Botanical margins

17 May, 2016

Are gins set to offer the world a spirits category as diverse and exciting as single malts? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, reports Dominic Roskrow


THE HUGE INCREASE IN new craft gin distilleries and the resulting innovation and diversity has prompted people to ask whether gin is set to rival single malt whisky for diversity and choice.

It seems it’s already happened.

“Comparing banana with oranges is always a tricky proposition, but given the number of gins out there, perhaps it is offering as much variety already,” says Carl Reavey, content creation manager at Bruichladdich, maker of the Botanist gin.

Patrick van Zuidam of Zuidam Distillers in The Netherlands goes one further. “It can probably offer even more variety as there are virtually unlimited combinations of botanicals possible, and there are no restrictions on the botanicals used.”

Raising single malt whisky as a comparison may be considered invidious by some gin producers, but it is valid, not least because once you start ageing gin in oak you’re treading into territory very close to whisky.

Many new whisky makers bridge the gap between malt distillation and bottling a whisky by launching a white spirit and, because of the attitudes towards vodka, it’s much more likely to be a gin.

Add to that the use of copper pot stills in America and elsewhere, plus the argument that gin in territories such as the European Union could be made using a base spirit from a pot still, and you’re making an argument for traditional distilling methods which would appeal to a whisky fan.

More anecdotally, if you ever go to a whisky dinner or an event with many whisky makers and distillers, watch what they drink before they eat. Chances are it’ll be a gin and tonic.

So if the flavour of a gin comes from the botanicals, and botanicals are heavily influenced by location and geography, could we get regional gin styles, such as Alpine gin?

It’s early days yet and there are conflicting views.

Zuidam is not convinced. “I do not see a specific style division by country,” he says. “I do see that new distilleries entering the market tend to develop more extravagant styles, both in flavour and in packaging.”

However, gin expert David T Smith believes national characteristics may well develop, but it’s early days and a lot more research is necessary.

“I detect signs that it is happening with Australian and New Zealand gins,” he says. “My theory is there are two reasons for this. One, those countries are a long way away and it is hard and expensive for them to get the same botanicals as those used in Europe or America. Two, they are using local botanicals and because the two countries have been isolated for millions of years their flora and fauna are very different to elsewhere.

“Use a certain flower picked in Austria and is it that much different to one picked in Switzerland? But compare it with a flower grown in Victoria, Australia…”

Again, this sits easily with whisky drinkers who understand that flora and fauna turned into peat over tens of thousands of years will produce different peat styles and they in turn will affect the taste of a whisky. Smith’s argument covers the same territory – literally – albeit removed by several millennia.

“It’s an exciting time to be in gin,” he says. “Only time will tell where it will take us.”

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