Are you a distiller looking to expand your craft by creating a unique flavour profile using botanicals? Or perhaps you’re a new distiller who wants to jump right in and add botanicals to your spirits from the get-go? Using botanicals in distilling is a great way to infuse your spirits with complex and distinctive flavours, but it can be intimidating to know where to start. Fear not, as we’re here to guide you through the process and help you discover the wonderful world of botanicals in distilling. Whether you’re an experienced distiller or just starting out, we’ll provide you with the knowledge and resources you need to get started on your botanical journey.
Choosing your Botanicals
Select the botanicals that you want to use to flavour your spirits. Popular botanicals used in gin include juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, orris root, citrus peels, and many others. We recommend that you research the characteristics of each botanical and how they contribute to the flavour profile of the spirit.
Popular Botanicals & Their Characteristics
While the above information highlights some popular botanicals, it’s important to remember that there are countless options available, and the botanicals you choose to use will depend on the flavour profile you are trying to achieve. It’s essential to do thorough research and experimentation to find the botanicals that are the best fit for your needs. That being said, here are some popular botanicals that are commonly used in distilling and detail about their characteristics:
Juniper berries are a fundamental botanical in gin and other spirits, and they contribute a distinctive flavour and aroma profile to these drinks.
- Flavour: Juniper berries have a resinous, pine-like flavour, which gives gin its characteristic taste. The berries also have a slightly sweet, floral note that helps balance the bitterness of other botanicals.
- Aroma: Juniper berries have a strong, fresh aroma that is reminiscent of evergreen forests. This aroma is carried over to gin during the distillation process and contributes to its overall scent.
- Mouthfeel: Juniper berries contain essential oils that give gin a silky, oily mouthfeel. This helps to enhance the overall texture and feel of the drink.
Coriander is another popular botanical used in gin and other spirits, and it contributes a unique flavour and aroma to these drinks. Here are some ways in which coriander contributes to spirits:
- Flavour: Coriander has a citrusy, spicy flavour that is often described as warm and nutty. In gin, coriander helps to balance the strong flavour of juniper, while adding a layer of complexity to the overall taste.
- Aroma: Coriander has a sweet, spicy aroma that complements the piney scent of juniper. Its warm, citrusy aroma helps to create a more complex bouquet in the finished gin.
- Mouthfeel: Coriander has a warming effect on the mouth, which helps to balance the cooling effect of other botanicals. This creates a fuller, more rounded mouthfeel in the finished gin.
Citrus peels are another popular botanical used in gin and other spirits, and they contribute a bright, zesty flavour and aroma to these drinks. Here are some ways in which citrus peels contribute to spirits:
- Flavour: Citrus peels, such as those from oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, have a bright, fresh, and zesty flavour that can add a crisp, fruity note to gin and other spirits. They are often used to complement the herbal and spicy notes of other botanicals.
- Aroma: Citrus peels have a strong, aromatic scent that can be both sweet and tangy. Their fresh, fruity aroma can help to create a more complex bouquet in the finished spirit.
- Mouthfeel: Citrus peels contain natural oils that can add a silky, oily mouthfeel to gin and other spirits. This can help to enhance the overall texture and mouthfeel of the drink.
- Balance: Citrus peels can help to balance the bitterness of other botanicals in gin and other spirits. They can also provide a touch of sweetness that can help to round out the flavour profile.
Prepare and Use your Botanicals
Depending on the botanical, you may need to prepare it before adding it to your still. For example, you might need to crush or grind certain botanicals to release their flavours or use a zester to obtain the outermost layer of citrus peel. Be sure to follow best practices for handling and preparing botanicals to maintain quality and safety.
Once your botanicals are prepared, you have options on how you would like to use them.
Some botanicals can be added to the fermentation vessel to infuse the spirit with their flavours and aromas. This method is particularly useful for botanicals that are delicate or easily damaged by heat. The botanicals are typically crushed or ground to release their essential oils and flavours, and then added to the fermenting liquid. The fermentation process allows the flavours to develop slowly over time, and the resulting spirit will have a more subtle flavour than other methods. However, this method requires a longer fermentation time, which can be challenging for larger distilleries.
Maceration is a process of soaking the botanicals in the base spirit before distillation. This method is common for producing gin, where the botanicals are soaked in neutral spirit to extract their flavours and aromas. The length of the maceration process can vary from a few hours to several weeks, depending on the botanical and the desired flavour profile. This method allows for a more intense and distinct flavour than fermentation.
Steeping involves adding the botanicals to the finished spirit after it has been distilled. This method is commonly used to produce flavoured spirits such as liqueurs and brandies. The botanicals are left to infuse the flavours and aromas in the spirit for a period of time, typically a few days to several weeks. The length of time depends on the botanical and the desired flavour profile. The resulting spirit will have a more intense flavour and aroma than other methods, making it an excellent choice for producing a variety of flavoured spirits. Steeping can also be used to enhance the flavours of a base spirit, such as whiskey, by adding botanicals such as oak chips or vanilla beans to the finished product.
Vapour infusion, also known as vapour distillation, is a process of adding botanicals to the still during distillation. The botanicals are typically placed in a basket or column above the still, and the steam passes through the botanicals, extracting their flavours and aromas. This method allows for a more delicate and nuanced flavour than other methods, as the essential oils are extracted at a lower temperature. This method is commonly used for producing gin, but it can also be used for other spirits such as absinthe or flavoured vodkas.
Depending on your set of equipment, you may have access to a thumper chamber that can be used to add botanicals. One of the advantages of using a thumper is that it can give you greater control over the levels of botanicals in the final distillate, allowing you to customize the flavour profile of your spirits.
When it comes to distilling your botanical-infused spirit, using the right still is essential for preserving the flavours and aromas of your botanicals. For distilling botanicals, we highly recommend using the Still Spirits Alembic dome, which is specifically designed for producing high-quality flavoured spirits.
The Alembic dome features a copper pot still that is ideal for creating flavorful spirits, as copper is known to react with the impurities in the distillate, creating a smoother, more flavorful end product. The dome also allows for greater control over the distillation process, which is essential for achieving the desired flavour profile in your spirits.
When using botanicals, we recommend a series of runs, including a stripping run, a spirit run, and a botanical run.
The first distillation run, called the stripping run, involves separating the alcohol from the fermented wash and removing any unwanted impurities or solids that may negatively impact the quality of the final product. This process produces a high-alcohol, low-flavour product, which can be used as the base for subsequent distillation runs. The purpose of the stripping run is to obtain clean and concentrated alcohol that can be used as a base for adding back in the desired flavours and aromas during the subsequent distillation run(s). By separating the alcohol from the unwanted solids and impurities, the stripping run allows you to obtain a clean and concentrated alcohol that is better suited for producing a high-quality flavoured spirit.
The second run is the spirit run, which involves distilling the neutral spirit from the stripping run to a higher proof. This run is designed to produce a high-quality, smooth-tasting spirit. During the spirit run, it is important to discard the first and last portions of the distillate, which contain unwanted flavours and impurities. If you have added botanicals during the fermentation process or are planning to add them via steeping or maceration, this will be the last run you need. However, if you desire a more intense or concentrated flavour, or if the fermented wash contains a lower quantity of the botanicals than desired, you may proceed to the botanical run to infuse the distilled spirit with additional botanicals.
The third and final run is the botanical run, which is where the botanicals are added to the distilled spirit to infuse the flavours and aromas. If you are using the Still Spirits Alembic Dome, we recommend using the Still Spirits Botanical Basket. This specially designed accessory can be attached to the top of the Alembic dome, allowing you to infuse your spirits with botanicals in a more controlled and even manner during the distillation process.
To use the Botanical Basket, simply attach it to the top of the Alembic dome before adding your botanicals. The basket is made from stainless steel and is large enough to hold a range of botanicals, making it a versatile option for distillers who want to experiment with different flavour combinations.
If you are using the Air Still, you can use the equivalent botanical basket which fits inside.