Friday 25 March 2011

When is a Gin not a Gin?

Square One and examples of: Gin, Distilled Gin & London Gin

In the last couple of years many new gins have entered an already crowded marketplace and, in a bid to differentiate themselves, some are putting a new twist on what gin is, flavouring it with berries or coconut or changing the colour, making it yellow, pink or even blue.

So let's look at the EU definition of gin. Below is a simplified definition guide, with the most technical details omitted—for the full specification please see EU Regulation: No 110/2008.

London Dry Gin can be made anywhere in the world as long as it adheres to the London Gin specification. Some brands have started to referred to their London Dry Gins, actually made in London, as also being "London Cut".

This leads me on to an interesting product I first encountered on the famous Gin Wall at Plymouth Distillery and subsequently revisited at the Eaux de Vie offices.

Square One Botanical (Vodka) [45%ABV]

I have to admit that when I first tried this I mistakenly believed it was a gin (a non-junipery gin, for these do technically exist) but a gin nonetheless. A look at the bottle may suggest why: Square One contains eight botanicals, coriander and citrus peel (very familiar faces in the gin world) as well as rosemary, lavender, chamomile (all botanicals used in other gins) and pear, rose and lemon verbena (a flowering shrub).

Square One is made in Idaho Oregon and whereas technically I suspect it is a vodka it is described as a "Botanical Organic* Spirit"; it is made with rye. Square One also make a pretty tasty cucumber vodka** and regular plain rye vodka.

I have given Square One Botanical neat to a number of people and they've all mistaken it for gin—showing what an important part coriander and citrus play in the flavour profile of the average gin. Square One is sweet on the nose and certainly has the complexity of a gin. The citrus and coriander comes through and the mind may trick you into thinking you can taste juniper.

Given Square One's similarity to the juniper-spirit I thought I'd try it in a "Gin" & Tonic and a Martini.

Not just any Gin & Tonic or Martini...
"Gin" & Tonic
It is complex like a gin & tonic but for a moment you are fooled into believing it is one until you think, where's the juniper? Still, this is fresh and crisp like a good G&T. I'm not sure everyone would be able to tell the difference, (possibly blind I wouldn't have)*** but still it's a tasty beverage.

Here the difference is more acute this tastes like a flavourful vodka Martini with citrus, some sweet floral and a touch of herbs. Surprisingly sweet on the finish. Good, in terms of having a full flavour, as Vodka Martinis go but not as crisp as a Gin Martini and not as smooth as a standard Vodka Martini. An interesting middle ground between vodka and gin.

And that pretty much sums up Square One Botanical Spirit it is an interesting, but tasty, middle ground. If you want more flavour to your vodka but don't like juniper, this is a must-try. If you like gin, I'd give it a snifter too!

Square One Botanical Spirit is available for around £32 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

*US Department of Agriculture certified, I'm not 100% sure how it complies with EU organic regulation. (Please see comment for further elaboration.)
** I lose track of who does and doesn't still make a cucumber vodka, Polstar and Blackwoods have made them but I think they may have been discontinued.
*** For clarification, the reason why Square One and Square One and Tonic could be mistake for gin is because, these days, not all gins have a predominant or even a dominant taste of juniper (despite the EU regs) so Square One could mistaken for one of those gins.

For those who requested it here is a list of all the GI Protected Gin/Juniper Spirits in the EU:

  • Genièvre/Jenever/Genever Belgium, The Netherlands, France (Départements Nord (59) and Pas-de-Calais (62)),Germany (German Bundesländer Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen)

  • Genièvre de grains, Graanjenever, Graangenever Belgium, The Netherlands, France (Départements Nord (59) and Pas-de-Calais (62))

  • Jonge jenever, jonge genever Belgium, The Netherlands
  • Oude jenever, oude genever Belgium, The Netherlands
  • Hasseltse jenever/Hasselt Belgium (Hasselt, Zonhoven, Diepenbeek)
  • Balegemse jenever Belgium (Balegem)

  • O' de Flander-Oost-Vlaamse Graanjenever Belgium (Oost-Vlaanderen)
  • Peket-Pekêt/Pèket-Pèkèt de Wallonie Belgium (Région wallonne)
  • Genièvre Flandres Artois France (Départements Nord (59) and Pas-de-Calais (62))

  • Ostfriesischer Korngenever (Germany)
  • Steinhäger (Germany)
  • Plymouth Gin (United Kingdom)
  • Gin de Mahón (Spain)
  • Vilniaus Džinas/Vilnius Gin (Lithuania)
  • Spišská borovička (Slovakia)
  • Slovenská borovička Juniperus (Slovakia)
  • Slovenská borovička (Slovakia)
  • Inovecká borovička (Slovakia)
  • Liptovská borovička (Slovakia)


  1. Hi David,

    I am the owner of Square One Organic Spirits and came across your posting. Thank you for reviewing our spirit, and I think you "nailed" the description of the product and where it lives between vodka and gin.

    To follow on your question about EU compliance, our organic rye grown in Montana is both USDA and EU certified organic. All of the botanicals used in our spirits are both USDA and EU certified organic as well. Most of the fermentation and distillation process is also USDA and EU certified. However, there is one process that we use (due to our base grain being rye) that for some strange reason the EU does not recognize as organic compliant, while the USDA does. So instead of changing our award-winning spirits by changing our distillation process to be EU compliant, we have opted to stay the course. Hope this helps explain why there is no organic certification on the bottle, but rest assured, it is about 99% EU compliant.

    As for where we distill, our distillery is actually in Idaho, not Oregon, but as they are neighboring states, they are easily confused.

    Try our Botanical in a sour and you will see the florals pop. Definitely not like a gin sour! Had one at the Hawksmoor in London recently and it was incredible!

    Allison Evanow
    Square One Organic Spirits

  2. Dear Allison, thank you very much for the detailed response. Apologies for the state mix up; school-boy error! I shall try a Sour with Square one as I am quit e fan of them usually. It is usually such a great (if not surprising) way to appreciate a spirit.

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