Gin without orris root?
September 24, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Can you find/recommend a brand or type of gin that is definitely made without any orris root? Browsing online thus far has indicated that gin is "often" made with orris, which makes me think there must be some without, but I haven't found any yet. I need it to help test a friend's incipient gin allergy, to try and figure out which botanical is the culprit.

Someone I know has developed what seems to be an allergic reaction to gin, after not drinking it for a year or two before this summer. Now, a couple of hours after drinking a little, his arms and/or legs break out in non-itchy spots/sores that take a while to heal. He tested the tonic separately in case it was the quinine, but no dice.

So, he's stopping the gin (obviously), but we're interested to see if we can track down which botanical might be the precise culprit. I read in a NYT blog about gin that orris root is a notorious allergen, and orris doesn't seem to be mandatory in gin, at least from my initial reading, so I thought we could start by trying a gin without orris.

But when I searched yesterday, the search terms kept just finding me gins with orris, as a selling point, not the reverse. Do you know of any brands or types that are definitely orris-free?

(Extra credit question: if we want to test juniper berries as the potential allergen, can we just buy a jar from a spice store and have him chew one, or steep it in vodka or something? I've never cooked with juniper berries, and don't know if gin manufacturers use the same ones or what.)
posted by theatro to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
Lots of new craft distilleries start with gin and vodka because they don't need to be aged; this may be a good question to reach out to a group of them with via twitter.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:36 AM on September 24, 2014

For the extra credit part, I'm fantastically allergic to juniper branches and berries alike (I get a nasty blotchy rash on my arms, neck, and face any time I touch the juniper bushes at my folks' house) and gin makes me very, very sick (instant headache and nausea).

He may have luck just rubbing a bit of juniper on his arm or neck. The branches have a little oil on them and I think that's the part that makes me blotch up. I can mail you some twigs if you don't have access to fresh juniper.
posted by mochapickle at 10:41 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't understand why you're approaching it subtractively. Why not purchase a tiny bit of orris root, make some (weak) tea, and wait and see?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:49 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might try Aviation Gin. I'd email them to make sure that there aren't other botanicals they're not listing.

Bonus: it's very tasty gin!
posted by leahwrenn at 11:27 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Extra credit question: if we want to test juniper berries as the potential allergen, can we just buy a jar from a spice store and have him chew one, or steep it in vodka or something? I've never cooked with juniper berries, and don't know if gin manufacturers use the same ones or what.

Yes, you can just buy juniper berries at a spice store. Fun fact (for pedants): Botanically speaking they're seed cones, not berries. Junipers are conifers.

I second IAmBroom's suggestion that this is a good approach. Commercial gin is vapor-infused, but you can make gin by just soaking juniper berries in vodka for a day, along with whatever other botanicals. It won't be colorless like commercial gin, and it's difficult to make a super-juniper-heavy french-kissing-a-pine-tree gin that way, but you can do as small quantities as you like, and you have full control over what goes into it. I think it'd be a lot of fun to make a series of 75ml batches to investigate the allergy, and explore the specific flavors of each ingredient! Unless the allergen is just juniper, in which case: project cancelled!

I've made this recipe before. I'm not suggesting you make it directly, but it's a good reference point for infusing times and ingredient to alcohol ratios.
posted by aubilenon at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2014

Testing allergies by rubbing potential allergens on your arm is probably much safer than eating them.
posted by ryanrs at 12:05 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Orris root is the root of any of a couple of different iris species. Perhaps rubbing some iris on an arm might be a good place to start.

Or if you know any gardeners, you can get some iris roots from them when they divide and replant their irises.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:55 PM on September 24, 2014

I have a bottle (unopened) of New Amsterdam Gin. Of course it doesn't have a complete list of ingredients, but the label mentions only citrus, juniper, and angelica.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:58 PM on September 24, 2014

ryanrs is right. Nix the tea; rub the cut root on some sensitive skin, such as the bottom of your forearm.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on September 24, 2014

Good point, about the unnecessary subtractive complications. I'm still glad to have those possible gin recommendations, so I'll know what I might buy in case of orris allergy.

Thank goodness for the rise in popularity of homemade bitters--there's a botanicals site recommended by a cooking site I already trust, and it looks like I can get a reasonable (=small) amount of orris there. Juniper testing first though, I think, to see if there's any hope for gin qua gin at all. If juniper seems fine, then it's on to orris, and then we'll see.

Speaking of which: Mochapickle, I would love the juniper twigs! I'll MeMail you. (Only if you can retrieve and package them without harm! The reaction sounds awful. I'd be fine with buying some berries rather than have you blotchy.)

And yes, I think in testing the direct ingredients rather than whatever dilute portion of them remains in commercial gin, the suggestion to apply externally is wise. He hasn't ever developed any hives in his mouth or throat from the stuff, or breathing problems, but I wouldn't want this to be the trigger!

Thanks, everybody, this is definitely helpful as a base for Project: Gin, WTF?
posted by theatro at 4:22 PM on September 24, 2014

Green Hat Gin in DC is made by a bunch of great guys, and they're very forthcoming about their recipe.
posted by grateful at 5:01 PM on September 24, 2014

Update! Thanks to mochapickle and MrMoonPie, two different types of juniper were applied externally. And the passive voice was used.

On the inner skin of one forearm, he rubbed raw juniper in one area, and a juniper/alcohol solution in another area. And after the approximately 2 hours it normally takes for a gin-and-tonic reaction, there was nothing, so we got our hopes up a little bit. But a day later, the rash appeared--however, it wasn't on the inner forearm where the juniper was applied, but on the back of his forearm where the post-gin-and-tonic rash manifests.

The doctor remarked that this seems to be a pretty typical "fixed drug eruption", which I've been reading up on. Apparently that's when a drug-induced skin condition has a characteristic behavior , where it'll appear in the same place, especially where there are old/former lesions that can be "lit up".

I'm glad the reaction didn't take place at the point of contact, at least since that would suggest to me that the gin-drinking was potentially anaphylactic/throat-swelling/deadly. But in any case, even though the rash is only a nuisance, no more gin for him just in case.

Thanks for the help!
posted by theatro at 7:39 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

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