The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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The science of alcohol

5.3 Taste sensations in gin

As you have just learned, gin can contain a whole variety of compounds, all of which are capable of imparting a particular taste to the final product. Thinking about the combination of flavourings is where the taste sensation gets a bit more complicated. The taste of the final gin will not just be the sum of its component parts. Instead, it will be a reflection of how the different botanicals interact with each other. Attractions between similar flavour molecules influence how each of them interacts with the flavour receptors in your body. Furthermore, this can be complicated by competition between different flavours for the same taste receptor.

It is not just different flavours interacting and competing with each other which contribute to the overall taste imparted by the gin. Those same molecules interacting within the water and ethanol of the freshly distilled gin can also prevent them from interacting so strongly with your taste receptors and this will limit the taste experienced by the drinker. Adding mixers to your gin also changes the way it tastes for the same reasons. In tonic water, for example, quinine is attracted to a number of the flavour molecules in gin. The aggregates of flavour molecules create a taste sensation that is completely different from just gin or tonic on its own.

Sarah MacLellan from the Cotswold Distillery will now tell you about how the different flavours within their gin interact with each other, but also with mixers such as tonic water.

Download this video clip.Video player: soa_1_w6_s5_3_vid_gintasting.mp4
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Transcript

SARAH MACLELLAN
So there are many complex flavours in gin, and I'll just be giving basically a rough guide of what to kind of look for, what kind of notes that we can see or smell in our gin, in particular. So when you're sampling a gin, it's always nice to try it without any ice or tonic first, just to see the base gin and get a real feel for it. So our gin on the nose is very floral, owed to our lavender that we use. And on the palate, very heavy juniper, obviously, as definition, needs to be very juniper-led, very juniper heavy. There's also a nice citrus tang on the palate as well. And then you would pour a little bit in here, and we'll just try it with ice first, just to see what it's like with ice. So I don't know if you can see, but in the glass you'll be able to see it start to go cloudy. So our gin has a very high botanical load, which means that there's a lot of oil in our gin. So as you add water, what happens is that oil starts to truncate and become cloudy, which is very pretty. That's called a louche. So with ice, what happens is that you get an awful lot more of the citrus flavours coming through. So ice will basically change the makeup of the gin. It's kind of dampening down the other flavours and the lighter flavours, the lighter molecules of the citrus is coming through. The flavour will change again when we add tonic. So the quinine in the tonic really brings out the peppery notes and the aromatic notes in the gin. So the black pepper really pops once you put the tonic in. The quinine really does lift that out of the gin very much. So yeah, that's basically a rough guide on how to taste our gin.
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This all explains why gin formulation is such an exact science. It is not possible to simply decide what flavours you would like in your gin and mix them together. Formulating a new gin can be a very lengthy process demanding exact combinations of specific botanicals in specific quantities to give the taste sensation desired – and this explains why gin distilleries guard their formulations so closely!

Sarah MacLellan from the Cotswold Distillery will now tell you about how the final taste of their gin is derived from their unique combination of botanicals.

Download this video clip.Video player: soa_1_w6_s5_3_vid_ginflavours.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

SARAH MACLELLAN
Here at the distillery we make a London dry gin. The definition of London dry is that we only do one distillation. So we don't add anything else into the gin after distillation. So most people will know that gin has a very predominant juniper flavour, but I don't think many people will know the other flavours that are involved in the ginmaking process. So to start with the juniper, juniper is very piney sort of flavour, quite dank, quite heavy, oily with a nice mouthfeel. We also use coriander seed. So coriander is one of the other three main botanicals that we use in our gin. Coriander is very citrusy, very spicy. The other main botanical that we use and that's traditionally used in London dry is angelica root. So angelica root is not mainly used for its flavour, but actually used as a fixative, so it just prevents any loss of flavour after the gin is made, diluted, and bottled. The other main components in any typical style of gin would be citrus notes as well. So for the citrus note we use pink grapefruit and we also use lime as well. We use fresh peel in our gin. Others use dry peel, but we prefer to use the fresh, just because there's a higher oil content, which comes across in our gin. The other botanicals that we use for just added flavour and aromatics is our spice botanicals, so cardamom and black peppercorn as well. The last botanicals that we use are bay leaf, which is kind of a cooling kind of note, and we also use locally sourced lavender from Snow's Hill, which isn't that far away. We did have a couple issues using black peppercorn in scaling up. So before, we were operating on our 500-litre still, and then we scaled up to our 1,500. We found that using proportionately the same amount of black pepper didn't work. So what we had to do is actually take that back a little bit and have to feel it out, quite a lot of the time when it comes to making gin. It's more of an art than a science in some aspects.
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