Gin is a popular choice among many people worldwide. Although Holland made gin first, it is considered England’s national spirit and most of the famous gins you see around the world hail from the UK. Its name comes from the word jenever (Dutch) and genièvre (French) which derive from the Latin name of the juniper berry, “juniperus”.
Many believe gin to be the quintessential cocktail spirit as so many cocktails call for gin. In fact, gin is for cocktails; it is meant to be mixed, not on its own. This iconic spirit comes in endless varieties and provides a plethora of options. You can easily find your favourite one to mix with other ingredients and create amazing cocktails beyond the usual G&T.
Believe it or not, you can even make and distil gin at home without having to fork out loads of money. Gin is one of the easiest spirits to make. The standard production method for gin is to use neutral grain alcohol and combine it with a range of botanicals such as juniper, coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon, almond or liquorice. Basically, gin is flavoured vodka except that botanicals are always natural.
Before we jump into the world of homemade gin, let’s get an insight into the art of gin distillation.
The Art of Distillation
Choosing the right botanicals, with the right flavour molecules, in the right ratios as well as how the ethanol extracts their oils is so important for determining the final flavour of a gin. Every drinks company has its own preferred method for gin distillation and each of them creates a batch of different aromatic flavours and varieties of gin.
Basically, there are two types of gin – distilled and redistilled. The difference between these two relates to the base alcohol. A distilled gin is made by distilling a mash or at least 40% ABV fermented alcohol base which can be derived from grains, sugar beets, potatoes, sugar cane or grapes. Redistilled gin is made from the second distillation of the spirit and usually, neutral grain is used as the base.
As we mentioned before, gin is typically flavoured vodka. But to be called a gin, it must go through the re-distillation process to infuse it with its botanical flavors such as fresh or dried juniper berries and other botanical ingredients. Actually, the juniper should be the dominant botanical for it to be called gin. These botanicals are infused into the spirit using one of two methods: by steeping or via vapour infusion.
Steeping is one of the most traditional methods of gin distillation. It is a very simple process in which the aromatic botanicals are steeped directly in the base alcohol, i.e. almost pure ethanol, and left to soak up for 48 hours. When the raw spirit is then infused with flavours i.e. distilled, the aromatic compounds are carried by the vapour that condenses at the top. When the vapour is condensed back into the liquid, it is infused with the flavours and aromas that make the fragrant spirit we all know and love.
Vapour infusion is a less intense form of gin distillation since the botanicals are not being directly soaked in the raw spirit. They are suspended above the liquor instead. In fact, the botanicals impart their flavor and aromas to the vapour rather than the liquid itself. They will stay locked into the vapour as it is condensed and transformed into gin.
In addition to distilled and redistilled, there is also a third, less common type of gin i.e. compound gin. All it takes to make a compound gin is to simply mix botanical flavours and essences with alcohol, and that’s it. And this is by far the cheapest way to make a gin.
Gin Distilling at Home
It is very possible for you to try gin distilling at home and add a bottle of homemade gin to your drinks cabinet. There are so many ways to make a bespoke aromatic gin at home. You can use a home gin distillery kit such as an Alembic condenser, pot condenser or a reflux condenser with a basket. Or, you can also use a reflux still.
In addition, you can make your own gin simply by ‘steeping’ juniper berries and other botanicals in a neutral grain spirit. A good quality vodka makes the perfect base for personalising gin with fun flavours. Once you have mixed up the magic formula, learn to make insanely creative and refreshing cocktails that will amaze your friends.
The making of gin is an art and you can create masterpieces with this versatile spirit. Beyond vodka and juniper berries, you can add different spices, fruits and floral elements to create your own bespoke blend. Some of the most commonly used gin essences are coriander seed, angelica root, citrus peel and cinnamon but feel free to experiment with whatever botanicals you like. You could even check out the botanicals that are included in your favourite commercial gins and use those for inspiration.
To make a homemade compound gin, take the following steps:
- Sterilise a clean mason jar or glass bottle with boiling water;
- Add your interesting botanical flavours to the jar, minus any fresh peel;
- Top up with vodka of choice;
- Leave to infuse in a cool dark place for 24 hours;
- Taste the infusion – it should have taken on some lovely juniper flavour already;
- Add your fresh peel of choice (lemon or orange), along with any extra botanicals whose flavour you want to boost;
- Leave for up to another 24 hours, giving the bottle a gentle shake at least once;
- Beware of leaving it too long and over-infusing the mixture;
- Taste the gin again and if you’re satisfied, filter out all the botanicals using a sieve. If there’s still some sediment left, use some muslin or a coffee filter to strain again;
- Leave the liquid to sit for a couple of days and then filter out any remaining sediment. You can put it through a water filter jug if you want to make it even clearer. Keep in mind that this doesn’t affect the taste.
- Bottle your gin!
Now you are ready to try your homemade product with your friends by making cocktails to enjoy at leisure.