There is an amazing diversity of flavours in Gin these days, the booming craft market has seen that anything from earth worms to rare forest fungi are being used to flavour Gin. This leads to a sometimes confusingly wide variety of flavours available to the modern distiller and Gin drinkers. The trend currently gaining popularity is attempting to categorise these Gins into a limited number of niches that more accurately align with your taste buds than the terms London dry or contemporary.
These categories are often characterised by certain botanicals so lets give you a bit of a rundown on these categories and some of the Gins that fit into them. You will have to note that the categories are in no way definitive as different taste buds experience different flavours more strongly and some Gins will balance on a knife edge between 2 categories. However hopefully my experiences will be useful to help you figure out where your taste preferences lie and help select your next bottle of Gin.
Before I get started I would like to clarify what these categories mean. When I classify a gin in the citrus category this means that Citrus is either the dominant flavour or it is a close second in strength to the Juniper. Ie so a Gin with subtle hints of citrus and a heavily dominant juniper taste will be categorised under Juniper.
The categories that I use cover approximately 95% of regular distilled Gins, so we are not going into any specialist categories like aged gins.
By far the most common group with all of the big historical brands coming under this category and rightly so given it is the defining ingredient of what constitutes a Gin. Juniper has varying taste profiles dependent on the species, climate they are grown in, method of preparation and method of flavour extraction. The main taste that defines Juniper is Pine which comes from the chemical compound pinene. Junipers themselves can also have subtle and sometimes even strong hints of earthiness, spice, citrus or fruit, woodiness, leather tobacco and much much more. So as you can see there is much that can be said for Juniper focused Gins and for many traditionalists these are the only Gins to consider.
Some examples of Juniper forward Gins are Gordons, Tanqueray, Brokers and in the newer camp Sipsmith VJOP, Monster J etc.
Many Gins including traditional Gins have a citrus component to help accentuate the citrus characters of the Juniper, but what we are talking about here is Gins that have a big bold and obvious citrus component. Lets be honest here most of you are already adulterating your gin with a slice of Lime or Lemon, that is something we can all admit to enjoying and the reason for the surge in the number of citrus heavy gins. Common botanicals include Lemon, Lime, Orange and Grapefruit within each of these there are hundreds of different species many Gins distinguish themselves by using a rare or local variety. Citrus is most commonly used as a dried peal however many distilleries are now using a fresh peel or even sliced or whole fresh fruit to enhance the fresh character of their gin. Now additionally to citrus or the standard citrus many distilleries are experimenting with other fruits. Elderberries and Sloeberries are becoming more common and there are many Gins that go out of their way to include unique botanicals like Dragons Eye fruit or Buddha’s Hand. Citrus flavours don’t only come from citrus themselves many Gins use botanicals like lemongrass which contains limonene one of the key flavour components in lemons.
Some examples of Citrus forward Gins include Tanqueray 10, Berry Brothers No3 and Vaione.
Gaining in popularity spiced Gins are often described as being peppery or warming. Many traditionally used gin botanicals fall into the spice category these include grains of paradise, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and cubeb to name a few. Many distilleries experiment with local spices so the spice area is often touted as a gins local point of difference. Some of the popular Gins that fall within this category are The Botanist and Gin Mare.
This category has seen a surge in popularity due to one Gin in particular Hendricks. Common Floral botanicals include roses, lavender, elderflower, geranium and camomile. That is by no means a complete list and it should also be noted that certain other botanicals can impart subtle floral tastes for example orris root and cubeb. Some popular floral Gins include Hendricks, Geranium and G’Vine Floraison.
Earthen botanicals are used in most Gins including most traditional London Dry Gins. Originally they were used to tie flavours together and impart subtle characters in between bursts of Juniper. However recently a few Gins have started using them as key flavours. Earthy botanicals unsurprisingly tend to encompass mostly the roots of various plants. Some popular earthy botanicals include licorice root, angelica root and orris root. The most notable earthen style Gin is Bombay Saphire this style of Gin is less common and the only other one I can think of which is more of a balanced style between citrus and earthen is Plymouth.
This is a less common style of Gin and in my experience tends to come about when a large number of foraged botanicals are used it could almost be described as a combination between spicy, floral and for lack of a better word planty. As such botanicals tend to be wide and varied think herbs like ginseng, tea leaf and saffron combined with ginger licorice and a variety of leaves, grasses and bark sourced from your nearest forest. Complex and hard to pick flavours are pretty commonly used terms to describe these gins. These Gins can often be confused with spicy gins but is think the key difference is spicy gins tend to be sharper and peppery and less sweet. The most popular herbal style Gin is Monkey 47, the 47 refers to the number of botanicals used in its creation.
As I previously mentioned these are my own interpretations of some of the Gins I have tasted, your experience may be different but hopefully for the uninitiated Gin drinker this is a good starting point and will help you to get a broader understanding of the different flavours of Gin out there.
My advice is pick one from each of the above categories, line them up and get to tasting, you will pretty quickly figure out where your preferences lie.