Words by Theodora Sutcliffe
Juniper, schmuniper. As the worldwide gin craze shows no sign of slowing, the variety of botanicals that can be added to a gin has gone far beyond the old standbys of coriander, angelica et al. And, while EU and US law dictate that juniper must be the dominant flavouring for a product to be described as gin, many New World gins aren’t held back by old world rules.
Whether or not juniper needs to dominate - and in itself that's a definition that's hard to litigate - craft distillers the world over are adding everything from ants to seaweed to their drinks. Here are ten unique gins, from ten different countries, that showcase the sheer range of ingredients out there.
Argentina - Yerba Mate
The national drink of Argentina - and swathes of South America - yerba mate is a stimulating leaf that contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine, the main feel-good ingredients of coffee, chocolate and tea. So, naturally, Argentinian bartender Renato 'Tato' Giovannoni made a gin from it. Príncipe de los Apóstoles combines yerba mate with eucalyptus, peppermint and pink grapefruit so successfully that it's now exported to over 15 countries.
Australia - Green Ants
Bush tucker is a uniquely Australian concept - native foods, foraged from the wild, that are part of the traditional diet of Indigenous Australians, the world's oldest civilisation. Something Wild Green Ant Gin, a collaboration between South Australia's Adelaide Hills craft distillery and Indigenous food supplier Something Wild, captures those ingredients in liquid. Besides the green ants, which have notes of coriander and lime, ingredients feature boobiala (native juniper), finger lime, lemon myrtle, pepper berry and strawberry gum.
Belgium - Beef
After the bacon wash and the jalapeño-bacon Margarita, a meat-infused gin had to be the next frontier. Butcher's Gin was the brainchild of luxury butcher and wholesaler Luc de Laet, after he realised that his secret recipe for marinating beef was not dissimilar to the botanical blends used in a gin - and threw a little dried beef in the mix as well. It has yet to achieve wide distribution.
Bolivia - Pink Peppercorn
Bolivia's first craft gin distillery, La República produces gin in two styles: Andina, based on botanicals from the Andes mountains, and Amazonica, flavoured with ingredients from the Amazon rainforest. Andean botanicals run from pink peppercorns, or molle berries, through to the pulp of local vine fruits and the sacred, aromatic leaf called khoa. Both gins are distilled at a bracing 4,000m above sea level using glacier water.
Canada - Seaweed
Famous for whaling and bracing winters, Canada's Newfoundland saw its first true distillery in over a century open for business last year. One of their craft products? Seaweed gin, using dulse, an edible type of seaweed, harvested from the Grand Banks, underwater plateaus not far from Newfoundland where the Gulf Stream mixes with the cold Labrador Current to create paradise for marine life.
England - Nettles
In northern Europe, the nettle, specifically the raised red rash caused by its stinging leaves, is an essential part of childhood - and traditionally young leaves were often on the menu during spring. JJ Whitley nettle gin, part of a family of signature English gin flavours, aims to harness the taste of the English countryside, by adding nettle leaves to a more conventional base of juniper, citrus and coriander. Perhaps spinach will come next.
Germany - Baobab
Inspired by the continent of Africa, 15% of the price of each bottle of Elephant Gin sold goes to help save the African elephant - and baobab, a super-fruit that elephants adore, is part of the botanical recipe, alongside signature African herbs like lion's tail and devil's claw. Made in Germany, the mix also includes some mountain ingredients, alongside more conventional London dry botanicals. It's available in original, aged and extra-strength versions.
Read Difford's Guide review
South Africa - Rooibos
The headline ingredient of Cruxland South African gin isn't actually rooibos but Kalahari truffle. Yet it's the rooibos (aka bush tea) flavours that stand out in this grape-based London Dry formulation. Other distinctively South African ingredients include honeybush, a gorse-like flower. Like rooibos, it's part of South Africa's fynbos plant group, a set of species from a unique landscape that exists only in South Africa and that are often at the heart of modern South African gins.
Read Difford's Guide review
USA - Lavender
Some argue that lavender, the fragrant purple flower that seems to have more life scenting gins than it does scenting soaps or drawers now, is the single most American botanical that there is. Waterloo Gin - distilled, despite the name, in Texas - is a classic New Western gin that leads with lavender and citrus zest. Alongside a recipe of more traditional gin botanicals, the distillers somehow manage to squeeze in pecans.
Wales - Foraged Pine Needles
Foraging has been having a moment for a while, tapping into all those trends of being close to the land, sustainable and local that we use to ignore the fact we spend most of our waking hours on our phones. And Dyfi small batch gin
adds a wealth of foraged ingredients from the nearby biosphere reserve to a recipe that includes juniper, coriander and lemon peel. Besides the unappealingly titled "bog myrtle", foraged Scots pine tips feature.