- Jonathan Winters
Gin, Botanicals, and a job for the master distiller
The recipes of gin, and those who maintain them.
Every gin has a recipe, and those recipes can include as few as 5-6 ingredients, or as many as 47 (which I believe is the most I know of in any currently marketed gin - Monkey 47 gin). And each gin has a recipe and a master distiller who oversees the making of it.
Being a master distiller is not an easy job. yes distillers have recipes, some are even hundreds of years old, but being a distiller, especially a master distiller, isn’t at all about following a recipe. Any one could do that, but it’s about the botanicals.
All gins require two things, a neutral base spirit, and botanicals, at the very least juniper. But a juniper only gin would be kind of boring. So other botanicals are mixed in. .
So what are botanicals? They are the herbs, flowers, citrus, roots, berries, fruit, and plants used to flavor gin.
The big three after the juniper,, are coriander, angelica root, and citrus. Those are the basis and of almost every gin, and the key ingredients in most classic gins, That said there is a reason the style, and those gins are classics - and found all around the globe. They are high quality in a easily recognized style, A style which almost everyone recognizes as “GIN”
While there are plenty of gins that keep largely in that flavor profile, more and more gins break away from that style. They’ve been called many things, western gin, American gin, modern American Gin, etc.. but they are cast in a more adventurous spirit - and the flavors can pay tribute to the old London dry style, or they can be totally wild, and unexpected. So long as they have at least an essence of juniper they are still gins.
There are over 100 botanicals, used for making gin, As the world has become easier to travel and flavors can easily move from one place to another I think in truth the number is probably closer to 300, especially if we started counting the more esoteric botanicals
And that library of flavors, coupled with innovation and an urge to create new things has allowed modern gin makers to break away from the classic style of gins and to create new things.
These new styles have caused a renaissance in the world of gin. Gin still has its traditional flavor styles like London Dry, or Plymouth gin, but new styles are evolving, and are maddeningly hard to name and define. And as there are no accepted definitions, gin drinkers know what they like, and what they don’t. BUT by and large I like to call these gins modern gins, and avoid the tediousness and imprecise nomenclature used by too many reviewers, and distilleries.
But I digress. So what’s the role of the master distiller in making those gins? Well in some cases those master distillers are the ones creating these new gins, and new styles. But whether they are working for huge established distilleries with long standing recipes, or brand new ones, their job is one of the hardest in the whole gin business.
Not only do they have to follow recipes, but they have to know how balance distillation technique and the variability it produces (we’ll talk about that in another article), and the botanicals, which of course vary in quality, and flavor depending upon season, weather, and where exactly they are grown, and how.
That is really their main job ensuring both the quality, and consistency of any recipe. For them that means sourcing ingredients, tasting them, changing proportions, or directions entirely as needed, purchasing and warehousing them to ensure the quality of their product over time, not just managing the distilling process.
In that light we must understand that the master distillers are the keepers of the flame. There is no such thing as a great gin with poor quality control.