Does gin improve with barrel aging?

With hundreds if not thousands of botanicals to choose from, gin distillers have an infinite number of combinations to test when making their spirit. Some may consider the potential for endless experimentation an advantage to their cousins, the whisky distillers, whose experimentation relies largely on the casks in which the whisky sits.

A second advantage for gin distillers as opposed to their whisky or rum brethren is the rapidity of production: the chosen botanical mixture can seep in spirit for as little as three hours before being diluted to strength and ready for bottling. Unlike whisky, gin need not age in a barrel or anywhere else for that matter for it to obtain the status of gin. In the UK, the sole requirement is that juniper compose at least half the botanicals. In other regions, not even this statute applies. The botanicals, stills, water and distillation method all contribute to the quality of the final product, but a few hours can suffice for even highly-regarded gins. 

Why then, as a gin distiller, would you reduce your time to market and increase the price of your product by engaging in the timely and expensive practice of barrel-aging? Does barrel-aging improve a gin?

Improve might not be the word in all cases. But a barrel certainly changes the spirit as it absorbs the oils and chemicals in the wood. As proof, a brief look at whisky’s history.

Cask-aged whisky is thought to have been a fortunate mistake. Needing a receptacle to transport raw whisky spirit in, somebody somewhere used a barrel. When the barrel arrived at its destination, the transporters noticed a change in the spirit’s character which was caused by its interaction with the wood during the journey.

Cask-aged gin, on the other hand, is not a mistake, rather an experiment, one that has gone surprisingly well in some cases. Like whisky, aged gins sit in casks of all different kinds which varies their odours and flavours accordingly. In fact, aged-gin is arguably even more interesting than whisky: whereas both start with a base spirit, aged-gin is infused with botanicals before its transfer to a cask thus theoretically adding to its complexity and adding to the already infinite experimental choice available to gin distillers.

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