The Botanical Magic of Tea in Gin

Empress 1908 Master Distiller Phil Lecours
Tea has existed longer than alcohol in society. But both have influenced and been influenced by everything from politics to the economy to the social landscape. And, despite the disparate natures of these drinks – one non-alcoholic, one not – they are also surprisingly similar. Both are flavor and quality-dependent on the botanicals used, have a medicinal history, and stimulate the senses in their ways. Because of their affinity, gin, and tea are natural botanical bedfellows, adding complexity to one another when used in concert. In the early 2000s, Desmond Payne, Master Distiller (now emeritus) at Beefeater Gin, created Beefeater 24, which included Sencha and Chinese green teas as key differentiators in the botanical list. Since then, thanks in significant part to the cocktail renaissance, multiple companies have incorporated teas into their gins, producing spirits whose profiles can gently or aggressively reflect the types of tea they employ. Below are five tea-inflected gins worth seeking out, each demonstrating how tea shows its versatility, offering the same balance, complexity, and subtle flavors for which it is known as a beverage.

Drumshanbo Stills
Drumshanbo Stills

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin Gunpowder Tea

After attending a traditional tea ceremony in Zhejiang, China, Drumshanbo founder P J. Rigney pondered how the gunpowder tea he had enjoyed would work in a gin. Rigney said, “The long, mysterious finish of this truly remarkable tea sparked the curiosity in my mind for the exotic recipes I could create back home at The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo.”  While this style of tea resembles the compact pellet shape of old-school gunpowder, it is not made from the chemical explosive from which its name is taken. However, the style is unmistakably smoky, differentiating Drumshanbo from other tea-influenced gins.

FEW Breakfast Gin
FEW Breakfast Gin’s Inspiration: Tea

FEW Breakfast Gin Earl Grey

FEW Breakfast Gin started as “a bit of a joke,” according to Founder/Distiller Paul Hletko. The team asked, “What would make a gin a ‘Breakfast Gin’?” The answer was unequivocal – “tea.” Pointing out that citrus and gin have “a long and storied history together,” he found that the bergamot in Earl Grey offered a natural and complementary citrus note with “a hint of tannin and astringency [that] creates balance.”

 

Empress 1908
Empress 1908 and its botanicals

Empress 1908 Indigo Gin – black tea/butterfly pea flower

When setting out to create a unique gin, Master Distiller Phil Lecours looked to the Fairmont Empress Hotel’s famous tea program. After sampling multiple teas from the Empress, Lecours chose the Blue Suede Shoes blend, a combination of the Empress’s signature black tea and the blue-hued butterfly pea blossom.  Like the bergamot does for FEW Breakfast gin, the butterfly pea blossom in Empress “balances the traditional citrus notes … with a warm herbal earthiness” and lends its striking violet-blue color to the spirit. Along with the butterfly pea, the Metropolitan Tea Company’s black tea (sourced from Assam, Kenya, South India, Ceylon, and China) possesses “floral, fruity and oaky notes that create balance.”

 

Jaisalmer with cocktail

Jaisalmer with cocktail

Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin – Darjeeling Green Tea

Much like the English cherish their tea, the people of India consider it an essential morning sip and appreciate its therapeutic qualities. Highly sought after and often counterfeited, India’s Darjeeling was granted a protected Geographic Indication (GI) in 2004. Thus, only teas certified by the Tea Board of India can use the name, which helps ensure continued authenticity. Using India’s prestigious tea in an Indian gin makes for a distinctly local and culturally relevant product, whose muscatel aroma adds a floral and spicy quality to Jaisalmer.

 

Phil with gin
Roku Gin

Roku Gin – Sencha and Gyokuro teas

Japan’s affinity for tea is tied to its history and culture. Coincidentally, the Japanese tea ceremony, which dates back to the sixteenth century, was founded in O-Yamazaki, which is located quite close to Roku’s first distillery. According to House of Suntory Brand Ambassadors Jonathan Armstrong and Davey Jones, the Sencha and Gyokuro teas are secondary in the gin’s flavor profile. However, they offer an essential “subtleness, refinement and complexity” that, in concert with the gin’s key botanicals (Sakura petals/leaves, yuzu, sangho pepper), produce the specific profile for which Roku is known.

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