Linden Leaf organic spirits and essences are crafted and tuned at the molecular level. We constantly strive to find amazing new taste experiences by bringing together the traditional craft of distillation with state-of-the-art technology and travel the globe to find the freshest and most unique ingredients.
The three of us are Cambridge scientists with a passion for food and drink. All of us are avid cooks with a real love for ingredients and innovative cooking methods. For many years we had been discussing the science behind extracting tastes and smells.
One evening over a gin and tonic, we were talking about how molecular gastronomy has revolutionized taste combinations in food. This started us thinking about how to make better extracts from herbs, spices, fruit, and vegetables.
Could you separate each ingredient into different flavor notes? Was there a way to understand how these notes could be combined harmoniously? We had a few ideas and so Linden Leaf began.
We started by exploring ingredients and extraction methods, learning about flavor science, and analyzing our extracts molecule by molecule.
Our blends were initially led by our own noses and palates and then honed through a major campaign of taste testings with our friends, and their friends, and their friends, and probably even some of their friends, too. With backgrounds in Big Data, please forgive us for being nerds when it comes to testing and analysis.
A big “thank you!” to everyone who gave us so much help with the taste testing.
We learned so much. How small changes in the extraction process can vastly alter the elements of flavor you pull out. How many unexpected things taste of orange. How some people think coriander tastes of soap. Oh, and how amazingly nasty some tonic waters taste.
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 flavors 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 rigor 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 tiny fraction of atmospheric pressure: much lower than the top of Mount Everest. This means even the most delicate ingredients can be extracted at a 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 ingredients: the invigorating zing of citrus zest, or the cooling aroma of watermelon.
Like everything else, it’s horses for courses. As you increase the temperature, different flavors come out, and sometimes they’re what we want for the blend. For example, warm extracted licorice 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 labeled “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 maximize 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 flavor 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 flavor notes and determining the combinations which people like best.
Will this model make blends automatically? Not soon, anyway. Instead, it is like a blending atlas, helping us explore scent and taste elements that 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 flavor.
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 oakmoss? 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.
All of us at Linden Leaf are strong believers in minimizing our footprint, promoting ecological balance, and conserving biodiversity. From the outset, we wanted to support organic farmers and producers: not only because of their ideals but also because they often make the highest quality produce.
From our own experience, we knew that organic fruit and vegetables were often the highest quality: grown less intensively and by farmers who believed in delivering the very best. The qualities that make organic produce attractive for eating are even more important in producing gin and essences: the greater depth of flavor and aroma lets us deliver the unique molecular flavors that we love.
We were surprised that even when selecting alcohol, the organic alcohols tasted the best: smoother and more neutral, with an excellent mouthfeel.
We are proud that all of our products meet the stringent requirements for organic certification by the Soil Association.
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.
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 flavor 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 flavor 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 vapor path—sometimes many meters. 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 an individual, tantalizing 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 that 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 flavors and scents.
We hope you enjoy our award-winning Organic Molecular Spirits as much as we do!