Beyond juniper

23 May, 2016

In Europe there are three definitions of gin:

Standard Gin: This requires that the gin be made with a base spirit distilled to 96% abv. There is a requirement for a predominantly juniper-flavoured taste but you can add any botanicals you want and they can be infused – that is, not redistilled in to the mix. So they are effectively added. This is a very loose definition.

Distilled Gin: To use this term at least some of the botanicals have been included in the pot still distillation, though you may still add other botanicals and flavourings, as well as colourings.

London Dry Gin: Based on a 96% base spirit, all the botanicals must be distilled in a proper still.

According to gin expert David T Smith of Summer Fruit Cup, this is where the problem lies.

“These definitions are not fit for purpose,” he says. “They talk about a flavour predominantly based on juniper, but what does that mean? You and I might take it to mean 90% or 95% of the flavour, but clearly others do not and there lies the problem. Where is the line? And how do you police it? It’s very subjective. Even a more established and mainstream gin such as Beefeater has a distinctive citrussy taste.”

The industry is split as to whether a tightening of definitions would be a good thing. It’s a bit like the current handball rule in football – the subjective nature of interpretation is undesirable, but the alternatives could be a whole lot worse.

Emma Hooper, marketing manager at Wemyss which produces Darnley’s gin, sums up the issue well. “We think some rules could be beneficial but only if they are there to guide and are made with the consumer in mind,“ she says. “They shouldn’t hamper creativity or innovation.

“Using unusual and exotic botanicals can make your gin stand out but ultimately it has to be a smooth and balanced gin. There’s no use in having an unusual ingredient if the product suffers.”

Over at Beefeater, master distiller Desmond Payne agrees. “Experimentation and innovation continue to be the cornerstone of everything we do,” he says. “If you take our Burrough’s Reserve, which was recently launched as a second edition, we have created a sipping gin which has been rested in hand-selected red and white bordeaux wine casks and released in small batches. The ageing process results in an aromatic pale copper gin that showcases the best qualities of both the gin and the fine bordeaux casks.”

Perhaps the most interesting take on all of this comes from David T Smith, who argues that, if anything, the rules shouldn’t be tightened but loosened in one crucial respect. At the moment the rules require that the base spirit is distilled to 96%. The higher the distillate, the less flavour it has, and spirit at this strength is known as neutral grain spirit. It is effectively a blank canvas on to which the botanicals add flavour.

But Smith points out that, to get a spirit that strong, you must use a column or continuous still because a pot still distillate can’t practicably reach that strength.





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