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The Raise of Botanical Spirits

This post is inspired by a post on Diffords Guide online. But even though, I have never really thought about calling a distillate "Botanical Spirit", I always thought, that there have to be a new category of spirits.

It all began with the Sub Rosa Saffron and Tarragon vodka - sometime in 2011. I directly felt, that there is something "off" of calling those distillates vodka. Yes - there is flavored vodka - and mostly they are pretty simple and straight forward. However they already differ greatly from your classical pure vodka. However the Sub Rosa products were an even farther departure.

Since then, there have been a lot of new products, which mostly go under the vodka moniker, but are more complex... there are also "quite old products" like the flavored Absolut vodkas. Some, like Citron or Mandrin can be easily called vodka - there is a reasonable delicate aroma of the respective aroma. Some others are so strongly aromatized, that vodka seems not to fit anymore. Issue here: it also would not 100% fit to call them Botanical Spirit, I have got the odd feeling, that Absolut adds quite a lot of (highly processed) aromas. Yet these products don't really fit in the vodka category neither.

Why am I excited about these new category "botanical spirits"? Because it let distillers and brands experiment more without being limited by perception of some customers and laws on the other side.
A gin has to include juniper and coriander - and juniper should be the leading aroma botanical. Hence until now, most brands had a rather similar character. Don't get me wrong - there are great gins and not so great gins - but the (blind-folded) differences between one good to another are often subtle.

Botanical spirit can change that. And the creation of a (regulated) category, could also lead to a tighter control of other spirits - especially gin and vodka.

However there are few issues, do still have: having an new unregulated category is also not that great:

  • A reasonable quality mixing spirit should have an alcohol content of 40% and higher. 
    • For example Ketel One Botanical Spirits have 30%. This is due to a "non-sensical" reference to the calorie count (which doesn't make sense, as ethanol isn't metabolized the same way as e.g. fat or carbs). It's just to "cheap out" and reduce massively the mixability. Especially the pretty high price point could easily justify a higher abv.
  • A botanical spirit should be hot infused (speak: botanicals needs to be distilled) and based on real botanicals.
    • It is pretty straight forward: adding concentrated aromas (artificial, nature-identical or highly processed natural) is (in my eyes) cheating! 
    • We might need an additional category for this cheats (aromatized spirits someone?) - but botanical spirits it shouldn't be.
  • The base should be neutral alcohol.
    • This is about meeting (and managing) expectations. Gin is based on neutral alcohol (London Dry gin is based on neutral grain alcohol) - while there are a lot of different botanical recipes, this is one point which binds all gins together. Botanical Spirits should have similar.
  • The maximum of sugar supposed to be not more than 2% or even 0%?!
    • Also straight forward: adding sugar as rounding is a common practice in the spirit business to smoothen distillates. However it shouldn't make the spirit "sweet" and completely change the character of the spirit.
  • No other ingredients should be added.
    • I am pretty annoyed with the food industry and their use of "food science" to make things cheaper and manipulate tastes. When we are creating a new category, we should ensure, that the spirit industry doesn't do the same bad practices (or doesn't continue with them). I think, we are at a point, where we as customers could demand, that brands having an ingredient label on their liquor (I swear, that a lot of brands using HFCS and other "goodies"). Let bartender add a bit of lemon (or other sour agent), instead of adding citric acid directly to the distillate... Give the people the choice and the knowledge.

So that's it. What do you think? Is that utopia or is it reasonable? Comment below.


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