Flavoured, pink, non-alcoholic: there have been many guises of gin in recent years – some great, some not so – as the spirit’s popularity shows no signs of slowing. But there is one style of the juniper-forward drink that distillers seem to be adopting to satisfy those favouring less sweetness and more texture: savoury gin.
So, how do you define a savoury gin? Primarily, it’s all down to the botanicals. Where a lot of gins will include a defining citrus element (lemon, orange, grapefruit), a savoury gin will eschew this for something with more saline attributes like olives or even a dash of sea salt. Meanwhile, florality in the likes of Hendrick’s gin, which uses rose petals as a botanical, can be replaced with something like rosemary.
It’s not just flavour that defines a savoury gin, though – it also comes down to the mouthfeel. Indeed, for drink expert, Gin Foundry editor and IWSC judge Olivier Ward, the definition is evolving. He says that ‘savoury’ has gone from being a byword for ‘herbal’ to becoming more aligned with texture and salinity.
‘For such a long time, it was Gin Mare that was the outlier because it was big and olive-rich, which even brought a textural element to it.’ Since Gin Mare’s launch in 2007, many distillers have tried to replicate the desired effect of a light oiliness coating the drinker’s palate – without upending the drink’s viscosity. So, how are they doing it?
For some of these new gins, seaweed is where the answer lies for that savoury element, explains Ward; for others it’s sea salt, while some are answering the growing appetite for Mediterranean flavours with the likes of olive and rosemary. There are even gins out there incorporating cheese and vegetables into the distilling process.
Hard to imagine? We’ve rounded up five savoury gins released in the last year, so you don’t have to.
5 savoury gins to try
Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin
Australia’s best-known gin distillery, Four Pillars, isn’t shy when it comes to experimenting with gins. Its Olive Leaf bottling is no exception, made using cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and the leaves from three different olive varieties. These are combined with seven Australian botanicals, including macadamia and rosemary. The rosemary really stands out on the nose, while the texture from the olive oil comes through beautifully on the palate.
RRP £36.95, Master of Malt
Holyrood Distillery Height of Arrows
Celebrating gin’s trademark juniper botanical, this new release from Holyrood takes the less-is-more approach to gin making, using just juniper, beeswax and sea salt. On the nose, this is piney and light with sweet citrus, but it’s on the palate that this gin’s salinity really comes through, with an oily mouthfeel and a pepperiness on the finish. Used in a Gibson Martini, this gin really delivers.
RRP £34.95, Royal Mile Whiskies
Audemus Umami Gin
Launched in the summer of this year, this gin from distiller maverick Miko Abouaf uses an Italian caper distillate at its base before infusing it with Parmesan cheese and combining with juniper and two other secret ingredients, before ageing in ex-Cognac barrels. The result is surprisingly light, with a strong hit of capers on the nose and a smooth, silky texture on the palate. This in a delight when served in a Martini with an olive-oil garnish.
RRP £34.95, The Whisky Exchange
Portobello Road Savoury Gin
The new gin to come out of the W11 distillery has taken Mediterranean botanicals such as Calabrian bergamot peel, green Gordal olives from Seville and rosemary to give it its savoury edge (with a pinch of sea salt post-distillation for good measure). A salinity lingers at the back of this gin while still delivering on those juniper and rosemary notes up front. Serious Martini material.
RRP £35, Portobello Road Gin
James Gin Asian Parsnip Gin
James May (yes, of Top Gear fame) has created his own gin using Asian parsnips at its core. Made by Downton Distillery’s master distiller Hugh Anderson, the first limited batch of 1,420 bottles sold out quickly, but May and Anderson have the wheels in motion on a second batch of the unusual gin. Combining parsnips with south-east Asian spices, it’s nutty and earthy with a lingering warmth.
RRP £39, James Gin