Southwestern Distillery – Artisan Spirits Handcrafted In Cornwall


What exactly is Gin?

  • August 7, 2013

I have been curious about the character of gin for a long time. And it is the character, or soul of the spirit, that I am referring to when I ask, what exactly is gin? 

For I know that to make my gin I use just a handful of simple ingredients: wheat spirit, fresh Cornish spring water and a bouquet of select herbs and spices. And by delving deeper into the distillation process, I know that the lovely aroma from the spirit comes from a careful balance of the essential oils released by each botanical.


But what exactly is it in gin that makes people feel great? Why is it described as uplifting? Why have I heard that gin is a depressant? And could it really be true that it makes my friend Adam aggressive?!

Now, much research has been done into the composition of the essential oils in gin, and there are lots of tests out there. For instance, gas chromatography can analyse the makeup of any product. Indeed, I find it very impressive that scientists can attribute the juniper aroma in the spirit to a precise mixture of chemical compounds, largely with names ending in ‘ene’alpha pinene, cardinene, camphene.

If a scientist were to start writing out a list of ingredients for any gin, no doubt it would probably look something like this: Water, Ethanol, Alpha Pinene, Cardinene, Camphene, Turpineol, Micrene, Limonene etc etc… Although a list of isolated compounds neither captures nor evokes the essence of gin.

Unfortunately, this scientific approach has not quite answered my question. So while I am now able to describe what is in gin, I am forced to look beyond science if I am to really understand why gin is unique (and of course whether it really does make Adam aggressive).

Fortunately for me, the same essential oils present in gin have also been used in herbal medicine for centuries! Generations have developed a very good understanding of how botanicals effect us humans.

With much of this knowledge absorbed into the practice of aromatherapy, I am able to access valuable information about each botanical quite easily from the comfort of my chair. And by looking at each botanical individually – and its known effect – I should be able to draw up a complete character profile of my gin. Hopefully, this rather crude psychoanalysis might even provide insight into the effects of drinking Tarquin’s Gin.

The results of my research:

Juniper – a natural stimulant, great for versatility and effectiveness

Coriander - soothing and calming

Lemon – a mood enhancer

Orange - creates a feeling of happiness and warmth

Grapefruit – increases ones sense of humour and well-being 

Cardamom – soothes the mind

Cinnamon – reduces drowsiness and irritability 

Orris – therapeutic

Angelica – has a protective quality, but also helps to release negative energy

Bitter almond – wonderful scent and flavour

Liquorice - soothing

Violets – relaxing, soothing and inspiring

Armed with this information – looking somewhat similar to an online dating profile – I can go so far to describe my gin as…

Outgoing and energetic but with a warm and compassionate side. A positive character that smells good and lights up any room, yet it is still in touch with its own emotions and down to earth. It is equally happy on a night out, as it is relaxing at home after a long day’s work.

…I reckon it’s the sugar in the tonic that makes Adam aggressive. As by all suggestion, gin is truly an uplifting spirit with great character.

The character of Pastis is a whole different story altogether…

[August 7th 2013 by Tarquin]