Linden Leaf gins and essences are crafted and tuned at the molecular level.
We’ve applied the latest cold extraction technologies, allowing us to isolate the most delicate notes from the finest ingredients: whether wild, seasonal botanicals foraged from around Cambridgeshire, or rare spices sourced from the far side of the world.
Through painstaking research, we’ve tailored our extraction process to pull precisely those scents and flavours we want from each ingredient. That means we can fine-tune every aspect of our gin with extraordinary precision.
All of this high technology know-how and scientific rigour has been in the service of a very old-fashioned master: our noses and our taste buds, capably assisted by our volunteer army of taste testers. It’s been a long and satisfying journey.
Using advanced laboratory equipment we can reduce the pressure inside our still to just a few percent of atmospheric pressure: ten times lower than the top of Mount Everest. This means even the most delicate ingredients can be extracted at very low temperature, avoiding heat damage.
In almost every case, we extract each ingredient by itself, allowing us to tune the parameters to obtain exactly the notes we want. This means we can retain the just-cut scent of fresh ingredient: the invigorating zing of citrus zest, the cooling aroma of watermelon.
Like everything else, it’s horses for courses. As you increase the temperature, different flavours come out and sometimes they’re what we want for the blend. For example, warm extracted liquorice and coffee have richer, deeper notes that are perfect for some blends.
Although the best human noses are incredible analytical instruments, they struggle to pick out every note in a complex mixture. They also cannot tell you what exactly molecule is responsible for each smell. However, we found there is a way to turbocharge the human nose.
Gas chromatography (GC) is a laboratory technique for separating a mixture into all of its components. You evaporate a tiny bit of your mixture and push it down a long, thin glass tube with a special coating, called a column. Different molecules move at different rates so at the far end, so each type of molecule comes out at a different time.
Usually, you put an electronic detector at the end. But we found you can also put a human nose. A patient sniffmaster’s nose can, miraculously, pick out the smells from even the tiny amounts coming through. So peaks can be labelled “lemon zest” or “lilacs” or sometimes “horrible”.
Yes, really. Behind the art of extraction and blending are molecules that react with receptors in our noses and tongues.
Together with GC and our noses, there is an amazing bit of technology called a mass spectrometer (MS) which can help us work out exactly what molecules make each smell. This uses an electric charge and a powerful magnetic field to measure the mass of each molecule very precisely.
You put one at the end of a GC to make a GC-MS and, as each separated type of molecule comes out, it tells you the mass and how much there is. It measures the mass so precisely that you can usually work out the exact structure of the molecule.
By picking the right source of a particular botanical and then carefully tuning our extraction parameters, we can maximise the yield of the molecules we want. We can even make sure that subsequent batches are consistent. Molecular craftsmanship.
Building a Blending Atlas
We are building a library of the key flavour molecules across all the ingredients we can find. Along the way we are learning how to tune the extraction process to pull out more or less of each molecule.
Crowd-sourced tasting feedback is enabling us to model how people perceive blends of these molecules. We are quantifying the harmonies and occasional dissonances between flavour notes and determining the combinations which people like best.
Will this model make gin blends automatically? Not soon, anyway. Instead it is like a blending atlas, helping us explore scent and taste elements which work well together and suggesting possible botanical recipes to make that blend.
What are botanicals? Well, we think anything that has an interesting scent or flavour.
We hunt locally and globally for the best conventional spices, herbs and fruit: from dried juniper berries to fresh Buddha's hand lemons. We also try just about anything else we can think of. How about oak moss? Walnut husks? Seaweed? Sprouting potatoes?
Each ingredient is vastly different between cultivars, growers and seasons. Compare a supermarket musk melon to a Yubari King from Japan and you’ll hardly believe they’re related.
The extracted notes often surprise you compared to the immediate smell or taste of the raw botanical. It is sometimes the unripe fruit or the inedible skin that has the most interesting essence. Very occasionally, the bulk dried spice has a more useful perfume than its artisanal, hand-picked cousin. It’s a good thing we love experimenting.
A Tale of Juniper
Juniper berries are the cornerstone smell and taste of gin.
What amazed us was not only the number of juniper species that produce edible berries—California and Phoenician juniper, to name just two—but also the huge variation across different berries from even common juniper.
Close to home, we tried berries in tiny glass jars from supermarkets, bulk catering supplies, those sold as “gin botanicals” and even those picked wild. Further afield, we hunted for berries in markets around the world.
The mix of juniper we use in each gin is carefully tuned for that blend. Which species, how ripe the berries were, how heavily they were dried, how they were prepared and how they were extracted: tremendous complexity in our core botanical.
Water and Alcohol
For all the talk of botanicals and molecular craftsmanship, almost all a gin bottle is filled with water and alcohol.
We do not distill our own alcohol yet. We figure we are better off looking at the nuances of flavour science than bulk distillation, and there are many excellent manufacturers of high quality alcohol for spirits use. Despite being distilled six or more times, there is still an element of flavour to each product.
The same with water. We can use repeated reverse osmosis to produce almost perfectly pure water. Sometimes this tastes better in a blend and sometimes the different mouthfeel of a mineral water is best. We never expected that the gap between pure water and a smooth, silica-rich mineral water would be this large.
Like everything, we make the decision on the basis of taste testing for each blend.
When we were tasting gins and making blends we had a bit of a dilemma. To withstand the strong taste of many tonics, a gin has to have quite a flavour kick to it: we don’t mean rough or unsubtle but at least a little muscular.
As we started making more complex blends with structure in the mid-notes and finish, we wanted to let the full length come through. When we did our tastings, more and more of the comments on these blends came back with “this is too good for tonic”. So our blend-crafting led us to Sipping Gins.
Sipping Gins have immense and delicate flavour profiles and are perfectly at home with tonic. Personally, we also like to enjoy them neat on ice, or as a top shelf ingredient in a stunning cocktail.
As part of our research we looked at traditional perfume making, and the attars of India. These are often made by snail’s pace extraction using a very long vapour path—sometimes many metres. The overall distillation process is painstaking and can last for days.
When we tried a similar approach with botanicals, we achieved some of the finest, most delicate scents yet: tendrils of perfume that are drawn out as individual, tantalising notes. Running the whole apparatus cold avoided heat damage, and the slower we ran the process, the better our extract smelled and tasted.
Many further experiments eventually led to a viable production process and a botanical blend which delivered a harmonious and exquisite gin. Unlike our other products, we mix the botanicals before extraction and then produce tiny batches drop by drop over days (and sometimes weeks) in our custom extraction configuration.
These Ultimate Elixir gins are an incredible symphony of flavours and scents.
Our inspiration to set up Linden Leaf wasn’t just gin. We also wanted to see what individual extracts we could make for cooking and cocktails. We imagined a few drops that would add the scent of the the freshest herbs to a dish, or the flavour of perfectly ripe fruit to a cocktail.
As we explored the world of botanicals and fruit we weren’t disappointed. If anything, we were surprised by how many individual ingredients could be coaxed to produce a truly delicious extract with the right combination of preparation and process.
Our Single Note extracts showcase an individual ingredient or a set of ingredients which we believe are harmonious. What to do with them? Well, we had mixologists fighting over our samples to make complex cocktails. Matthew says they are great on ice as a fine after dinner drink or aperitif. Paul thinks they’re superb to cook with. One tester even said they loved the smell so much they would like to use it for a room diffuser. I guess it’s up to you?