Citrus is the second most important botanical used in making gin; the first is always juniper. Sweet orange, bitter orange or lemon; one brand of super premium gin even uses grapefruit in its secret blend of botanicals. The cheaper labels will use essences of orange or lemon and may use cold compounding rather than infusion or distillation; you won’t find that with the better spirits. Tanqueray uses hand-picked fresh fruit botanicals for it’s popular No. 10. The oranges are from Florida, limes and grapefruits from Mexico.
Sweet orange is native to Asia, but is cultivated in the US and southern parts of Europe and in the West Indies. For botanical purposes, the outer rind is the part of interest. Orange peel is dark orange and has bitter taste, some varieties more than others. This bitterness is desirable as it adds an aromatic, pleasant aspect. Orange peel is mostly used for masking the taste of medicines. Sweet oranges are cultivated primarily for their blossoms that are used for the production of an essential oil. This Neroli oil is used in making perfumes. A byproduct of the process is Orange Flower Water, used in baking and beverages. Bitter Orange Peel can be dried and powdered and used for flavoring. Orange peel has slight sedative properties and has been used as an anti-depressant. In combination with other essential oils it can ease insomnia. Bitter orange, whether the extract or peel, has been used in weight loss supplements or as an appetite suppressant. In traditional Chinese medicine it is always used with other herbs.
Lemons are valued for their rinds, also, but the oils and essences derived from lemons have more uses than that of the oranges. Lemon peel has an essential oil and it has bitter properties. Lemon oil is primarily used for flavorings. Lemon juice, on the other hand, has a rich history and background in folklore and witchcraft. Due to the prevalence of scurvy, English sailing ships were required by law to have enough lemon or lime juice on hand for each seaman to have one ounce a day after being at sea for ten days. Lemon juice has been used as a diuretic and a diaphoretic, a sweat producing agent. It is used as an astringent, as a gargle to ease a sore throat. Folk remedies suggest lemon juice to cure hiccups and heart palpitations. Lemon peel was also candied as a sweet treat. Lemons have antiseptic and antibacterial properties. They have also been used to calm digestive acids and used as a tonic for the circulatory system.
In Chinese medicine, the lemon peel is cool and the flavor is, naturally, sour. In the realm of magic and folklore, lemon is used for burning in love spells. The juice is used for purification, refreshment, longevity and unity. Essence of lemon or botanical lemon is used in lunar magic involving dreams, night prophecies, fertility, relief of insomnia and peace.
The botanicals in gin work in concert with one another, with crisp and clean citrus following the bite of juniper, blending with the sweetness of the angelica root or licorice. Even after the work is done and the gin is poured, a final twist or squeeze of lemon or lime is added to finish off the long awaited libation.