Gin Botanical: Juniper Berries.

Juniper is the one botanical that all gins have in common; without juniper, it just isn’t gin.

Juniper really is the foundation of gin, it’s the canvass onto which you paint. If you were making a blade, the juniper is the steel that you shape, and the other botanicals are the details and embellishments. If you were building furniture, it would be the wood you choose; it defines the base character of the gin and distilleries go to great lengths to source good quality juniper berries (or so they keep telling us).

Juniper: Facts

Juniper Berries

Juniper Berries

  • Juniper berries aren’t actual berries, rather cones from a coniferous tree (Juniperus communis). These cones are small and round, and their scales are merged giving them a berry-like appearance.
  • Juniper berries start off green and “ripen” to a purple/black colour. This ripening takes around 18 months. This time varies by species.
  • In Roman times, expensive black pepper, imported from India, was sometimes cut with juniper berries to bulk it out with a cheaper, domestic adulterant.
  • Juniper berries are used in cookery, often to flavour game such as venison, rabbit and pheasant.
  • The medicinal uses of juniper berries are wide and varied. Used as both an appetite stimulant and suppressant, a contraceptive, diuretic, anti-inflammatory and as a general tonic.

I could go on for hours about juniper, but these posts are meant to be short, so I will stop there.

Juniper: Nose

Juniper invariably smells rather like pine with varying levels of earthiness, vegetative green scents, resinous richness and even sometimes citrus or peppery hints.

As I discovered when I sampled some of the Master of Malt Origin Series, different juniper berries from different parts of the world have very different qualities.

The Ginvent juniper had a slight vanilla-toffee odour to it, which was a pleasant addition to the usual pine notes.

Juniper: Taste

The first flavour that juniper bestows upon the mouth is a sweet creamy taste, which I have always found both odd fun.

The mainstay flavour is usually a rich pine-like flavour which is rather aromatic and warming. Sometimes is can be very rounded and gentle, sometimes it can be quite harsh and turpentine-like.

The after-taste can be incredibly variable, ranging from a sweet-warmth to a biting, peppery tingling sensation. The overall experience can be woody, earthy, green and fresh or just flat pine-like.

The Ginvent juniper, as promised by the nose, had a moderately strong toffee flavour, which I usually associate with gins that have added vanilla. All-in-all, a complex and mellow juniper but with a slight citrus-burn in the after-taste.

I’ve been astonished at the levels of variance in the humble juniper berry.



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