Liquorice – the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra (try saying that after a couple of G&Ts) – is a sweet, woody botanical that has been used as a sugar alternative for centuries.
Native to southern Europe and India, liquorice has a steep and varied history. It was found in King Tut’s tomb (apparently, he wanted to make his favourite sweet drink – Mai Sus – in the afterlife), and was distributed to the army of Alexander the Great to fend off thirst and to increase stamina. Napoleon, too, was a fan of the stuff – so much so that it ground his teeth to blackened stumps.
Liquorice root carries a somewhat unique taste; it’s like anise or meadowsweet but without the mentholic qualities. A soft, hay-like wood taste comes through, along with a loud, bright, crystalised sugar. Distilled, the flavour doesn’t much change – it brings all of those qualities to a gin, and also has a very powerful capacity to change the texture and mouthfeel of a gin, bringing oily, viscous qualities. The biggest misconception that people associate with gins that list the botanical in their recipes is that liquorice root is similar to liquorice sweets. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Gins where Liquorice is noticeable to taste:
City of London’s Christopher Wren Gin has liquorice by the bucketload. Made in partnership with Tom Nichol, the gin uses just five botanicals but is given an incredible depth of flavour and length of finish by the root. Tanqueray Malacca shares a very similar DNA to Christopher Wren and takes its smoothness from thick, oily liquorice root. Strathearn Heather Rose Gin also makes good use of the root; it provides the spirit with a lovely, earthy sweetness – entirely reminiscent of old school sweet shop liquorice sticks.
… as a garnish, if at all. Liquorice is rarely used as an addition to gin based cocktails, but if you were really, truly keen to up the ante you’d be best placed going down the candy route, rather than using actual chips / root of liquorice. Granted – it will not be the same, but you have to wonder, why would want to stick a twig in a G&T anyway? A couple of Allsorts on a skewer would be a tastier option…
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