10 weird ingredients that have been used in gin
With domestic sales and exports of UK gin hitting £2.2 billion and the total transformation of the category in recent years, it seems there are few things that haven’t found their way into gin…
In just 10 years, gin has been transformed from a spirit made by a handful of large distillers to a category now represented by producers of all shapes and sizes.
While many have predicted a slow-down in key markets such as the United Kingdom, the spirit continues to grow, with gin produced in the UK representing nearly three quarters of total market in the EU in 2017, according to the latest government figures.
As such, many brands have thought outside the box in order to stand-out, adding an astonishing array of unusual botanicals to their products from around the world. As was mentioned in latest gin feature in the drinks business, quirky ingredients in gin is not exactly new. Pre-Prohibition America was responsible for a series of weird and wacky ‘medicinal gins’, including Buchu Gin (a herb used in perfume and medicine) made by the likes of The Bouvier Speciality Company and Friedenwald, or asparagus gin, by the Rothenburg Company and the Folsom Company.
What is different now, however, is the increase in the number of producers from across the world using unique botanicals from their native countries to bring something new to the market.
Take the bottles on my desk as an example, though granted, as a gin-loving drinks writer, I don’t exactly represent the typical supermarket shelf. Sitting in front of me now are a bottle of Danish gin made from botanicals including seaweed and saltwort (a plant that grows in salt marshes); a Brazilian gin using pitanga or Brazilian cherry leaves, a Swedish gin that has been aged in Juniper casks and a Japanese gin that has apparently been made with “the world’s smallest satsumas and mandarins”.
Botanicals such as tea, herbs, ginger and horseradish have all been used in gin, and consumers are willing to try them. We’ve had gin that has been to the moon, gin inspired by perfumes and hybrid gins – such as Bordeaux-born winemaker François Lurton’s gin made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes or gins made with hops from the likes of Eden Mill and Tarquin’s.
There are some gins, however, that have been a surprise to even us cynics at the drinks business. Here we round up 10 of the weird and wackiest gin botanicals that have graced our front page.
London’s Portobello Road Gin has released its fair share of quirky limited-edition gins over the years. Last year, as part of its Director’s Cut range – a project launched every year to mark the brand’s birthday and that of it’s founder Ged Feltham – it launched what it claims is the world’s first ‘pechuga’ gin, an expression distilled with an organic turkey breast.
Created by master distiller and director, Jake F Burger, the pechuga expression was actually not a play on the director’s surname, but rather a take on the distillation process employed by mezcal producers, whereby a chicken or turkey breast (pechuga in Spanish) is suspended over the still. It cooks in the hot vapours, flavouring the resulting spirit at the same time.
According to Portobello Road, the Pechuga Gin was made by redistilling its signature 171 blend in a copper alembic still with an organic turkey breast and 13 botanicals. These botanicals include: apples, pears, plums, currants, raisins, sultanas, apricots, brown rice, passion fruit, cinnamon, cassia bark, as well as nutmeg and mace.
This bizarre gin also comes with an eye-watering price tag – €1,000.
In July last year, a motorcycle enthusiast created what he believed to be, and probably is (!), the world’s first gin to be “infused” with the engine parts of a Harley Davidson.
Uwe Ehinger of workshop Ehinger Kraftrad – which manufacturers custom-made motorbikes – earned the nickname “The Archaeologist” due to his passion for scouring the planet for antique motorbikes and parts and using them to create his own models.
He subsequently created The Archaeologist – a €1,000 gin made by steeping the spirit with engine parts salvaged from an old Harley Davidson motorbike.
The bottles of gin are filled with original engine parts salvaged by Ehinger from across the world, including 1939 Flathead camshafts from the Mexican desert, 1947 Knucklehead screw-nuts from Chile or 1962 Panhead rocker arms from South Korea.
In making the gin, each motorbike part is sterilised and sealed with a tin alloy to make it safe, before being soldered onto a steel structure and encased inside a handcrafted bottle.
Priced at €1,000, each unique bottle is hand-stamped with a unique serial number of the engine part in its respective bottle.
This month, a Melbourne-based start-up called The Cannabis Company launched what it claimed was the “world’s first cannabis gin with terpenes”, and sold out of its first release in just three days.
The Myrcene Hemp Gin takes its name from the most abundant terpene in cannabis – myrcene – which is also found in hops.
According to the company, used in high concentrations, it is valued as a “dietary health and wellness supplement” and is said to “produce joyful and euphoric effects alongside an overall feeling of relaxation”. It also cited its ability to ease symptoms of chronic pain and inflammation.
The Cannabis Company said that the idea to add myrcene to gin came about when they discovered that the pioneers of gin distilling in the 18th century often added such products to their spirit.
The gin is produced in column stills in order to create a “lighter more refined gin” while it’s described as having “bubblegum aromas blended with lavender, pine forest and sage, soft tones of violet interact on the palate with woodland flavours of rosemary and resin, cloves and woody spices”.
Believe it or not, more than one distiller has used ants in gin.
Back in 2014 Cambridge Distillery launched Anty Gin made with distilled red wood ants in collaboration with the Nordic Food Lab.
Each bottle of the 40% abv gin contains the essence of around 62 red wood ants foraged in Kent. Other botanicals in the gin include nettles, alexanders seeds and Bulgarian juniper.
The brainchild of distiller Will Lowe, Anty Gin costs £200 for a 70cl bottle.
Fast-forwarding to 2017, The Something Wild Beverage Company released its Australian Green Ant Gin and Applewood Distillery also unveiled its Green Ant Gin in the same month.
The former is made at the Adelaide Hills Distillery by its founder Sacha La Forgia, who was squeamish about the idea but now believes that ants are the ideal botanical. “By putting them in the bottle, I’m hoping to encourage people to eat them,” La Forgia told In Daily.
Applewood Distillery meanwhile launched a limited edition Green Ant Gin on Valentine’s Day 2017, of which just 300 bottles were produced, priced at $120 (£74) each.
The gin was made with green ants from New South Wales and a number of native botanicals.
A gin distilled with Collagen, named CollaGin, has a claim to fame. This year it received the backing of two out of the five ‘dragons’ on the long-running BBC series Dragons’ Den, securing a £50,000 investment for a 30% share of the business.
Co-founders of brand owner Young in Spirit – Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick – pitched to the five ‘dragons’ which include Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden, Touker Suleyman, Jenny Campbell and Tej Lalvan. They received investment offers from Tej Lalvani, the CEO of vitamin giant Vitabiotics and Touker Suleyman, fashion retail entrepreneur and investor.
Described as “sweet and refined”, the gin has 11 botanicals including rose oil, pink grapefruit and orris root, as well as collagen.
Like ants, truffle has also found favour with multiple distillers. Cambridge Distillery is once again responsible for one of them, having first created a gin specifically for Michelin-starred restaurant, Alimentum, using Lady Grey tea leaves and black truffle.
It then created a trial batch flavoured just with truffle which proved so popular that it made it a regular in its range. It sells the gin for £80 per 70cl.
South African brand KWV have also made a truffle-flavoured gin called Cruxland – made with Kalahari truffles and a blend of 8 botanicals including Rooibos and honeybush.
Another Portobello Road creation, in 2016 the distiller created a gin to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.
The Smoky Gin, was flavoured with juniper berries hand-smoked in peat dug by Portobello Road Gin founder Ged Feltham at his ancestral home of County Kerry, Ireland.
The peat was then taken to Portobello Road Gin’s master distiller Jake Burger at 171 Portobello Road and 1,000 bottles were distilled in twenty litre batches over the same four days that the Great Fire of London burned (2 – 5 September).
Producers such as That Boutique-y Gin Company have also experimented with smoke flavours, using ingredients such as peated malt in the production process.
Unveiled this month, luxury retailer Harvey Nichols launchd what is thought to be the ‘world’s most expensive gin’ – Morus LXIV – which costs £4,000 bottle and is distilled from the leaves of a single “ancient” Mulberry tree.
The extremely limited gin was produced by London-based Jam Jar Gin, owned by husband-and-wife team Dan and Faye Thwaites, and sold in hand-made porcelain jars.
Made from the leaves of an “ancient” mulberry tree and “complementary botanicals” that grow nearby, the pair hand harvest the leaves which are then individually hung and air-dried slowly in small batches.
The exact location of the mulberry tree used has not been disclosed, nor its exact age, only that it is “ancient”.
Each batch of the 64% abv cask strength gin takes two years to produce, with its makers describing its profile as “smokey, long and deceptively smooth”.
That Boutique-y Gin Company’s range could virtually fill this article on their own. The inventive company, which enjoys pushing the boundaries as to what actually constitutes a gin, is responsible for sending gin to the moon and has flavoured spirits with cucamelons, hot sauce and neroli.
One of its recent releases included Dead King Gin, which combines the scent of freshly unwrapped Egyptian mummies and gin, featuring botanicals traditionally used in the embalming process including rosemary, honey, moss and myrrh.
Unravelling mummies was once all the rage among certain circles in Victorian Britain with individuals such as surgeon and antiquarian Thomas Pettigrew (b.1791 – d.1865) professing a particular fascination with the topic.
While Cathedra Gin is distilled with the rather more typical juniper, orange, elderflower, almond and vanilla, it is also Britain’s “first ever” cathedral-brand gin.
Unveiled this month, the gin will be made by Lancashire’s Brindle Distillery – the home of Cuckoo Gin – on behalf of Blackburn Cathedral.
It is hoped that sales of the spirit will help the cathedral’s fundraising efforts for a £1 million redevelopment of the crypt into a community and conference centre.
Named in reference to the seat of the Bishop found in every English cathedral, the gin’s name was also chosen with the hope that other cathedrals may stock the product with profits going to them instead.