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Gin is a cocktail chameleon.  Its herbaceous flavor profile can cozy up to virtually any ingredient, in any style of cocktail, without dominating or fading into the background. Unsurprisingly, it anchors a slew of essential classic cocktails, including the iconic Martini (yes, originally made with gin).


In fundamental terms, Gin is flavored vodka.  It is made by taking a neutral spirit (aka vodka), typically grain-based but not always, and infusing it with a variety of herbs, barks, and species, aka botanicals.  The most crucial of these are juniper berries, which lend a bright, pine needle-like aroma.  Other commonly used ingredients include citrus peel, coriander, angelika root, orris root, cassia bark, and licorice root.  More about how these botanicals are woven together to compose a gin's flavor profile can be found below.


London Dry Gin (aka Dry Gin)

The gin style most are familiar with is London dry gin, often simply called dry gin. While there are technical differences between dry and London dry gins, outlined here,

they're minor in terms of flavor. These gins, known for their crisp, clean, juniper-forward profiles, include well-known brands like Tanqueray, Beefeater, and Gordon's, and are staples in classic cocktails.

Until about 20 years ago, nearly every gin on the market was a dry gin. However, the category has since expanded, introducing

multiple styles. Some, like the cucumber-y Hendrick's, offer a slight variation on the classic, while others, such as Snoop Dogg's Snoop Dogg's Strawberry Ginmark significant departures.


So, if you stock only one gin, opt for a dry gin. But the growing diversity in gin styles is worth exploring for even the most casual gin drinkers!

Non-Dry Gin Categories:


  • Genever/Jenever ( juh-NEE-ver or JEN-uh-ver, both are used) -  The ancestor to dry gin from the Netherlands, Holland, and Belgium. Genever tastes like a blend of dry gin and unaged whiskey. It's full-bodied with a distinctly malty profile and a softer juniper presence. Full transparency, it's an acquired taste, but as a formative part of gin's history, we wouldn't be here without it.

  • Old Tom Gin - A historical gin style that serves as a midpoint between Genever and Dry Gin. It has a broad definition that's open to interpretation, they’re always sweeter and sometimes barrel-aged.  Old Tom Gin has seen a small resurgence alongside the craft cocktail resurgence thanks to it's presence in pre-prohbition classics like the  Martinez.  

  • New Western  - The innovative edge of gin, New Western gins experiment with the classic template by toning down juniper for unconventional botanicals like elderflower, chamomile, or lavender. Without a strict definition, "New Western" is the term I’m using to encapsulate these modern gins, though some use others. 

Gin Categories &
Recommended Brands

How Gin is Made

How Gin is Made


Gin is unique.  While other spirit categories get their distinct flavor profile from their base ingredients, such as the agave in tequila, or a post-distillation process such as barrel aging in whiskey, Gin derives its primary flavor profile from the addition of outside ingredients in the form of natural botanicals - herbs, spices, flowers, nuts, roots, and seeds to extract their aromatic essence.  With gin, the distilled spirit spirit is just a foundation, a canvas, onto which a distiller paints a tapestry of complex aroma. 

Creating gin is a nuanced art, blending distillation expertise with a perfumer's sensitivity. Juniper is the only essential botanical by law, whilst others are traditionally commonplace.  From there, it’s the distiller’s choice.  However one doesn't simply cherry-pick botanicals based on their individual characteristics. The process requires an understanding of organic chemistry to predict how one ingredient will behave with another and how they’ll all coexist as a group. 

To better understand how gin’s botanicals are selected, let's start with how the flavors are infused into the base spirit in the first place.

Gin Production:
Base Spirit + Botanical Extraction

Base Spirit

The ideal base spirit for gin is clean, and flavorless, allowing the botanicals to stand out unimpeded. Typically, this spirit is grain-based for its cost-effectiveness, though it can also be derived from grapes, apples, sugarcane, etc. Gin bases are distilled in column stills to a high proof (minimum of 70% ABV is required for London Dry). Until this point, making gin is the same as making vodka, (more on distillation basics here).  


Botanicals are infused by mixing them with the spirit and being distilled again, usually in a pot still. This second distillation extracts aromatic compounds from the botanicals, infusing the spirit while leaving solid plant materials behind. 

Botanical Extraction Methods

Differing approaches are taken to facilitate botanical extraction


  • Steeping -   Steeping: The most common. Similar to brewing tea, botanicals steep in the spirit before a second distillation. Some prefer steeping beforehand for deeper extraction, while others add botanicals just before distillation for fresher flavors.

  • Carter Head Still - This method uses a pot/column hybrid still with a botanical basket, allowing alcohol vapors to collect flavors and aromatics as they pass through the botanicals during distillation. Hendrick's Gin utilizes this technique.


  • Vacuum Pressure -  A modern method that distills at lower temperatures to prevent "cooking" the botanicals, aiming to preserve fresher flavors. My uneducated hot take: from what I've tasted, the final product doesn't move the needle for me enough to warrant the extra trouble and cost.


  • Flavor Extracts -  Instead of infusing raw botanicals, some gins add botanical extracts post-distillation. These are known as compound gins.  While it’s historically been linked to lower quality gins (think bathtub gin), this technique is now used in respected gins like Hendrick’s (cucumber extract!).  When applied thoughtfully, extracts can offer access to otherwise difficult-to-access flavors.

Carter-Head still with the botanicals in a separate container (#7).

Why are Some Botanicals so Common in Gin?

​Juniper is the only botanical required in gin by law, yet many classic gins feature a consistent set of botanicals like coriander, dried citrus peels, angelica root, orris root, and often cassia bark, licorice root, aniseed, bitter almond, or cardamom. This pattern isn't coincidental; it's rooted in flavor chemistry.

(see what I mean on the London dry gin page where several gin's botanical lineup is listed).  

Complimentary Flavor Chemistry

These botanicals are favorites because they have “good chemistry” with juniper. 

Although we think of herbs and spices as distinct flavors - “apples” taste like apples and “lemons” taste like lemons -  they are actually a composition of many different aromatic compounds (this is true of all whole foods and flavors).


Many herbs and spices used in gin share complementary flavor compounds.   These synergies help to strengthen and boost the flavor profile overall.  

Examples of this phenomenon are laid out in the graph below.  The left column lists some common botanicals used in gin and on the top row are aromatic compounds that many of these botanicals here.  Look at all that overlap!  Pinene (pine) is present in 7 of 12 botanicals, 8 of 12 contain linalool (citrus), and 7 of 12 contain myrcene (woody).   It's no wonder these ingredients harmonize so well. 

The Aromatic Compounds in Common Gin Botanicals

Building a Gin - Top to Bottom

Crafting gin goes beyond merely selecting botanicals with matching compounds. Flavor compounds all behave differently, with some making an immediate upfront impact that quickly fades, while others develop slowly. Botanicals in serve distinct roles—primary, supporting, and bridge-building—to ensure the gin remains well-balanced, akin to building a house with a sturdy foundation, robust frame, and appealing design. Planning, coordination, and execution are key.



Below is a profile of some of gin’s most common botanicals categorized into three tiers: top notes, mid notes, and base notes.  You might notice each tier mirrors the composition of a plant. Base notes typically come from roots, mid notes from seeds, nuts, and barks, and top notes from leaves, fruits, and flowers.  learly, Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.

Top Notes

Characterized by their fresh, green, and bright aromas, these compounds are common in leafy herbs, fruits, and flowers. These light and volatile compounds, categorized as terpenes, are often used in aromatherapy.  They are the first to greet your nose but evaporate quickly - unless something holds them in place.  Their aromas are more broad, as in floral and citrusy, rather than specific scents such as rose or grapefruit.

Juniper Berries

Gin’s premier botanical is a member of the conifer family and a distant cousin of the pine tree, grown across the Northern Hemisphere. Contrary to what their name suggests, juniper berries are not true berries but rather compact, cones (think tiny pine cone) teeming with oily seeds encased by soft scales. Juniper is celebrated for its vibrant pine scent, which anchors the most identifiable flavor in gin.   It also has hints of woody herbs like thyme and rosemary as well as, citrus, flowers and spice that lay the groundwork for other botanicals to take the baton and to further refine across a gin's profile.


Coriander is the most common gin botanical not named juniper.  It is the Luigi to Juniper’s Mario. A very versatile plant, part of the carrot family, it thrives across Southern Europe, Western Asia, and India. While coriander's seeds are used as seasoning in many international cuisines, the leaves on the plant that grows from the seed are what we know as cilantro (the Spanish word for coriander). In gin, the coriander seeds complement juniper beautifully as the two share piney and woody spice notes. It also lends distinct lemony zing which acts as a conduit between juniper and other pungent spice and citrus flavors.

Citrus Peels

If you’ve ever added a twist of lemon to your Martini (highly recommended) you know how well citrus and gin play together.  After juniper, citrus is gin’s most notable flavor thanks to their peels' aromatic oils.  Lemon is most commonly ultized, followed by bitter orange.  Sweet orange, lime and grapefruit also get in on the action. The peels are usually dried, though sometimes they are fresh, other times the whole fruit is used in the distillation process.  Even in on rare occasions which no citrus is used in a gin, as with Tanqueray, a citrusy note is often detectable, as many other botanicals naturally contain citric compounds.


Lavender, a member of the mint family originating from the Mediterranean, is a defining botanical in many new Western gins. Care must be taken to ensure lavender's distinctively perfume-y notes don't become overly sharp to the point of being a soapy taste—a common association given lavender's frequent use in aromatic soaps. However, when used in the right proportions, lavender serves as an intriguing complement to the traditional pine-needle top notes of juniper.

Bay Leaf

The leaves of the bay laurel, a Mediterranean evergreen tree or shrub, are a common addition to many savory dishes and soups. They also have applicable gin flavors like pine, citrus, and flowers but what it really brings to the table is a distinctively cooling eucalyptus quality that makes it unique.

Mid Notes

Found in spices, mid notes offer a range of warm and sweet to intense and peppery flavors that are more distinctive such as  cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon) and gingerol (ginger), and anethol (anise).  This durable class of compounds is called phenols.  They emerge slowly and linger longer, providing depth and complexity in contrast with the top notes. They are also responsible for carrying the peat smoke aroma that gives some scotches their unique flavor.


Everyone’s favorite baking spice (certainly mine anyway)  is derived from the bark of trees in the laurel family, which curls into “sticks” as it dries.  There are two primary types of cinnamon: true cinnamon aka Sri Lankan or ceylon cinnamon which is more subtle, delicate and floral, and the more intensely pungent cassia cinnamon (pictured above) from China, think red hot candies. Cassia, likely what you have in your spice cabinet, has a heavier bark and used for most cinnamon sticks are as well.  Both are used in gin producing, though the sharper-edged cassia is more common.


Cardamom’s with its eclectic mix of aromas—ranging from floral citrus to warm baking spice to cooling eucalyptus—serves as an ideal bridge builder between gin’s top and mid-note aromas like juniper, citrus, cinnamon and nutmeg.  This spice, housed in small seed-filled pods, comes from a tall, flowering herb in the ginger family, indigenous to India.  Though today Guatemala is the biggest producer.  Due to a lengthy blooming season, each pod requires individual monitoring and harvesting, a labor-intensive process that is responsible cardamom being the third most expensive spice in the world, following saffron and vanilla.

Grains of Paradise

This divinely named spice comes from the seeds of a west African plant that is a member of the ginger family.  Aromatically speaking, it’s closest to cardamom, combining warming baking spice, woody evergreen, and peppery heat along with a few floral, citrusy notes thrown in.  It is another adept botanical unifier on the three-way bridge between spice, citrus, and herbs.

Cubeb Berry

The Cubeb Berry, an Indonesian cousin of black pepper, which it shares a resemblance with but boasts a more intense and diverse flavor profile, including citrus, eucalyptus, and hints of woody and floral notes. This makes it an ideal match for gin, in which it is used bump up the peppery heat while complementing other botanicals.


The anise plant, belonging to the carrot family from Central Asia and the Mediterranean, produces seeds rich in anethole, the compound primarily responsible for we know as the classic licorice flavor. Remarkably potent, aniseed is more frequently used for licorice flavor than  actual licorice root itself, including in licorice candies. Unlike the other spices here, aniseed does not have a diverse mix of citrus, woody, and floral compounds.  It contributes one specific flavor and not much else, though it does add some sweetness.   


The anethole compound is also found in fennel seeds, a related herb, which also has a subtle lemon note. Similarly, star anise is also sometimes used for licorice flavor, which are the seeds of a fruit from yet another plant that also contains other spice flavors like cinnamon and clove.


Where there’s cinnamon and cardamom, nutmeg is never far behind. This cherished spice that we grate over Eggnog originates from the pit of an apricot-like fruit Bourne of an Indonesian evergreen.  Its inclusion in gin is due to a rich aromatic profile, encompassing the sought-after combo of pine, floral, citrus, and warm sweet baking spice, making it an ideal bridge-builder among a variety of botanicals


Almonds are the seed of fruit from the drupe family, aka stone fruits, which include peaches, apricots, and plums. The fruit that houses almonds, however, is far less palatable.  Almonds are cultivated around the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and California.  Almonds come in two varieties: sweet almonds, the kind we eat, which boast a honeyed, nutty taste, and bitter almonds, which are toxic but also carry a compound imparting a sweet, cherry-like flavor. Bitter almonds are used to make almond extract -  which thankfully neutralizes the toxicity - as well as marzipan. They are more common in gin because of their fruit note.  Though sweet almonds are used as well for a little added finesse and body. 

Base Notes

The unsung heroes, base notes work behind the scenes with heavier compounds that anchor and the more volatile top and mid notes, or lend sweetness to help bring them out, creating a sturdy foundation. These ingredients’ individual notes aren’t listed on the aromatic compound chart above because that’s not their role.  They’re here to provide an infrastructure on which gin’s recognizable aromatic profile can be built.  

Licorice Root

The licorice plant, originating from southwest Asia, belongs to the legume family.  As mentioned above, the flavor we most associate with licorice comes from the anethole a compound, which is abundant in anise and fennel, but curiously not nearly as much in licorice root.  In fact, the flavor of licorice candy is typically from added anethole derived from anise.  


In gin, as well as in candy, licorice root primarily contributes sweetness due to its high content of glycyrrhizinic acid, which is over fifty times sweeter than sugar. This sweetness is helpful for balancing the drier, bitter ingredients while flushing out the brighter one. This is particularly useful in London dry gins, which by regulation may only include minuscule amounts of sugar—0.1 grams per liter.

Orris Root

Orris root is a rhizome (a root-like underground stem that grows horizontally) of the sweet iris flower that has been processed to cultivate “fixative” properties.  In perfumery, a fixative is a substance that holds on to volatile compounds to keep their aromas present.  Fostering these properties involves drying the rhizome for up to three years to oxidize it and produce irone, the key agent that helps bind everything together.   Naturally, this makes it very expensive.  But its benefits are indispensable to many perfumes, potpourris, and, of course, gins in which it imparts a subtle violets note as well.

Angelica Root

Angelica root is widely regarded as the third most important ingredient in gin after juniper and coriander.  This member of the carrot family, related to parsley and dill, originates from Northern Europe.  Angelika leaves share many of juniper’s top notes like pine and citrus, which are also present in its roots alongside a bouquet of earthy, woody and somewhat dusty aromas.

These that provide an apropos foundation for gin’s loftier aromatics, as well as some dryness.  Additionally, Angelica roots contain exaltolide, a musky fragrance and is another type of fixative prized in perfumery.  Periodically, angelica seeds are used as well for their brighter aromatic qualities

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