Mother's ruin or botanical paradise?
by PHILIP WHITE
You take an alcohol, right, ethanol, that you've made by fermentation. You could have made it from nearly anything sugary. Beet, wheat, potatoes, barley, lilac, plums ... you name it: somebody's made booze from it.
Bacchus only knows how many mistakes you made managing that fermentation: there's a whole writing and publishing industry grown up around a perceived need for experts to tell those who ferment grapes, just for example, whether they've done it well or not. This is after the fermenters have actually completed a university degree to guarantee their expertise in managing this process, which is as old as evolution or the Devil; whoever came first.
Borderline poisons can be made to taste good: Anyone who can remember the hangover left by the Quelltaler Clare Valley Wyatt Earp Vintage Port 1947 will attest to the poisoning power of taily spirit.
That delicious bastard left a welt that stung for days.
It took about six years of utter skullsplitters, but we drank it all.
The gin-crazed girl commits suicide ... George Cruikshank 1792 -1878
Brandy-makers, for example, like whisky-makers, are permitted the addition of some caramel, which makes the clear bright spirit taste smoother and just happens to colour it so it appears to have spent longer in oak.
This technology opened the door for proper herbalists to have some input: adding herbs, rinds and spices that were actually efficacious for humans: stuff that's good for you rather than stuff that merely masks the flavours of the stuff that's very bad for you. Clever Dutchmen used juniper berries: jennifer; geneveive:genever: gin. Clever Frenchmen used wormwood: Artemisia absinthium: absinthe. The Germans put some spirit in barrels of wine and added their herbs at that point for steeping: Artemisia absinthium: wormwood: vermud: vermouth.
After being walloped by drunk Dutchmen fighting on gin for William of Orange the British copied the Dutch. Dry tannic juniper grew wild on the heath from London down to Plymouth. London hit the piss for decades.
Just as the mindless industrialisation of wine, and its homogenisation led to the advent of the orange/natural/reactionary hippy wine movement of recent years, and a similar reaction to oceans of terrible beer led to the boom in craft brews, we now see a huge surge in the number of folks making what they call gin.
If it's good.
Add to those biochemical possibilities the intricacies of distillation: single, double, sometimes triple. Then become an expert in, not just grapes or grain or potatoes or plums or whatever you used to make your spirit, add to that a new expertise in the dozen or so widely-accepted ingredients for gin: juniper, coriander, citrus, iris roots, rose petals, peppercorns, lavendar, fennel, cinnamon and whatnot.
Professor David Mabberly's Plant-book is the essential guide to those exploring botanicals for gin or any other purpose ... readers in my neck of the woods can usually purchase a copy in the book shop behind the Museum of Economic Botany in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens