Gin, what a spectacular spirit. Infused with a variety of botanicals, gin is one of the most naturally flavourful of all the common hard liquors. But how is gin made? What flavours is it infused with? Can you make gin at home? And is it safe to consume if you suffer from intolerances? We’ll answer all of these questions below.

How Is Gin Made?

In a nutshell, distilled gin is an often grain-based, neutral spirit that’s been infused with botanicals in a process known as re-distillation.

The base grain is first fermented and then distilled. Junipers berries and other herbs, plants, and spices (known as the aromatics or botanicals) are then infused into the spirit.

Re-Distillation Methods

There are two common ways in which this re-distillation and extracting of flavours from the botanicals can occur.

  1. Steeping of the botanicals: Here, the base spirit is placed in a pot still, together with juniper berries and other botanicals. These can be steeped for up to 48 hours. Once completed, water is added to reduce the distillate to bottling strength. Example: Beefeater’s Gin.
  2. Vapour infusion of the botanicals: In this process, the botanicals never come into direct contact with the base spirit. Instead, they’re placed into baskets in the still above the base spirit. The spirit is boiled, evaporates, and rises up to infuse with the botanicals. The infused vapour then condenses into a liquid and water is added to reduce the alcohol to its bottling strength. This method is said to produce a more gentle flavour. Example: Bombay Sapphire.

Nowadays, gins are also often made through a combination of the above two methods or through vacuum distillation. Hendrick’s Gin, for example, combines steeping and vapour infusion. Vacuum distillation is completed at a lower temperature than traditional distillation, leaving more of the botanical essences intact.

Each gin is made with a specific recipe, with specific botanicals. But this doesn’t mean that each gin made in the same way will taste the same. It is up to the distiller to ensure that botanicals are treated in a way that results in the same flavour profile for each bottle produced over the course of a brand’s lifetime.

Used In Cocktails

Unlike other spirits, gin is specifically intended to be used in cocktails and not as a shot on its own. This is because the botanicals really come to life in a mixture and add to the drink. The most common way of drinking gin is in a gin & tonic, but many classic cocktails also call to be made with gin, including Martini, Negroni, Tom Collins, Singapore Sling, and more.

Barrel of Gin

Common Botanicals Used

Botanicals are the lifeblood of a good gin. You’ll find everything from seeds, berries, roots, fruits, herbs, and spices being used as botanicals. The possibilities are truly endless.

The only non-negotiable is the beloved juniper berry. Legally, a product cannot be classified as gin if it doesn’t contain juniper berries. Juniper berries are actually the female seed cones produced by different species of junipers, which are crushed or chopped before being blended with the gin base spirit.

Citrus is also common in gins. The citrusy flavours of lemon and orange peels are very common in gins as they cut through the herbs and spices and lift the overall flavours. Try Malfy Gin. Common seeds and roots used in the gin-making process include coriander, cardamom, orris root, or angelica root. These add earthy, spicy, and peppery notes. A mixture of these, together with citrus and juniper, forms the base of most gins.

But other than the above, the possibilities in gin-making are endless. Chamomile, rose, and cucumber, for example, are used in Hendrick’s Gin, and a whole world of different fruits and herbs is used in the more contemporary gins.

Juniper Berries

Different Types of Gin

London Dry Gin

It may come as no surprise that there are many different types of gin. London Dry Gin is one of the most popular and is often considered the most sophisticated type of gin. The gin doesn’t need to be made in London but the name refers to the specific distillation process where all botanicals must be natural and added during the distillation process. After distillation, only water and a small amount of sweetener may be added. Other gins can contain synthetic flavours or sweeteners.

Plymouth Gin

Plymouth Gin must come from Plymouth. It’s a bit sweeter than London Dry Gin and the juniper flavours aren’t as pronounced. It’s a popular base for gin and tonics.

Genever

Genever is an older gin-making method and a little rougher around the edges. The final product is often heavier, smokier, and maltier.

Old Tom Gin

This gin is sweeter than London Dry due to the addition of sugar but it’s drier than the Genever.

Sloe Gin

Most gins are clear but Sloe Gin, made from a small, plum-like fruit called sloe or blackthorn, is a distinct red colour.

Barrel-Aged Gin

As the name suggests, this is a gin that’s been steeped in a wooden barrel, infusing it with the often smokey flavour associated with scotch.

Navy-Strength Gin

Navy-strength gin is a gin that has at least 57% ABV. The name is a bit misleading but comes from the reference that sailors avoided watered-down gin and would test the alcohol percentage by mixing gin with gun powder and lighting it on fire. If the flame was clear, it was strong enough to drink.

Contemporary Gin

Gin has undergone a renaissance in the last few years and most contemporary gins set themselves apart by elevating unique flavours above the traditional juniper.

Gin Cocktail Top Shot

Is It A “Healthy” Alcohol?

The internet is filled with information on how gin is actually good for you, claiming that juniper berries are super fruits full of antioxidants that will help regenerate your cells & keep you younger, flavonoids that will help prevent heart disease, and that they help stop water retention, which will help you flush out harmful toxins and bacteria and so help fight kidney and liver disease. Other claims include that it can help with aches and pains, fight off coughs, ease bloating, and help with hay fever.

These are certainly astronomical health claims that make for great marketing. But no one should ever consume gin for its health benefits – it is still an alcoholic spirit, after all, and should be treated as such.

But if you are choosing to drink alcohol, then gin isn’t a bad choice. Why? It’s low in calories and relatively low in sugar and still surprisingly flavourful. This makes it a better choice than many other spirits. Of course, most hard liquors such as whiskey, vodka, and tequila are also low in calories but they lack the complexity of flavour that gin has.

Keep an eye out on your mixer drinks though. Gin is meant to be used in a gin and tonic or cocktail and your mixer drinks are likely to be very high in both calories and sugar.

A Note On Gluten

Many beers, ciders, and spirits contain gluten and are not recommended for people suffering from gluten intolerances, sensitivity, or celiac disease. Even though gin can be made from grains containing gluten, the distillation process generally renders it gluten-free. That said, if you are allergic to gluten or have celiac disease, then you should avoid gins made from wheat, rye, and barley – just to be safe. Instead, choose gin made from other sources, such as potatoes, grapes, and corn.

Love Is Like A Bottle of Gin

How To Make Gin At Home

Making gin is often likened to simply flavouring vodka. This is because vodka is made from distilled potatoes, rye, or wheat, and gin is made by infusing this base with juniper berries and other botanicals.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to create a distilled gin from scratch at home, you can re-create gin by using vodka and infusing it with juniper berries and other botanicals.

Simply add the desired botanicals to your bottle of vodka and let it steep for at least a week. Then use a strainer when pouring to get a clear drink. These homemade infusions may not be as sophisticated as the distilled gins but at least you can say you’ve made your own gin and you can try and explore different flavour profiles.

Six Dogs Gin: A Case Study

We chatted to Six Dogs Distillery in South Africa to find out more about how their gins are made:

“Our distillation method is one of vapour infusion. We add our heavier botanicals to the still and allow these to macerate in the base alcohol for 24 hours. We then take these botanicals out of the liquid and put them in the path of vapour. The vapour is then infused through these botanicals in the still with the more delicate botanicals in the gin basket — this also being in the path of the alcohol vapour.

Our Six Dogs Karoo gin receives no further infusions after this process. It’s a London Dry style gin as it’s made in one shot. To make Six Dogs Pinotage Stained, our gin gets infused with whole berry grapes for many weeks and then we add a new juniper strong gin to the mix. For our Six Dogs Blue, we infuse our gin with rose pelargonium for a period of time for the botanicals to impart their own profiles and flavours. We then add the blue pea flowers to give our gin its vibrant, natural colour and filter several times.”

For more information on Six Dogs, visit their official website.

Six Dogs Pinotage Stained Gin

Six Dogs Pinotage Stained is made by infusing with whole berry grapes for many weeks and then adding a new juniper strong gin to the mix

Written by Benike Palfi
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