A lot of work goes into harvesting orris; after three to four years of growth, the roots are dug up and left to dry for many years, before being ground to powder. Typically, orris root used in Gin has been dried for five years or more.
Dried orris root take on a hugely floral, sweet smell that is most often compared to (Parma) violets. The root has been used in perfumes for years – not just for its own smell, but for its ability to bind and enhance other scents. That said, there is no science to back claims that orris has a fixative quality once distilled and to date, the understood chemistry of molecules and papers submitted on the subject have only opened up more questions than they have resolved.
In fact, its cosmetic use far surpasses its medicinal use (although fresh root of iris was said to have been used as a cure for oedema). Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans used orris in perfumery and the root, mixed with anise, was used to scent linen as far back as 1480. Channel No5 is thought to contain a high proportion of Orris Root.
Distilled, orris root retains its floral notes, but it also carries an earthy, dusty sweetness that falls somewhere in the middle of grass and hay. The nose is dry, sweet and clean, while the mouth is strong, sweet and woody – similar in taste to liquorice sticks. Much like liquorice, orris has cheek filling qualities and is capable of adding depth and texture to a gin.
Gins where orris root is noticeable to taste:
Orris is a little shy in gin as it is often used in very small doses. Furthermore, much like juniper, angelica and coriander, it is used so widely in the spirit that it can be hard to pick just one out. It shares strong similarities with angelica, which is also used as a binding agent. Plymouth Gin has a notable orris presence, so to does Victory Gin and the Devon violets within Tarquin’s Dry Gin combine well with orris to give an overall floral note to the gin.
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