Adding Spice to Gin: Cassia Bark

Every now and then, Dr. George Dodd puts together fairly detailed notes on different aromas prominent in fine drinks. Dr. Dodd has one of a the best developed noses in the world. He’s a professional perfumer and directs the Institute of Olfactory Research at the University of Warwick in Scotland. Here are his notes on the aroma of cassia bark, which adds a surprising, spicy note to modern gin.

Few people know the aroma of Cassia Bark. The cassia tree is an evergreen found in east Asia. There is a distinct overlap in the aroma profiles of the oils from cassia and cinnamon. When you smell it, the ravishing, hot, spicy, and distinguishable “cinnamon-like but heavier” aroma is very evident. This is the archetypal hot, spicy smell. It arouses and conjures feelings of being in markets in far-off Asia or Africa.

The major molecule with the characteristic cassia aroma is cinnamic aldehyde. It’s a powerful odorant that makes up between 70% and 90% of cassia oils — a greater concentration of aromatic oil than is found in cinnamon. Like all aldehydes, it is prone to oxidation. It’s important, when using cassia bark to make a spirit, that the oils be extracted during the distillation rather than before.

Cassia is mentioned in the Bible (Exodus 30:24)  as a constituent of holy anointing oils. It is one of the foundational herbs of traditional Chinese medicine. It’s blood-thinning qualities can damage the liver, and European health agencies have warned against its overuse. Coumarin, the medically active ingredient in cassia does not make it through the distillation process into the gin.

When nosing the cassia solution in Aroma Academy’s gin aroma kit, you will notice that it changes over time. On the first whiff, ‘something’ is there on the wet Aromas Strip — simultaneously vaguely familiar and exotic. Over a few minutes, as the strip dries, that note metamorphoses into a clear, dark, spicy note that is cassia bark’s contribution to the gin. It’s somewhat like cinnamon, as noted above, but more complex.

Bombay Sapphire pioneered cassia bark in gin, establishing it as a marker for new-style gins. It’s distinct in other brands, including Martin Miller’s, Ophir Oriental Spiced Gin, Bathtub Navy Strength, and Langley’s No. 8. We think our friend Guy Rehorst at Great Lakes Distillery is sneaking a little into his Premium Milwaukee Gin, too.

Learn more about the gin aroma kit here.

The Flavor of gin is made of Juniper, lemon, orange, rosemary, lavender and other fruits, herbs and florals.