In the first of a new series of articles looking at gin flavour profiles, David T. Smith explore floral flavour profiles in everything from botanicals to gins, mixers to cocktails
Floral botanicals are perhaps the most difficult to work with as they are aromatic and intense in the right setting, but can easily become stewed and bitter when exposed to the heat of distillation. More hardy flowers such as lavender can also easily overwhelm a gin, making it taste like the florid perfume of an ancient relative.
There are a variety of methods that distillers can use to successfully draw out the flavour of floral botanicals. Some use dried botanicals to help concentrate the essential oils, whilst others use vacuum or vapour distillation to limit the botanicals’ exposure to heat.
Distillers can also make a botanical tea from flower petals by infusing them in neutral spirit before removing the solid matter and distilling the resultant liquid.
Other floral botanicals include grape flower – this is used in the fabulously floral G’Vine Floraison, which has fruity floral notes coming through from the gin’s grape base spirit. Geranium flowers are used in the eponymous gin Geranium by Henrik Hammer, adding a notably aromatic, but nuanced floral note. Heather is another popular botanical in the UK, used by Knockeen Hills and Caorunn among others.
Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water: Probably the most widely available elderflower tonic water, this is sold in both bottles and mini cans. The elderflower adds an elegant, floral quality that is combined with a plump fruitiness. It’s a lovely drink in its own right, but also mixes well with classic, juniper-forward gins, as well as those with a light splash of citrus.
Other elderflower tonic waters are available from: Schweppes (Slimline), Q Mixers, Franklin & Sons, Luscombe, Thomas Henry, London Essence (Elderflower & Orange), and Yorkshire Tonic (Elderflower & Apple).
Merchant Heart Hibiscus Tonic Water: Like elderflower tonic, this makes a pretty good soft drink when served on its own; it has a delicate, jammy fruitiness, but is overall quite dry on the palate. When combined with gin, it adds a pleasant fruity, floral complexity. It works particularly well with gins that are a little sweeter, perhaps with spiced or fruity flavour profiles. Hibiscus tonic waters are also made by Schweppes, Lamb & Watt, and Goldberg.
Floral tonics are not limited to just elderflower and hibiscus, either: other fine examples include Thomas Henry Cherry Blossom and Artisan Drinks’ Violet
If you don’t want the additional sugar or effervescence provided by a tonic water, you can also use floral teas as a mixer. Simply brew your tea in a heatproof jug and remove the tea or tea bag after a couple of minutes. Then add ice and sweeten (or not) to taste.
Chamomile tea: A soft elegant tea (don’t be put off by the colour) with gentle floral and hay notes. It works really well with gins that have meadowsweet in their botanical mix, such as River Test Distillery’s London Dry Gin. I mixed 50ml gin, 15ml lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup and 150ml chamomile tea and it produced a soft, sippable, and rather delightful drink; light and refreshing, it’s ideal for a lazy afternoon.
Hibiscus tea: There are a number of hibiscus teas available: some also include rosehip, whilst others are combined with cranberry or cherry. My advice is to stick to the 100 per cent hibiscus petal varieties; it might be a little more expensive, but it’s well worth it. The hibiscus tea works especially well with citrus- or fruit-forward gins and a squeeze of lemon or lime is a good garnish. Another way of using the tea is by freezing it in ice cube trays, which provides a rather striking contrast to normal ice.
Jasmine green tea: This tea is made by layering white jasmine flowers with green tea leaves, giving an elegant floral sweetness that complements the slightly tannic green tea. It works particularly well as a mixer for Old Tom Gin.
In addition to being used as a mixer, floral teas can also be used to lightly infuse gins before mixing. A good example is Earl Grey tea, which adds elegant tannins and floral orange flavours, and garnishes well with grapefruit. Hibiscus tea gives gins a jammy, floral note and turns it a shocking shade of pink. Finally, chamomile tea contributes a gentle, warm spiced flavour that pairs well with lemon and orange.
- 50ml gin
- 10ml elderflower cordial
- (or elderflower liqueur)
- 10ml lemon juice
- 120ml sparkling water
In an ice-filled glass, combine gin, cordial/liqueur, and lemon juice. Top up with sparkling water.
A wonderfully jammy cocktail. If made using an elderflower gin (Gordon’s works well), you can forgo the elderflower cordial and just use sugar syrup instead. This drink works well with a range of gins, including other floral ones such as those featuring chamomile or meadowsweet, although it’s worth noting that prominent lavender flavours may clash with the elderflower.
This Prohibition-era cocktail was created by Mrs J. J. Brown (a.k.a “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) who spent her time in Denver, Colorado, and Paris.
- 60ml gin
- 25ml lemon juice
- 15ml honey
Shake ingredients with ice, before straining into a chilled cocktail glass.
This honeyed cocktail works well with gins that have lavender as a botanical such as Golden Moon (which is fitting, as it is distilled near Denver) and Masons Lavender. The lavender notes from the gin add a fragrant complexity to the drink, which is neatly balanced by the lemon and luxurious honey. For an extra special version, use lavender honey.
Another early 20th-century cocktail, the Aviation was originally recorded in 1916. This recipe called for El Bart’s Gin, which was then made in the USA using equipment and a recipe transferred from a bankrupt distillery in London.
- 60ml dry gin
- 30ml lemon juice
- 5ml maraschino
- 5ml crème de violette (Golden Moon’s or Bitter Truth’s expressions are excellent)
Shake all of the ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Made correctly, this drink is a mysterious, foggy grey with just a hint of violet (it should never be bright purple). Juniper-forward gins work well here: El Bart Gin was very classic in style, which is why it was popular in the US during the First World War when imports from the UK had dried up. Lightly floral gins, such as those flavoured with orange or cherry blossom, also work well.
Not all floral cocktails are sweet. The new Wildflower Gins from the Cotswolds Distillery embrace some of the more nuanced earthy and rooty characters of wildflowers and lend themselves to a different range of cocktails, including the Gin Spritz.
- 25ml gin
- 50ml Prosecco
- 50ml sparkling water
Add gin to a flute glass, add the Prosecco and then sparkling water. Garnish with a thin twist of citrus peel.
With Wildflower #1, the drink is dry with a brilliant combination of floral and citrus flavours and a slightly sticky note that gives the impression of freshly cut flowers. A Gin Spritz with Wildflower #2 is earthy with a touch of sweetness and soft notes of hay and daisies.
Aside from recipes with a dedicated floral element, floral flair can be given to other gin drinks by simply substituting a floral liqueur for sugar syrup. Here are some examples.
- 25ml gin
- 25ml lemon juice
- 15ml sugar syrup
- 10ml crème de violette
- 10ml crème de mûre
Fill a tumbler or Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice. Add ingredients (except de mûre) and stir. Slowly drizzle the crème de mûre over the drink.
This really brings out the floral notes of the blackberries and is reminiscent of a hedgerow in bloom. For a variation, try G’Vine “June” liqueur instead of the violette for a more complex and fragrant drink.
Alexandretta (a variation on a Gin Alexander)
- 30ml dry gin
- 20ml crème de rosé
- 20ml fresh cream
Shake ingredients with ice, before straining into a cocktail glass.
Pale pink in colour with a nose of sweet rose. To taste, it is creamy and indulgent with hints of vanilla and Turkish delight, before a touch of dry juniper and citrus on the finish.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the floral side of gin! In the next issue, I’ll be taking a look at the flavour profile of citrus. You can share your thoughts on this, or tell us your favourite floral gins, on Instagram or Twitter at @ginmagazineuk.