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February 24, 2024

Bottled botanicals: Find out what gives gin its zing

Ruhi Gilder
Made from medicinal juniper berry, gin has been around since the 17th century and was once considered a cheap liquor in Britain. Today, it is one of the world’s favourite drink and a bartenders’ favourite for its dynamic flavour profile, derived from infused local and rare botanicals. “Every gin maker uses one botanical or herb that is overpowering, and that is what sets it apart,” says Rahul Raghav, Beverage Manager of The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro. 
In Britain’s tropical colonies, gin once again rose to prominence in the early 19th century. It was used to mask the bitter flavour of quinine, which was considered an effective anti-malarial compound. Years later, around 2013, gin makers started experimenting with newer varieties of the spirit. A decade ago, when Raghav started his career, Long Island Iced Teas and Cosmopolitans dominated the club culture. About three years later, when bartenders started making in-house bitters, mixers and innovating their drinks, the cocktail culture boomed. As a result, craft gins became popular as well.  
Juniper Berries
Juniper Berries
Craft gins are characterised by botanicals. Whereas, the classic, dry, light-bodied and pungent London Dry gin has juniper at its core. According to Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, CEO, All Things Nice, a wine, spirits and luxury marketing, consulting and events agency, local producers are taking advantage of the botanicals that they have in their region to stand out from the crowd.  Different regions celebrate ingredients that grow indigenously. For example, a Sri Lankan gin features curry leaf, a Mediterranean one has olives and other herbs like rosemary, thyme and basil.  
Roku, a Japanese craft gin made by Beam Suntory, a world leader in premium spirits, also uses native ingredients in its recipe. Suntory’s founder Shinjiro Torii wanted to “create original Japanese spirits the whole world can enjoy, uniquely made from Japan’s nature and her people.” Suntory’s first gin, Hermes Dry Gin was launched in 1936.
Roku Bottle under Yuzu Tree JPG
Photo Courtesy: Roku Gin
In 2017, on a quest to showcase traditional Japanese botanicalsSuntory introduced Roku gin. It has six quintessentially Japanese botanicals including Sakura flower, Sakura leaf, which add floral flavour, Sencha and Gyokoru tea, for a full-bodied aroma, Sansho pepper, for spice, and Yuzu peel, for a citrus fruitiness. The name Roku means six in Japanese, and the bottle of the gin is also hexagonal in shape and embossed with its six main botanicals.  
Roku Sakura Flower
Sakura Flower
Similarly, a German gin uses botanicals from the Black Forest while Indian gins use mango, mosambi and cardamom to flavour their gin.  One of the most unusual gins that Agarwal has tried was infused with a touch of betel leaf aka paan. A typical gin does generally consist of coriander seeds, Angelica root, juniper root, aniseed, cardamom, cinnamon bark and, of course, juniper berries.  
In India, people love the taste of juniper and spices. So gins that amplify the flavours of cardamom and ginger are doing well. In Mumbai, people also prefer citrus-based gins due to the humid, sunny weather all year around. 
 Yuzu Tree
Yuzu Tree
At his restaurants, Raghav loves to infuse unique ingredients in his gin. With jamun in season, he infused the fruit in the spirit for 3-4 days to allow the flavour to steep in slowly. Raghav loves the herbaceous hum rosemary. He suggests throwing in a few sprigs in the gin bottle and letting them sit in for about 12 hours.  Agarwal too experiments with homemade infusions but suggests that one check the level of liquid in the bottle, the nature of the ingredient and the intensity of the flavour before choosing the botanical to infuse the gin with.  
India is the birthplace of the iconic G&T (Gin & Tonic). Gin-based cocktails reign supreme in India. G&Ts, negronis, martinis are immensely popular. “For bartenders, gin is a great spirit because it has lots of flavours of its own. We don’t have to use many added ingredients to make a good drink,” Raghav says. He, however, stresses on the importance of adding the right type of gin in a particular cocktail. For a normal gin sour, which has gin, lime, sugar, and egg whites, a botanical or a light lemon gin is preferred, but for a classic martini, an herbaceous gin would be more suitable. For a botanically forward gin like Roku, which is multi-layered with a subtly sweet taste, Raghav suggests a simple pairing of tonic and a sprig of rosemary. 
With the “ginaissance” only expanding all over the globe, it is a beautiful world for gin-lovers. Each country indirectly bottles its own culture and cuisine, using beloved ingredients to create an experience that is unique in very sip.  

How to infuse botanicals in gins at home 
Pick a favourite fruit or herb, a reasonable quantity of gin, let it infuse for roughly 24-48 hours, depending on the flavour desired and say cheers to the perfect weekend cocktail.

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Ruhi Gilder


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