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What is Gin? Part 1- What is Gin Made From?

All gin starts out life as a pre-distilled neutral base spirit with little or no character. The majority are made from a base of grains, (ie, vodka!) but other raw materials can be used such as grapes or mead. This neutral spirit is then re-distilled with flavouring ingredients known as ‘botanicals,’ or natural or artificial flavours are added directly.

The beautiful thing about gin, and no doubt responsible for its popularity and success, is that the only ‘rule’ is, one of these flavourings must be extracted from Juniper berries. These are the berries of the Juniper conifer tree, either added directly or extracted from it. This has been used for thousands of years by every civilisation in ‘health tonics’ to cure ailments from coughs and constipation, to the plague. Most used in commercial gin production nowadays comes from Macedonia, eastern Europe or southern Italy- where it crops more reliably and disease free. However, in some craft gins, local trees are harvested for theirs. The flavour profiles change with the seasons and climate, like the grapes do for wine.

Juniper Berries. Commonly dried before adding. To be classed as 'Gin,' the flavoured base spirit must contain it in some form.

Juniper Berries. Commonly dried before adding. To be classed as 'Gin,' the flavoured base spirit must contain it in some form.

Once the juniper is accounted for, the distiller’s imagination can run wild. Alcohol is both a very good solvent, extracting essential oils, and at holding onto these flavours for a long time without fading. A whole host of ingredients can be used, but there are a few common ones that many producers include:

Coriander seeds

Coriander seeds. Packed full of spicy aromatic essential oils.

Coriander seeds. Packed full of spicy aromatic essential oils.

Juniper's partner in gin crimes. Adds a spicy/oily citrus tang. The main flavour elements are from linalool and geraniol, which give gin an aromatic floral ‘lift.’

The characteristics of the seeds can be different depending on place of origin. A lot is imported from Morocco, Moldova, Romania and Russia. For a more spicy/peppery kick, Coriander seeds sourced from India are used.


Angelica root

A relative of the humble carrot, the roots from this plant are commonly dried, powdered and added to the redistillation. It gives an earthy/musky/forest floor note, nicely balancing the ‘sweeter’ botanicals like citrus. 

The plant’s seeds can also be used adding oily characters, not dissimilar to Coriander.


Angelica flower. The root of this plant is commonly dried and powdered to flavour many gins.

Angelica flower. The root of this plant is commonly dried and powdered to flavour many gins.

Orris

The Orris, a type of Iris flower, is one of the most expensive botanicals in gin. It binds all the other flavours together.

The Orris, a type of Iris flower, is one of the most expensive botanicals in gin. It binds all the other flavours together.

This is the extract from the root of an Iris flower. One of the most expensive additives, it is highly prized for designer perfumes and aftershaves as well as gin.

The roots, which are tuberous and the plant uses for storage of nutrients over winter, are harvested and then left to naturally air dry, for a period of up to 3 years. This concentrates the valuable essential oils. 

Its aroma profile is very earthy and floral and quite subtle. However, the main reason Orris is included in many gins, is its fantastic ‘bonding’ property with other aromas. This helps keep the more volatile flavours locked into the finished product.


Citrus

Grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, pomelo (a relative of grapefruit), mandarins or bergamot. Whole or just the peel. Fresh or dried.

Whatever is used, the effect is an unmistakable, piercing tang that rushes up your nostrils giving a sweet, aromatic lift to your drink. They are some of the most potent oils, and are rapidly extracted in the still.


Citrus fruits are one of the most commonly used and potent botanicals. They are easily recognised in gin.Citrus fruits are one of the most commonly used and potent botanicals. They are easily recognised in gin.


Want to learn more about the wonderful world of gin? Why not come to one of our Gin Tasting Experiences? Lots of dates to choose from, and our gin tasting gift certificates make a great present for the gin lover in your life! Or, see all our events and experiences here