In-Depth: Gin + Hibiscus Aperitif

One of the things that I'm most excited about in doing this blog is really learning about building recipes and how they work. And to do that, you have to know your ingredients first. That's what my "In-Depth" posts are going to be about: focusing on an ingredient or technique in detail so that we all understand it a little better. 

Today we're starting with a fun one: gin. You know from my very first post that I love gin cocktails, and why not? Gin, with its infinite possibilities for mixing botanicals and flavors, was made to pair with other ingredients and create delicious, harmonious drinks. Though you should be able to drink a good gin straight, I don't think that's where the magic comes from, unlike with spirits such as bourbon. The real pleasure of gin is in seeing how it responds to other flavors. 

gin botanicals

You probably think of gin as a British thing, and it's true that they're more or less obsessed with the spirit. It was actually the Dutch, though, that first began distilling malt liquor with juniper and other ingredients like caraway and coriander. Genever/Jenever, which is what the Dutch style is called today, is still available, though not widely in the US. It's unlikely that you've ever had it unless you sought it out specifically. Genever has a much maltier taste, and is more similar in flavor profiles to whiskey than what we think of as gin. 

It was the advent of new distilling processes in the 19th century that made possible the "London dry" style of gin that we know today. Many well-known gins, like Bombay and Tanquaray, are London dry-style gins, which have no added sugar and add all their botanicals pre-distillation. However, gins like Hendrick's are not, because they add cucumber essence after distillation. 

Compound gins, in which all the botanicals are added to an already-distilled neutral base spirit, such as vodka, are looked down upon by some people. Those people might want to stop reading now, because I made a compound gin with hibiscus, lemongrass, and pink peppercorn, and it's awesome. 

hibiscus gin botanicals

Unless you're some sort of master mixologist (in which case, how on earth did you end up on my blog?), there's no reason to go through the process of building a still to make your own gin. I'd much rather let the vodka people do the work for me, and then swoop in at the end with some pretty botanicals and make the whole thing taste good. 

Since it's (ostensibly) summer, I wanted to make something floral and light, that would blend well with other summer flavors. I chose hibiscus (which had the added benefit of making my gin a striking shade of magenta), lemongrass, and pink peppercorn as my more "unusual" notes to give the spirit complexity and bite, but still keep it bright. And there you have it: DIY gin with hibiscus and lemongrass. 

When I was searching for the perfect home for my hibiscus gin, my mind immediately went to Lillet, which I recently tried for the first time. It's a traditional French aperitif that blends especially nicely with floral and citrus flavors: perfect. The drink is refreshing and sweet, with just enough tartness to keep it interesting, and studded with dried hibiscus flowers just because they're pretty. It is summer, after all. 

gin hibiscus aperitif cocktail

Hibiscus Aperitif

  • 2 oz. Lillet Rouge
  • 1 oz. gin with hibiscus and lemongrass (recipe below)
  • Grapefruit soda (I like San Pellegrino)
  • Lemon peel
  • Hibiscus flowers for garnish

In a large rocks glass, pour the Lillet and gin over ice. Top with grapefruit soda. Express a lemon peel over the surface to release the oil, and garnish with hibiscus petals. 

 

hibiscus gin

Gin With Hibiscus, Lemongrass, and Pink Peppercorn

  • An empty quart-sized jar with lid
  • A neutral base spirit, such as vodka (Apparently this should be over 100-proof, but I’ve never actually checked the ones I use…)
  • 2 tbsp. juniper berries
  • 4-5 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 two-inch pieces of orange peel with as little pith as possible
  • 1 4-inch stalk lemongrass
  • 1/2 tsp. pink peppercorns
  • 4-5 dried hibiscus petals

Combine all the ingredients in the jar and infuse for 36-48 hours, shaking occasionally. Strain out the botanicals.