making gin

Gin botanicals: local or not?

When you try to compare 100 gins, many of them seem similar for a typical gin lover, but specialists see massive differences between them.

There are many similarities because the heart of all gins is the same - in essence, gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit. However, in addition to juniper, distillers use a wide variety of other botanicals to give their gin that unique taste.

Many gin makers import all their ingredients and claim they are combining the best herbs from all over the world.

At the same time, we can find most botanicals we need from around the home. We pick ourselves our juniper berries, birch leaves, wild thyme, lilac blossoms and several other herbs. In northern Europe, we could also use local fresh basil, rosemary, angelica, lemon verbena, blackcurrant leaf or rose petals.

Foraging in 2019 - Tarmo and Maarit are Heading to the nature to pick some herbs. Photo by Kristina Mägi

Foraging in 2019 - Tarmo and Maarit are Heading to the nature to pick some herbs. Photo by Kristina Mägi

The idea of the local garden has proliferated in popularity, and so, naturally, many local producers source increasing amounts of their botanicals from what the locals.

For example, Edinburgh Gin uses 14 botanicals from local gardens, and advises to look out for the slightly vegetal fennel (both seeds and leaves) and sweet cicely, alongside exotic plants such as Piper Leaf, Tasmannia Lanceolata leaf and Tasmanian Mountain Pepper, all grown and freshly picked just a few miles from the distillery.


There are hundreds of different botanicals used to flavour gin, like the Nordic ginger we use for Lahhentagge Ösel Dry, but the following are the most commonly used:

Juniper berries

The main ingredient of all gins usually comes from the Mediterranean (Italy, Serbia, Macedonia), or even from India. A few producers source their juniper berries from Eastern Europe, but the most popular juniper berries are often considered to be from mountain slopes in Tuscany and Macedonia. The European berries tend to be darker, smaller, and more costly than Asian ones.

"Juniper berries are fragrant and spicy with a bittersweet taste and overtones of pine, lavender, camphor and overripe banana topped by a peppery finish," Difford's Guide, one of the most prominent drinks industry publications, describes the taste palate.

Coriander seeds

The second most common flavouring in gins, Coriander seeds come from countries like Morocco, Romania, Moldavia, Bulgaria and Russia.

"The essential oil in coriander is linalool, and this is mellow, spicy, fragrant and aromatic with candied ginger, lemon and sage taste," according to Difford's Guide.

It provides a sophisticated citrus top note to gin, although there are claims some distillers use the citrus peel as a cheaper alternative to coriander.

Angelica and orris root

Both of these roots are often used in gins to marry together the volatile flavours of other botanicals, giving length and substance to the taste of the spirit.

"Angelica has a musky, nutty, damp woody/rooty (forest floor), sweet flavour with a piney, dry edge and I find it generally reminiscent of mushrooms," says Difford's Guide.

Picking orris roots is a special kind of art - you harvest 3-4-year-old plants, then they are stored for 2-3 years to allow the flavour to develop. Eventually the well-dried root is very hard and it requires grinding.

Lemon and orange peel

Lemon and orange peels add freshness and citrus-nodes to the taste of gin, containing a high proportion of the fruit's' flavourous oils.

Most distillers source their citrus peels from Spain where the fruits are still hand-peeled and hung out to dry in the sun.

Working on Sake Gin launch

We have bottled the first batch of Sake Gin in Saaremaa. The bottles will reach stores by the end of the year.

The new Sake Gin uses local rice-like juniper berries, a new juniper species that is yet to be officially named. The locals in Saaremaa have called the species Rice Juniper for centuries, but it is not known outside the island. It has been a well-kept secret of the island’s inland areas.

Here is an old photograph from the local museum.

Historic picture of Rise Junpier fields in Saaremaa

Historic picture of Rise Junpier fields in Saaremaa

The official naming of the juniper species is due to happen in 2023, at the next International Botanical Congress. While classical juniper trees crave dry soil, the so-called rice juniper is extremely sensitive to water shortages. To ensure sufficient water, most rice juniper fields need mechanical watering to maintain flooded conditions in the field during the few weeks of Estonian summer.

“The island gets a lot of low-intensity sunlight throughout the year, and with the increasingly rainy weather – the region’s weather could be easily compared to the legendary English weather – it is a perfect habitat for the so-called rice juniper,” said professor Peter O'Kenowefa from Rice J University.

Estonian gin Lahhentagge on shop shelf in riga

Estonian gin Lahhentagge on shop shelf in riga

“We are trying to jump-start the old distilling industry on the island. Finding these juniper fields in some little-visited areas in the centre of the island was like finding that X mark on old treasure maps,” said Maarit Pöör, co-founder of Lahhentagge. “We are getting sake’s rice effect without growing rice separately – with rice juniper it’s like a 2-in-1.”

The health effects of rice juniper are currently being investigated in joint studies by Rice J University and the University of Sigulda in Latvia. The latter’s recent study on gin’s effects on metabolism, suggesting that gin could help your body burn calories faster, put the little-known university on the world map.

Whether sake gin has similar, or even larger positive impacts on your health, than just gin requires further study.

Juniper floods in Saaremaa

Sign up for first bottles of sake gin!

Please note: the story was published on april fool's day. we have had floods in saaremaa, but no rice juniper grows on the island. (as far as we know).

sake gin is a good idea, but we have to find some other way to make it.

Gin: The Basics


How to ... 

We talked with our founder Maarit about some of the initial questions that arise when you start to think about gin – either drinking it or thinking about how to make it.

How is gin made?

Gin is made through a distilling process, where neutral spirit is flavoured with special botanicals and then distilled into some of the most magical drinks.

Some botanicals are very common in gin. By definition, gin has to contain a juniper flavour, but often there is also coriander or orris root.

What is gin made from?

The key ingredient is juniper berry, but I have tasted a gin with only 3 botanicals and one with more than 40 botanicals. Our first gin contains ten different botanicals.

These days most gin producers use a neutral base spirit from one of the bigger spirit manufacturers, and then distil it further with their selection of botanicals.

Juniper berries of Saaremaa

What grain is used to make gin?

The base alcohol for making gin can be made of several grains – like wheat, barley or rye. In some countries corn, potatoes and even sugar beet are in active use.

For our Ösel Dry Gin we use rye as it has deep historical roots in the food culture of the island and it gives the gin its crisp and fresh taste.

Can you make gin from vodka?

You can use vodka to make gin. In theory, a gin producer could have a supply agreement with a vodka producer. Gin producers use base spirit, which is a vodka-like spirit product.

To make your personal “gin” the easiest option is to use vodka – just mash and soak juniper berries and other botanicals whose taste you think you might like in your gin, in the vodka and voila, you have a gin-like drink. It’s not a distilled gin and can easily become unpleasant (believe me, I have tried).

It is easier to take a gin you like and make your own flavoured version of it. This is the most common technique that is used to make sloe gins. You can turn any regular gin into a sloe gin by just adding sloe berries and sugar.

Sugar? But most gins are called dry. Even Lahhentagge’s first product is called Ösel Dry Gin. What makes gin dry?

Similar to wines, gin can be dry or sweetened. Both compound and distilled gin can be labelled as Dry Gin or London Dry Gin if they do not contain sugar or any other sweetening agents.

How do you make a gin distillery?

A gin distillery can be set up like any other distillery. In principle, all you need to have is the necessary equipment and proper licenses.

The future Distillery of Lahhentagge, summer in 2017

The future Distillery of Lahhentagge, summer in 2017

We are early in the process of building one, if you want to know more about how it can be done – and maybe also why it should not be done – you can follow our adventures here, on this page.

You can also sign up for our newsletter. That way you won’t miss a beat.

Enjoyed? pass it on then: