cinnamon/Cassia

Citadelle Gin

While juniper leads this French-made gin, cinnamon bark from Vietnam adds sweetness and spice, alongside woody nutmeg and a bright dose of citrusy freshness. An unusual addition to this gin: génépy, a small mountain flower that provides an herbaceous note similar to a drop of absinthe. Cassia is derived from a different plant, but the aroma and flavor is similar to cinnamon, and it’s also a common botanical in gin.

Also Try: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (cassia, licorice, mint)

Plymouth gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Citrus

Plymouth Gin

Both a brand and a style, this clean, mild option downplays the juniper and allows lemon and orange peel to come forward. This style plays particularly well with other flavors, which makes it a versatile choice for cocktails like a Negroni or French 75.

Also Try: Aviation Gin (dried orange peel, lavender, sarsaparilla), London No. 3 (orange and grapefruit), Tanqueray 10 (white grapefruit, orange, lime)

Ford's gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Coriander

Ford’s Gin

This is one of the few producers to offer total transparency about its botanicals. Ford’s states that coriander accounts for about one-third of its flavoring, followed by much smaller amounts of grapefruit, lemon and bitter orange peel.

Also Try: Death’s Door (coriander, fennel), Farmer’s Botanical (coriander, lemongrass)

The Original Aviation Cocktail
Hendrick's gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Cucumber

Hendrick’s Gin

This bottling has found fans, thanks to its distinctive cucumber and rose profile. While very few gins actually use cucumber as a botanical, many have a fresh, cucumber-like flavor, which makes for a cooling addition to a Gimlet.

Also Try: Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin (cucumber, sage, lavender), Greenall’s (lemon peel, cucumber-like note, coriander)

Nolet's Dry Gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Floral

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin

“Floral” encompasses a wide range of botanicals (iris, rose, violet), but you know that familiar scent. The best floral gins offer enticing delicacy, perhaps mixing floral and fruity notes, without stepping into soapy or perfume-like territory. Nolet’s offers an enticing mix of Turkish rose and white peach.

Also Try: G’Vine Floraison (“vine flowers,” lime); Dorothy Parker (dried hibiscus petals, elderberry, citrus)

Monkey 47 gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Fruity

Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

Citrus aside, quite a few gins use berries, orchard fruits like apples or other fruit to add a regional flavor to the spirit (perhaps the most unusual I’ve seen is cantaloupe). The bottling usually will read as subtly fruity, rather than distinctly fruitflavored. Germany’s Monkey 47, for example (so named because it incorporates 47 botanicals), includes lingonberries, cranberries and blackberries, though you’d be hard-pressed to pick any of those out.

Also Try: Caorunn (coriander, Rowan berry, heather, Coul Blush apple)

Tanqueray gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Juniper-Forward

Tanqueray London Dry Gin

This is the big daddy of botanicals. It’s in all gin, and its brisk, pine flavor is a hallmark of the classic London dry style. Tanqueray starts with vibrant juniper, then it opens to more subtle licorice, black pepper and citrus. It’s ideal for gin and tonics.

Also Try: Sipsmith VJOP (that stands for “Very Junipery Overproof Gin”), St. George Terroir (juniper, Douglas fir, bay laurel)

Waterloo gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Lavender

Waterloo Gin

Known for its fragrant purple buds, the lavender plant is part of the mint family. Since it can be so powerful, it’s used sparingly in gin, often as a counterpart to peppery or citrusy botanicals. Waterloo Gin, a “New Western”-style gin made in Texas, showcases local lavender alongside coriander, anise and rosemary.

Also Try: Brooklyn Gin (citrus-forward, just a hint of lavender)

Langley's London gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Licorice/Anise

Langley’s Distilled London Gin

Licorice root is different from star anise, but they’re part of the same family (as is fennel) and offer similarly deep woodsy and earthy notes that also offer mint and molasses.

Also Try: Anchor Old Tom (star anise, licorice root), Greylock Gin (licorice, citrus)

Edinburgh gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Orris Root

Edinburgh Gin

The root of the iris plant provides an earthy, dusty sweetness that can be perceived as woody or hay-like, as well as a distinctly sweet scent (it’s often used to make perfume). Edinburgh uses orris root, juniper and citrus, mixed with smaller quantities of milk thistle and heather.

Also Try: Broker’s Gin (warm citrus and spice, earthy orris core)

Old Raj Dry Gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Saffron

Cadenhead’s Old Raj Dry Gin

Saffron-infused spirits are hard to miss: The spice delivers a yellow tint. Old Raj is perhaps the best known of the golden gins. Its flavor profile is a classic juniper-citrus-spice mix, but its golden tinge sets it apart.

Also Try: Boudier Saffron Gin (orange hued, earthy), ESP Noho Gin (startlingly lemon-yellow, saffron, cardamom and orange)

Beefeater 24 gin bottle illustration
Illustration by Alan Baker

Tea

Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin

Depending on the type and blend of tea leaves used, the flavor profile can vary widely. In general, expect a mild earthy astringency. Compared to the full-on juniper blast of classic Beefeater, the 24 bottling, infused with Japanese sencha and Chinese green teas, has a pleasingly spicy punch.

Also Try: Few Breakfast Gin (a limited-edition bottling with Earl Grey tea, bergamot and orange peel)

Published on May 9, 2017
Topics: Spirits
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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