The Beauty of Botanicals
Botanicals transform simple base spirit into complex and flavoursome gin. Some we hear about all the time, and others less so, but here at Masons each botanical is carefully chosen because it adds a unique element to the final product. Each of our recipes uses a carefully balanced mix of botanicals to build layers of flavour.
Recently, we grabbed our Research Distiller, Rory, to chat about the lesser-known characteristics of the botanicals we put in our gin. He was in the process of weighing out the ingredients for a distilling run of our English Lavender gin.
Chief among botanicals, juniper, is pine-like, fragrant and spicy, and we use it by the sack. As we’re making London Dry gin, juniper needs to be the dominant flavour, so despite lavender being a key component in this gin, the primary flavour is still juniper.
The unsung hero of countless gins, coriander seeds provide mellow nutty and spice notes along with dryness on the palate. With little resemblance to coriander leaves, the seeds contain the essential oil linalool, which adds background citrus flavours that are lifted by citrus peels also in the recipe.
Szechuan pepper doesn’t bear any resemblance to the black pepper we’re used to, offering far more mellow and complex spice notes. It backs up coriander seeds with more linalool and also limonene, helping to establish the citrus/spice base of the gin.
Lime peel is the key player out of the different citrus peels in our lavender gin. Citrus peel contains more oils than the flesh, which dissolves into the spirit during distillation. Lime plays beautifully with lavender, which is why we recommend garnishing an English Lavender G&T with a good twist of lime zest.
Cardamom comes in green and black varieties, but we use green cardamom as it’s more delicate. It adds herbal and spice flavours, and along with other spices, creates layers of complexity in our gins. It helps to fill in the spaces between juniper, coriander seeds, citrus peels and lavender.
We add a hefty dose of English lavender to the pot with the other botanicals to be boiled, as well as into the basket, which is further along the path in the still that the spirit vapours travel. In the pot, the lavender has direct contact with the boiling spirit, which brings out the herbaceous side of lavender. In the basket, it’s only the alcohol vapour that contacts the lavender, pulling out the more gentle and aromatic floral notes.
Except for the lavender in the basket, all these botanicals are added to the still, along with a mixture of neutral grain spirit and water, the night before we distil. This gives time for the ingredients to steep and begin the infusion process. The next day, when the mixture is heated up to a boil, the distillers periodically taste the spirit running off the still so that we avoid the ‘heads’ which taste solvent-like. At Masons, we only collect the hearts, which is where the gin starts to taste its best, and we collect this before the distillers again taste for ‘tails’ which again tastes unpleasant and is less alcoholic. The hearts are then blended with water over the course of the week, to avoid ‘shocking’ the spirit, ensuring that it’s perfectly smooth.
Keen to order a bottle of English Lavender now you’ve heard about the meticulous work that’s gone into it? Click here to head to our shop!