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Crafting Quality: Orris Root in Gin Production

Producing a quality, balanced gin requires a variety of botanical ingredients, and orris root is one of the more important ones. The taste of orris root is often not mentioned by even the most dedicated of gin drinkers. Why? Because of its specialized role in gin production as not only an aromatic but also a fixative. 

The cultivation of orris root is a lengthy process refined over hundreds of years. Orris root derives from the bulb of iris plants native to Croatia, but which are now commercially grown in the United States, Italy and Canada. More specifically, orris comes from the species Iris germanica or I. padilla of iris. Iris bulbs take three to four years to grow, making it one of the most time-intensive botanicals to cultivate. The harvested root is then dried over a period of four to five years before being crushed into a course powder before use. 

Orris root is useful for making a variety of different products, most commonly in perfume and potpourri. The aromatic use of orris dates back as far as Ancient Greece, where it was mixed with other flowers and used to scent linens. A less conventional use of the root comes from Japan, where it’s hung in the doorways of homes to deter evil spirits from entering. You know what they say, a glass of gin a day keeps the demons away. 

Orris root is used widely in the production of gin, where it retains its bold aromas and sweetness during distillation. Fresh orris root, however, doesn’t smell like much, and it can take years for the chemicals inside to metabolize into “irones” — aromatic compounds specific to irises. One of the chief molecules among orris roots aromatic irones is alpha irone, which is most often described as having an alluring, floral-earthy aroma akin to the smell of raspberries or violets. 

Orris root does well as a binding agent, or “fixative,” which is one of primary reasons it’s used to make Gin Farallon. Fixatives are believed to slow down the evaporation or volatilization of aromatic compounds, which helps the mixture retain its aroma for an extended period. Quite often, the orris note itself is minimally detectable on the nose or palate — often manifesting as a part of gin’s base notes, adding depth and nuance in conjunction with other botanicals such as juniper, angelica, cardamom and citrus. 

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