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 produced? 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.
Different Re-Distillation Methods
There are two common ways in which this re-distillation and extracting of flavours from the botanicals can occur.
- 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.
- 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.
A Spirit Meant To Be 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 this spirit 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.
Which Common Botanicals Are 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 base spirit.
Citrus is also a common botanical.
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.
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, and a whole world of different fruits and herbs is used in the more contemporary gins.
Different Types of Gin
It may come as no surprise that there are many different types of gin.
London Dry Gin
London Dry Gin is one of the most popular and is often considered the most sophisticated type of gin.
It doesn’t need to be made in London. 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 must come from Plymouth.
It’s a bit sweeter than a London Dry and the juniper flavours aren’t as pronounced.
It’s a popular base for gin and tonics.
Genever is made according to an older method and it’s a little rougher around the edges.
The final product is often heavier, smokier, and maltier.
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom is sweeter than London Dry due to the addition of sugar but it’s drier than the Genever.
Most gins are clear but Sloe Gin, made from a small, plum-like fruit called sloe or blackthorn, is a distinct red colour.
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 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 the spirit with gun powder and lighting it on fire.
If the flame was clear, it was strong enough to drink.
Gin has undergone a renaissance in the last few years and most contemporary spirits set themselves apart by elevating unique flavours above the traditional juniper.
Is Gin Healthy?
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.
No one should ever consume alcohol for its health benefits.
But if you are choosing to drink alcohol, then gin is a pretty good choice.
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 more people may be drawn to the easily-accessible complexity of flavour that gin has.
Keep an eye out on your mixer drinks though.
Gin is meant to be used in a cocktail and your mixer drinks are likely to be very high in both calories and sugar.
Is It Gluten-Free?
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.
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 spirit 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 spirits but at least you can say you’ve made your own gin. You can also explore different flavour profiles.
I Love Foodies Case Studies
Six Dogs Distillery
We chatted to Six Dogs Distillery in South Africa to find out more about how they make their signature spirits:
“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.
For more information on Six Dogs, visit their official website.
We also had the chance to chat with Autograph Distillery:
“Autograph Distillery grows all of its native fynbos onsite. This is where it all starts, as we gather and weigh out our botanicals for maceration.
Everything is placed into 100% cotton sacks for a beating to break down the botanicals and juniper, better allowing the spirit to extract the flavours.
From this point, the bags are placed into lukewarm spirit inside of our still, where they will macerate for the next 24 hours.
At the end of this 24-hour period, the bags are removed and cleaned out.
All the botanicals go into the sun to strip the remaining alcohol before being composted.
Water is added into the still and the heat is on until we draw our last drop. All of this is fairly common in the gin world.
What really sets Autograph aside is our attention to consistency, making use of a homogenisation tank to ensure this.
This can best be described as a ‘drop in the ocean’. We keep a large amount of spirit at distillate and slowly draw out spirit, while adding a little back at the same time. Thus, the tank is the ocean and the new gin entering with its own nuances is the drop. The original flavor of Autograph Gin always remains.”
For more information on Autograph Distillery, visit their official website.