Flavored Gin seems like such a misnomer because surely Gin is already flavored with botanicals! This begs the question: “What is a Flavored Gin?” and, of course we’re talking about Gin so, expect the definition to become a little blurred around the edges…
Flavored Gins are so named because the Gin is infused after the final distillation with additional botanicals, giving a new dominant flavor to the Gin. Typically these extra botanicals tend to be fruit based and hence may also be called Fruit Gins (but can include herbs, flowers, spices etc.) with the key point being they create a new strong presence of flavor. This seems fairly straightforward, but it is in the execution where things start to get interesting and what can or can’t be called a Flavored Gin becomes legally defined.
Creating a Flavored Gin requires an existing Gin as the base spirit, the addition of further flavor(s), followed by some time (while it infuses in the Gin). Sloe Gin, the most popular Flavored Gin, is a good example to look at more closely.
(i) Take an existing Gin, it could be any style of Gin (London Dry is popular) but the choice does affect the end flavor. The strength of the Gin is important too, 55 – 65% ABV (110 – 130 proof) seems to be the optimal alcohol strength to extract flavor from botanicals by infusion in the shortest time, with lower strength Gins requiring a longer time frame to achieve similar results. Plus, at the end of the process the Flavored Gin may need to be diluted with water (reducing the amount of flavor) to meet the requirements of the final bottling strength.
(ii) Now add previously frozen or pricked sloberries (a small plum like fruit from the Blackthorn bush) and because they are tart, producers tend to add sugar too, as it sweetens the taste and is believed to help with the extraction of the flavor from the fruit. Although the sugar is not essential, when it is omitted the infusion time may need adjusting to ensure extracted tannins do not impart too much unpalatable bitterness.
(iii) Some producers extract the stone from the center of the fruit, while others leave it in as it imparts a trace amount of almond flavor to the end result. A few producers may even include almonds along with the sloeberries to provide some, or more, almond flavor accordingly.
(iv) The time taken to infuse the sloeberries varies, taking anything from several months to a year. The original strength of the base Gin, the amount of sloeberries used, the addition (or not) of sugar, the ambient temperature it is stored at and the desired depth of character (and color) required, all play a part in determining how long this time period is, a good reason for regularly tasting it!
(v) Once infused the Flavored Gin may have sugar (or more sugar) added to gain a desired level of sweetness. It may also be filtered, and even diluted with water, ready for bottling.
From this description, it begins to become apparent each post distillation botanical used may need to be treated differently, with it’s own twists and nuances required to create the desired result by the producer. For instance: lemon may need more sugar added to balance its sour taste while sweet orange needs less; soft fruits require less infusion time than harder fruits; Lavender requires no sugar to be added etc. These variables in production mean these spirits finish with differing end results. It is in these differences where the definition of a Flavored Gin becomes segmented, according to local legal requirements, which may vary across jurisdictions, countries and even continents!
To best demonstrate this, here are several differences between the two biggest Gin producing continents of the West:
Alcohol By Volume (ABV)
The alcoholic strength of Flavored Gins has been established as a minimum of 25% ABV in Europe, while in the USA it is set at a minimum of 30%.
A Flavored Gin is generally regarded as not being sweetened although it appears in Europe up to 2.5 ounces of added sugar per bottle is permitted while in the US a smaller maximum amount of half an ounce is allowed.
On the face of it these disparities may seem
relatively small but the impact can be more pronounced than one might expect. Around
95% of Flavored Gins are currently made in the EU, and producers often choose
to make it at the minimum 25% strength (distilled spirit is more expensive than
water!), and the extra sugar can better “round” out the flavor (while reducing
the possibility of oxidization and increasing the overall time it may be
preserved). Unless EU producers modify their recipes, by increasing the
strength and reducing the sugar in their Gins, this may be a barrier to
entering their existing Flavored Gins in to other markets such as the USA.
However by calling it something else there is no need to alter the recipe, and
is of no surprise to find many choose to do this…
If a Flavored Gin has an ABV of less than 25% in Europe or 30% in the USA and/or it contains more than 2.5 ounces of sugar per bottle in Europe or 0.5 ounces in the USA…it is called a Liqueur. This change in categorization is a little more dramatic than you might think, especially in the eyes of a consumer, because it is stopped from being known as a Gin or a “True Gin”. Certainly, this is not necessarily a “bad” thing in itself as many appreciate the ability to identify syrupy sweet liqueurs from other spirits. However, many Flavored Gins, which take on this category name change, are often far from what is traditionally expected from a Liqueur and people might be surprised to find there are flavored spirits made with a Gin base (“Flavored Gins”) available but are not called “Gins”. In a nutshell, what some countries call a Gin will be viewed as a Liqueur in another country (and vice versa). This is confusing for consumers and potentially results in wonderful quality Gins being unacknowledged, overlooked and unappreciated.
Now, just to muddle things a little further, Liqueurs are not always called Liqueurs. For example, in the USA a Spirit is often referred to as Liquor, and to prevent confusion between the terms Liqueur and Liquor, Liqueurs may be called Cordials or Schnapps instead. In the minds of many, there is a difference between an Orange Gin or Orange Flavored Gin and an Orange Gin Liqueur or Orange Liqueur, although these names could all be applied to the same bottle of drink. This imagery in a person’s mind can be stretched even further if it’s called an Orange Cordial (in many countries this is frequently associated with a non-alcoholic juice or concentrate) or an Orange Schnapps (commonly considered to be a low quality, high strength “harsh” fruit brandy, similar to an “eau-de-vie”).
Wow, who knew flavoring an existing Gin with a new dominant flavor would lead to it being called different things by different people and thus thought of as something different (even if it’s not)! No wonder this type of Gin is confusing to consumers and why the term “Flavored Gin” is in general usage - even if technically it may not always be one.
Accounting for around a third of all Flavored Gins, Sloes (or Sloeberries) are clearly the most popular ingredient, and are used for making Sloe Gin or Sloe Liqueur (including variations such as Prunelle in France, schlehenlikor and schlehenfeuer in Germany, Bargnolino in Italy and Pacharan or Patxaran in Spain). The second most popular flavor is Damson (Prunus domestica), a cousin of the Sloe (Prunus spinosa) and is a subspecies of plum (just slightly larger than a Sloe). Sloe and Damson Gins combined make up over 40% of all the Flavored Gins brands available on the market today. So, what other flavors are used with Gin?
Including Sloe and Damson, red fruits in general, have particularly dominated the world of Flavored Gins and accounts for the most commonly seen color of Flavored Gin being red. This includes flavors such as: Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Blueberry, Cherry, Cranberry, Elderberry, Passionfruit, Plum, Raspberry, Redcurrant and Strawberry. Many have been used to make Flavored Gins for at least several centuries including Bessen or Berry Genever (e.g. A. Van Wees Bay). There are also a few Flavored Gins, which contain a combination of red fruits such as: Greenall’s Wild Berry (UK) and Lady Blanc (Spain).
Citrus fruit, especially lemon and orange (and to a lesser extent Lime), have and continue to appear amongst the long running cast of Flavored Gins. As the most common citrus based botanicals in Gin they no doubt had a part to play in disguising low quality offerings, particularly during the Gin Craze and Prohibition eras. However unlike the red fruits, during periods when Gin has been less popular, citrus Flavored Gins have almost disappeared – except in certain countries.
Here Citroenjenever (lemon flavored Genever) is a popular drink, and similarly to Sloe Gin in the UK, has a long history as a homemade speciality. Today there are numerous commercial distillers producing this Lemon Genever Liqueur including: Bokma, De Kuyper, Filliers, Hartevelt, Korenear, Peterman, Rubbens, Smeets, St. Eloy, AV Wees and Wortegemsen.
For the last three quarters of a century this country has particularly enjoyed citrus Flavored Gins. Many have been produced in the UK and it is not unusual for them to be sold almost exclusively within this Spanish market. This seems to have hit its peak during the 1970’s, and while many of these brands were discontinued, at the turn of the Millennium there were still a few remaining such as: Bloomsbury 45 (both Orange and Lemon flavors) and Beefeater (both Orange and Lime).
Today the number of citrus Flavored Gins available
has increased and they seem to keep coming: e.g. Filliers Dry Gin 28 Tangerine
(Belgium), Filliers Pomelo Genever (Belgium), Ish Limed (Spain), Red Dirt
Distillery Lime (Australia), Rockland Lemon (Sri Lanka), Russell Henry
Malaysian Lime (USA), Seagers Lime Twisted (New Zealand) etc. One particularly
popular new citrus flavor is grapefruit, check out these: Buss No.509 Pink Grapefruit
(Belgium), Ely Pink Grapefruit (UK) and Sacred Pink Grapefruit (UK).
A Fruit Cup is a form of Punch, usually served cold with seasonal fruits in a pewter tankard - hence the use of the words “Fruit” and “Cup”. Various fruit is infused in a combination of sugar and water (usually hot), perhaps along with some herbs and/or spices, and left to cool/infuse. Once ready the resultant liquid, or cordial, is retained ready to be added to alcohol and garnished with fresh fruit to create a Fruit Cup. Although not part of a fruit cup of old, for the last 150 years or so a carbonated drink such as lemonade, ginger ale or soda water has been added, along with ice to make a long cool drink for summer time (and probably the reason for it being known as a Summer Fruit Cup also ).
Many Fruit Cups of the Middle Ages, up until the 1800’s, commonly used red wine as the alcoholic base. In the UK, this red wine was from Bordeaux in France (or from other places but made in the same style), and at the time accounts for it being better known as a Claret Cup. In Spain (and Portugal), the red wine has come from their Rioja region with the Fruit Cup better known to people as Sangria (Spanish for “Bloodletting” due to it’s red color). Did you know? In colloquial cockney phrasing (from London, UK) “Claret” is sometimes used to refer to blood i.e. in describing a fight scene one might say: “There was Claret all over the place” – perhaps making a greater connection to the term “Bloodletting” after all!
With no standard recipe for a Fruit Cup, by the 1700’s purveyors of drink in both the UK and Spain had begun experimenting with other alcohol and it wouldn’t be uncommon to find fortified wines, liqueurs and spirits being added. These additions could help to disguise poor quality wine but conversely, they could also create a “house Speciality”, with businesses seeking to provide and be known for, “the best Fruit Cup (or Sangria) in town”. One such place was The Oyster Bar in London, opened by James Pimm in 1840 and, although the history has variable accounts, he (or his business) switched the Claret for Sweet Vermouth and added Gin. Today it is the best known ready-made Fruit Cup brand in the world - Pimms No.1. Although this might seem mysteriously named, the “No.1” comes from an old categorization system of spirits in the UK (and it’s colonies), which finally became defunct in 1972. No.1 referred to Gin, No.2 Scotch, No.3 Brandy, No.4 Rum, No.5 Rye and No.6 Vodka.
Besides the ubiquitous No.1, Pimm’s also produce a seasonal Winter Cup (made with Brandy, i.e. a No.3 Cup) and a Blackberry & Elderflower (made with Vodka, i.e. No.6). As regards other Gin based Fruit Cups, Plymouth Gin launched a Fruit Cup in 2003 (which they discontinued in 2008) and Stones (of Stones Ginger Wine fame) released one in 2006. There are a few grocery/supermarket brands too but since 2010, as the popularity of Gin has increased, producers have turned to using this to create their own Fruit Cups. These include: Sipsmith Summer Cup (2011), Sacred Rosehip Cup (2013), SLOEmotion No.7 Fruit Cup (2013), and Bloom Strawberry Cup (2014). Now the question is, are Fruit Cups Flavored Gins? They seem to be known as liqueurs but all we focus on is that they can contain Gin, and are therefore part of the story of Gin. Plus the ritual of making a Fruit Cup with all its possible additions (don’t forget the cucumber or borage leaves) is a perfect accoutrement to any summer activity (such as tennis, boating, polo etc.).
Red (berry) and Citrus fruits certainly represent over two-thirds of all the Flavored Gins available today but, they are not the only flavors available:
Many producers from Holland and Belgium use Apples to create Flavored Genever, such as Braeckman, Diep 9, Filliers, Hooghoudt, Peterman, Smeets etc. to name a few; Two companies in the UK, MarRon and Mother’s Ruin, have both created a Flavored Gin using a combination of Apple & Pear; Ferdinand's Saar from Germany use a cousin of the pear to create a Quince Flavored Gin; Rhubarb Flavored Gin can be obtained from two UK distillers - Edinburgh’s Rhubarb & Ginger and Warner Edwards Victoria’s Rhubarb – and one from Minnesota in the USA - Norseman Strawberry Rhubarb; Two producers make Gooseberry Flavored Gin in the UK, Demijohn and My Gineration; and Peach is used by Belgian Buss No.509 in their Persian Peach Gin.
There are several producers, all from the UK, who create rose petal Flavored Gins (Liverpool Organic Rose, Slamsey’s Rose and the Northumberland Gin Company’s Prudence Rose), although Dillons Rose from Canada is flavored by both petals and rosehips; Florence Violet from the UK contains Malaysian violets plus Filliers in Belgium make a Violet Flavored Genever; Magellan from France makes strong use of Iris; Black Button in New York, USA make a Lilac Flavored Gin; Lavender has a few Flavored Gins, three in the UK from MarRon, Masons and Mother’s Ruin plus Mogul Gin First Fill Lavendel from Sweden; However Elderflower is proving the most popular with numerous UK distilled Flavored Gins appearing (including ones from: Gordon’s, Edinburgh and Warner Edwards) with PJ Elderflower Infused and Filliers Elderflower Genever from Belgium, Wenneker Elderflower Dry from Holland and St. Patrick's Elderflower Gin from Ireland.
There are several Mint Flavored Gins sold in the USA including versions from Baffert’s and Mr. Boston Mint; GrandTen Distilling in Massachusetts, USA produce an Angelica Botanical Liqueur; although the strangest is Perigan’s Cannabis Gin from Spain (it contains flavoring and coloring extracts from Cannabis but with none of the effects!).
MarRon in the UK make a Chestnut Flavored Gin; and Matter’s from Switzerland make a Nutmeg Flavored Gin.
coming from the UK there is Ely’s Star Anise Flavored Gin; Friary in the UK, and Russell Henry Hawaiian from California, USA both produce a Ginger Gin; and Audemus from France make a Pink-Pepper Flavored Gin.
Ely’s make a Dark Chocolate Flavored
Gin (sold aboard the P&O Cruise Liner “Britannia” - the biggest superliner
ever built for the British market; and Sacred Christmas Pudding Flavored Gin
(made with real Christmas Pudding under low temperature vacuum).
At least 15% (and coming close to 20%) of Gin brands available on the market today are Flavored Gins but when looking on the shelves of both on and off trade locations they are nowhere near as prevalent as this. This may be indicative of their limited popularity with consumers but they are clearly made in small amounts when compared against the overall volume of Gin produced. These small volumes of Flavored Gin may actually be limited by reasons of practicality and not necessarily their lack of popularity. Sourcing large enough quantities of a key botanical and the seasonality of harvesting can prove difficult. For example sloes and damsons are usually wild rather than cultivated plants, and finding hedges to pick them from, then picking them during an approximate 4-week window in October/November does provide some logistical limitations.
In 1996 Seagram’s launched their Lime Twisted Flavored Gin and this was to be followed by a series of different flavors, including Grapefruit Twisted in 1998. Their approach may have been inspired foresight or a response to the plethora of flavored Vodkas on the market (or both). They are made by infusing the Gin with an existing flavored liqueur creating a sweet and artificial tasting and the resultant Gin comes across like this too. Despite this, sales have increased year on year and today they sell around 3 million bottles of Seagram’s Flavored Gin per annum!
Since the turn of the Millennium, and in line with the overall growth of Gins in general, quite a few new Flavored Gin brands have appeared. While this is too many to list here, some of the interesting developments include:
Diageo released their lime tasting Tanqueray Rangpur. Although technically not a Flavored Gin (flavor is distilled and not infused post distillation), in the eyes and minds of consumers it gives the impression it is, and as a major producer of Gin it certainly gave greater credence to the Flavored Gin category.
Seagram’s Orange Twisted Gin launched.
Seagram’s Raspberry Twisted Gin launched.
Seagram’s Grape Twisted Gin launched. This has subsequently been followed by their Melon, Peach and Pineapple versions.
Juniper Green Organic Sloe Gin was launched as the world’s first organic Sloe Gin.
The American Gin Company in New York, using DH Krahn Gin as its base, produced Averell Damson Gin – making it the first commercial Damson Gin to be made in the USA.
The Tamar Distillery in Tasmania launched their Strait Sloe Gin, the first commercially produced Sloe Gin in Australia.
Tamborine Mountain Distillery in Australia launched their Lilly Pilly Gin. Although technically not a Flavored Gin, the key botanical of Lilly Pilly fruit from a native Australian plant, imparts a significant flavor (and color) to the Gin.
Greenhook Ginsmiths in New York created a Beam Plum Gin Liqueur, using their Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin as the base. Native to the beach areas of the East Coast of the USA this is the first commercially produced Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) Flavored Gin in the world.
Tevsjö Distillery in Sweden launched Havtorn Gin, the first ever Sea-Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) Flavored Gin. These yellow colored and tart tasting berries are referred to as Scandinavian Lemon, providing an interesting and exciting new flavor.
Two Sloe Gins launched - Breil Pur Sloe (Switzerland) & Spirit Works Sloe (USA) – both the first commercially produced and naturally made Sloe Gins in their respective countries.
Society Spirits using their Wallflower Gin as
the base launched their Salal Gin, albeit in a very limited quantity.
The tart dark blue berries from this plant (Gaultheria shallon)
are native to the North West of North America, and this was the first
commercially flavored spirit of its kind.
Spirit Works in the USA, after the success of their Sloe Gin, launched their Barrel Aged Sloe Gin, also the first of its kind in the world.
Also another one in the USA, Boodles launched their Mulberry Gin, the worlds first commercially available Gin solely using this post distillation flavoured fruit.
It is possible there may be greater growth in Flavored Gins, and there is “chatter” to be heard i.e. the word on the street! Some from existing Gin producers who genuinely hope the quality is not compromised by lesser quality ingredients being used to “quickly” create Flavored versions. There is also the view from traditionalists, who often feel anything that moves away from a London Dry style of Gin is to be avoided. Then there is the modern crowd, who perhaps have found and like the milder Gin brands and who may begin to enjoy these Flavored Gins too. So far, it appears Flavored Gins have increased in proportion with the increase in Gin overall. Most importantly though, it seems the flavors being used are more likely to come from natural ingredients (similar to an eat natural and local ethos) and generally use botanicals to compliment the flavor profile of Gin. Let’s hope this trend continues.
Regardless of any further growth in this category, the real thought at the end of the day should be one of taste. Some of the Gins mentioned here are not Flavored Gins and do not fall within the category of liqueurs either. Their flavor is part of the distillation and not infused post distillation. Why are they here? Well, for us when the flavor is stronger than the juniper it is our taste buds that highlights this, and no amount of labeling can tell us differently. We feel the truth is in the flavor even if there are no real clear lines of demarcation!