Let’s go back to basics. What is gin? If your first thought is juniper, then you are on the right track. But before you start listing other botanicals, let’s see how the government defines gin:
[Gin is a spirit] with a main characteristic flavor derived from juniper berries produced by distillation or mixing of spirits with juniper berries and other aromatics or extracts derived from these materials and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof) (Beverage Alcohol Manual, Chapter 4)
Did you fall asleep reading that because we almost did. To translate it into normal people speak: Gin is a spirit where juniper is the dominant flavor and is bottled at 40% abv or more.
You might have noticed that this definition does not mention orange peels, coriander, rosemary, cardamom or any other botanical you see on gin bottles. In fact, all these botanicals are not requirements for a spirit to qualify as gin, they are entirely optional. If you had a spirit made from 100% juniper and another made from 60% juniper, both these spirits can be considered gin if juniper is the dominant flavor and they are bottled at the correct alcohol percentage.
Because the definition for gin is so vague, distillers have a lot of room to make their mark. That is why you might see one bottle of gin that has 20 botanicals and another that has 3. The almost limitless combinations of flavors is what makes gin such an exciting category!
Entire books can be written about the botanicals that go into gin so we won’t list them here. Instead we will just end with a gin cocktail because talking about gin is great but drinking gin is better.
2 oz gin
3 oz Cabernet Sauvignon
3/4 oz orange liquor
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 star anise
Add all ingredients to glass with ice. Stir to combine. Garnish with lemon or orange peel. The star anise can be replaced with cinnamon, cloves or cardamom. Any dried spice that is fragrant will work great with this cocktail.