Currently, Gin is the most commonly used base spirit in mixology. No other is featured in so many cocktail recipes. One reason is that Gin was very popular and one of the first ever used in mixed drinks. The second reason is probably that the variety of flavors in Gin offers countless options for new and exciting flavor combinations.
In a nutshell, Gin is made of a base spirit and flavored with a list of botanicals which must include juniper berries. The base spirit is often made of grains like rye but could be literally anything. For instance, there are Gins made of potato, grape, and even grape spirits.
So what makes a Gin a Gin? Here's a quick overview of the ingredients and what else a spirit needs to be classified as Gin.
- Gin is a distilled spirit made of agricultural products like grains, potatoes, rice, or even fruits.
- Gin must contain at least 37.5% of alcohol by volume to be classified as Gin by EU law and 40% to officially classify as Gin in the US.
- It differs from other spirits in terms of being flavored with botanicals like juniper and others.
What exactly is Gin made from?
Simply put, the base ingredients of Gin are:
- Fermentable carbohydrates like grains, fruits, or vegetables.
- Juniper berries as a dominating botanical
- More botanicals to create a distinct flavor profile
Gin is based on a distilled spirit. In most cases, this means a neutral or almost neutral grain spirit. Most distillers opt for rye as it can be turned into a practically flavorless base. But you can also find Gins based on wheat, barley, or corn.
Besides grains, there are many more options. Gin can be made from rice, like in Ki No Bi's Kyoto-Style Dry Gin or Wonderbird Gin (from the US), from potatoes like Windspiel Dry Gin or Corgi Gin, and from fruits like grapes or apples.
To give you a better idea of the options for ingredients that go into Gin, here's a short overview:
- Gin made from rye: Bluecoat American Dry Gin, Koskue Gin, Bog Gin
- Gin made from wheat: Portobello Road No. 171 Gin, Tanqueray No 10, Sipsmith London Dry Gin
- Gin made from barley: Loch & Union Distilling Barley Gin, Chocolate Malt Barley Gin, Harvey's Malt Gin
- Gin made from corn: Empress 1908 Gin, No. 209 Gin, Bar Hill Gin
- Gin made from rice: Ki No Bi's Kyoto-Style Dry Gin, Wonderbird Gin,
- Gin made from potatoes: Windspiel Dry Gin, Corgi Gin, Leopold's Gin
- Gin made from sugarcane: Clemengold Gin, Umodzi Gin, Ginebra San Miguel
- Gin made from grapes: Nordés, Ferdinand Saar Gin, G'vine Floraison Gin, Xoriguer Mahón Gin
- Gin made from apples: Flycreek 1856 Gin, Okanagan Gin
- Other base ingredients: Iron Balls Gin (pineapple & coconut)
Which botanicals are used to make Gin?
The number one botanical in every Gin is juniper. Without juniper berries, a spirit can not be Gin. Besides juniper, there's a list of a further 13 common botanicals used to make Gin:
- Angelica root
- Cassia bark
- Coriander seeds
- Cubeb pepper berries
- Grains of paradise
- Lemon peel
- Orange peel
- Orris root
Besides these classic flavoring ingredients, many Gins add unique and often local botanicals. Especially in Contemporary Gins, also called New Western Dry, many uncommon and regional ingredients are used to create a distinct aroma and taste.
These ingredients could be anything from herbs to plants, bark, or roots. There are also fruits used to flavor Gin - either in natural form or as an essence.
The number of botanicals in a Gin can vary from just a few, like the four botanicals in Tanqueray, to a way more complex selection like Monkey Gin's 47 flavoring ingredients.
Do the ingredients vary by type?
Depending on the Gin type, the ingredients may vary. A good example would be Genever, the forerunner of Gin, made with malted barley. That almost makes it seem more like Whiskey than a Gin.
Another example is the category of Gins that's called Contemporary. These Gins often use regional botanicals that are unique to their origin. An excellent example is Botanist Gin, made from 22 botanicals harvested in Islay, Scotland.
For a better overview, check our article about the different Gin types.
There are different ways to produce Gin. The most common is macerating the botanicals for a set period of time. That can be just a few hours, a day, or a lot longer. After that, the spirit is distilled either with or without the botanicals.
There are exceptions and alternative ways, though, like vapor infusions, cold-compounded Gin (Bathtub Gin), or distillations without previous macerating (like in Tanqueray Gin).
Can you make Gin from Vodka?
Yes, you can. But without a second distillation, the only type of Gin you can produce from Vodka is cold compounded Gin - also known as Bathtub Gin.
All you have to do is steep botanicals in Vodka to extract the flavors. Due to the steeping process, the color of the Vodka will change from clear and transparent and become more brownish. If that does not bother you, that's a nice way to create your own Gin at home.
Still, I want to note that this process is regarded as inferior to other ways of making Gin.
What goes into flavored Gins?
Flavored Gins are relatively new and took inspiration from flavored Vodkas. Only few of these so-called flavored Gins actually classify as such because many contain 35% or even less alcohol. Thus, technically, they aren't Gin but Gin liqueurs - similar to Sloe Gin. -Based on Gin but with a sweeter taste.
They are typically sweetened with sugar and flavored with the essences of fruits to obtain a distinct and new taste - at least for a Gin.
A "real" flavored Gin must have a minimum alcohol content of 37.5%, with juniper remaining the dominating flavor - only complemented by one or more other prominent flavors.