Earthbound Distillery (Pty) Ltd

The Alchemy of Gin

The Alchemy of Gin

Just like alchemists of medieval times laboured to convert common metals like lead into prized precious metals such as silver and gold, so is the distillation of the perfect Gin an alchemical process of turning neutral spirits into flavourful elixirs that keeps you coming back for more.

Finding the perfect combination of herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, rinds and resins to perfect this elixir takes countless experiments and even more failures than one can imagine! The tiniest fraction of a gram too much or too little of an element can make or break your creation – this is what makes formulating a recipe for Gin a true form of Alchemy.

Tincture - The Alchemist's Gin

Creating an unique satisfying delicious Gin is a balancing act of botanical characteristics and perfectly distilled spirit: neutral or non-neutral, still containing some characteristics of the feedstock used to make the base spirit that will form the bedrock of your Gin which could be grain, sugarcane juice, molasses, fruit or vegetables. This will also determine the style of gin you’re making.

The Elements of Gin:

Juniper

The heart and soul of every Gin, called a berry, but in actual fact is a teeny tiny little cone like those on a pine tree but with fleshy scales, from the Juniperus communis plant, a hardy evergreen growing in widely diverse climatic conditions of the Northern Hemisphere. This rarely farmed plant is foraged by harvesters in closely monitored endemic locations for the ripe stock sought by distillers from all over the globe. These berries mature in around 18 months from hard green buds to plump , purple coloured berries with wrinkled, leathery outer skin.

Inside this thick skin is the aromatic oily flesh with small triangular seeds. The sought after essence of a true Gin.

However, what would a Gin be without the exhaustive array of aromas, flavours and mouthfeel coming from complementary botanicals that is characteristic of this spirit class?

Gin comes in a broad spectrum of flavours in carefully balanced key groups forming the recipe.

The characteristic essential oils and flavour compounds of each botanical plays an integral part in creating earthy, bitter and dry; sweet and fruity; savoury and spicy; floral and citrusy compositions through maceration, infusion and distillation or a combination of processes.

These elements provide a foundation for the juniper to come to the fore as the key element, some giving body and character, others to provide lighter top notes and others for full-bodied mouthfeel and smoothness.

Each distiller strives to create a unique basic blend of botanicals to build their recipes. Versatility is key to a memorable Gin experience. The art of achieving that is truly a craft.

The Classic Botanicals

Additional to Juniper there are quite a few classics making up Gin recipes. Their basic characteristics and use are set out hereunder in abbreviated format.

  • Angelica roots and seeds are the musky woody foundation for the recipe.
  • Orris root is a slightly perfumy, dry, bitter flavour that binds the botanicals together and act as a fixative in the botanical recipe, used in really minute quantities to avoid overpowering the other flavours.
  • Grains of Paradise – Piquant, peppery and menthol.
  • Cinnamon – Warming, sweet, woody spice.
  • Cassia bark – Woody and dry aromatics.
  • Lime peel – Zesty, tart, fresh, green notes.
  • Lemon peel – Tangy, tart, zesty and fresh.
  • Grapefruit peel – Perfumed, zesty, fragrant and fresh.
  • Orange peel, sweet – Fruity, fresh, zesty and sweet.
  • Orange peel, bitter – Drying, bitter and tart.
  • Coriander – Citrusy, fragrant, aromatic and spicy.
  • Cardamom – Highly perfumed aromatic menthol and eucalyptus spice.
  • Liquorice root – Sweet and earthy.
  • Bay leaf – Bitter, sharp eucalyptus notes.
  • Nutmeg – Pungent, warm, spicy menthol aroma.
  • Almonds – Bittersweet, smooth mouthfeel.
  • Cubeb berries – Spicy, dry and peppery.
  • Cloves – Bold, aromatic herbal, menthol spice.
  • Ginger root – Piquant, sweet and warming spice.

Modern Gins utilise botanical varieties that can be connected to the location of the distillery, often foraged by hand. Taste can be dictated by the target market of the distiller often times following a certain culinary movement and food pairing.

These include :

Floral elements like elderflower, rose petals, chamomile, vanilla and jasmine, essentially adding perfume and top notes to the Gin. In South Africa, indigenous fynbos is a favourite.

Herbaceous elements. Savoury Gins are gaining popularity with distillers adding rosemary, olives, celery, thyme and even hops to achieve those herbaceous, savoury notes.

Citrus-heavy elements, unusual citrus fruit such as finger lime, buddha’s hand and yuzu and the humble naartjie for that zesty zing.

Warming and spicy elements, spicy warm fragrant Gins with chai and masala characteristics and even pumpkin pie or Christmas cake flavours are seasonal favourites, some even include some hot chilli peppers.

Exotic fruit elements where fruits are fermented and distilled for the base spirit or Gins, infused with fruit, like sloe berries, pink apples and Shiraz grapes to name a few. Wild indigenous fruits can make an interesting conversation starter!

Salty and smokey elements, for instance, seaweed and kelp foraged along the coastline or Gin aged in charred ex wine, sherry or whiskey barrels, botanicals smoked prior to distillation.

The possibilities are endless.

This is Alchemy!