Lavender is an evergreen shrub whose bright purple flowers give off an overwhelmingly striking, completely unique fragrance. The plant – which is part of the mint family – is believed to be from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India.
Lavender was used by the ancient Egyptian’s as an embalming ingredient, the Greeks as a perfume-come-headache-remedy, and the Romans as a fragrance. In fact, the plant takes its names from the Latin word ‘lavare,’ which means to wash. In the Provence region of southern France, the lavender bloom from June to August and much of the crop that is farmed there is still to make soap and cosmetics.
As well as fragrance, lavender is used as flavouring, though it is so rich in essential oils as to be overwhelming. That said, when used sparingly it can give a hugely floral, surprisingly savoury taste to the dishes it adorns. It is a key part of Provençal cuisine and if you haven’t tried lavender honey or lavender sorbets… you’ve missed out!
In terms of an ingredient in gin, it can be distilled to provide exactly what you might expect from the plant – a booming lavender smell. As a botanical, it is also a great way to tell how accomplished a distiller is, as if overcooked, over-infused or simply, if the wrong variety is selected in the first place – once distilled it can be incredibly soapy. If too pungent, not only does it dominate the rest of the botanicals, but it also makes the aroma highly perfumed, artificial and no longer fresh.
If distilled judiciously however, lavender can provide a rich aroma and dance off many spiced botanicals, in particular, the like of Cubeb Berries. Many distillers who use it, do not infuse it overnight even if they are steeping their other botanicals, rather opting to place it in the pot at the last minute.
Gins where lavender is noticeable to taste:
Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin have a lavender edition in their range, Mews combines very cleverly with Pink Peppercorn in theirs to delicious effect, while Waterloo Gin use it to soften their big juniper notes in the heart of their gin. If you want to taste it by the bucket load and love lavender forward gins however, it is pungent in both Brooklyn Gin and Pothecary Gin – where it is upfront and centre from the second you pop the cork!
…As a G&T garnish. A sprig will help bring out any herbal undertones in a gin but the flavour also pairs really well with honey, so try it in a gin like Silent Pool or Dodds, or as a garnish in a Bees Knees.
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