Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Now that The Herbal Gin Company has opened the Gin Experience which now allows members of the public the previously inaccessible (unless you have a licence from HMRC) ability to distil spirits, the team has been doing more research on the botanicals that we have available for making some fantastic gins.
In doing so, we also want to share some of the interesting facts about the botanicals that are used for the process which are already known to most people with commonly recognised household names.
Fact 1: Gin and New York…?
Readers of an earlier blog on our website will remember about the fenugreek smell that shut
down New York not too long ago (twice)…
However, this isn’t our only story about New York so let’s move from fenugreek to
It turns out that 600 years ago, nutmeg was more precious than gold. Pound for pound it cost
more, as it could only be found in the Moluccas archipelago of Indonesia. There was massive demand for this rare spice in Europe and competition raged to control its distribution. Inevitably this less to (sadly usually violent) colonisation of the area. Evidence is available to show that nutmeg was a vital constituent in the making of juniper rich spirit - i.e. gin.
Portugal were the first colonisers off the Moluccas and then it was the Dutch and then the English, after it seized two of the islands in question in 1603. [For any fellow Scots out there,
please be aware that the Acts of Union led to the creation of the United Kingdom in 1707 - so England is the correct description here.]
The Dutch were pretty upset about the loss of such an important territory which meant they could not get their nutmeg fix for, amongst other things, their Genever or gin. So much so, that they decided to trade it for another territory (think Monopoly), that they valued less, in order to regain world nutmeg domination.
Turns out, the other territory that they traded for the Moluccas was a small place called New
Amsterdam. Nowadays known as New York. 1 How things change…!
The Castello Plan, a 1660 map of New Amsterdam (the top right corner is roughly north). The fort gave The Battery its name, the large street going from the fort past the wall became Broadway, and the city wall (right) gave Wall Street its name.
Fact 2: Vanilla - Real or synthetic
Vanilla was first used well before nutmeg, in fact 1000 years ago by the Toronac people in Mexico. They were pretty switched on by using vanilla in conjunction with cacao to make a flavoursome drink (still going strong!). The Aztecs took them over, and it doesn’t come as a surprise to then work out that Spain took vanilla back to their homeland after their brutal and
devastating takeover of the Aztec people. (However lets not assume too readily that previously, the Aztecs were too polite and kind to the Toronacs!)
The flavour success was short lived. Mexico kept the vanilla monopoly as it turned out that
the vanilla pods would only pollinate by native Mexican bees. A while later a Belgian botanist
worked out how to hand pollinate vanilla flowers (!) and less than 50 years later the Germans
(who else) created a vanilla synthetic flavour that now flavours 97% of our “vanilla” flavoured
One of the best ways to create a vanilla-like flavour is to use Tonka beans ion the recipe -
rich and flavoursome giving tones of vanilla and more.
Fact 3: Why has my tongue gone numb...!
Fact three involves joint contributions by nutmeg (again), Grains of Selim and Galangal which all cause mild but noticeable tongue numbness. Galangal already features in some of our Herbal Gin recipes but Grains of Selim (more in blog posts to come) have yet to feature and nutmeg has started to appear in some of our “Experience” trials.
This fact came to light after we started to taste all the botanicals as individual items. (It’s a tough job!) During this, we noticed that Grains of Selim especially caused a strange feeling
of tongue numbness.
Turns out this is an effect of chemicals called neolignans which have recently been discovered in Nutmeg oil, galangal and are manifest to our taste buds when we chew Grains
of Selim. These chemicals act on the temperature sensing nerves on the tongue to give a numbing sense of coolness that strangely persists.
The Cooling Effect
(from The Science of Spice; Understand Flavour Connections
and Revolutionise Your Cooking)
It’s such an unusual experience but we feel that it’s the sort of knowledge that makes the Gin Experience all the more rewarding.
Hopefully this gives a further set of insights into taste, flavour and how our Gin Experience
will allow you to create a gin that will be unique and priceless.