When we talk about booze, there are many, and we mean many, options to choose from. So here we’ve selected to talk about gin, one of the favorite spirits to use as a cocktail base. Maybe you are a gin and tonic fan, or maybe you prefer a sloe gin alternative. No matter which is your favorite gin-based drink, read on as we guide you through the production process of gin. But first, let’s talk about the history of gin. I’d like to add a personal note for readers before getting started. When I’m not drinking bourbon on the rocks, I’m drinking gin. Namely Hendricks, Brockmans’ or Tanqueray.
The History of Gin & What It’s Made From
While most of you may think that gin comes from England, well, because it is the English’s national spirit and one of the most common exports, you’d be wrong, as gin has a much longer history. Namely, gin comes from Italy, from the Benedictine monks of Salerno.
Way back in the 11th century, the monks distilled a medicinal alcoholic tonic from wine mixed with juniper berries. They used the wine-juniper berries blend because both have been used as medicine for ages. They called the distillate juniper tonic and used it as a cure-all drink, prescribed for coughs, colds, pains, cramps, and ruptures.
Much later, in the 17th century, Dutch monks perfected the recipe by distilling a blend of barley and juniper berries, calling it jenever. The drink became popular among the masses and soon spread across parts of Europe.
The English soldiers fighting the Thirty Years’ War noted that the Dutch soldiers took sips from a drink to boost morale and soon discovered that this drink was the now-famous jenever. They took the drink and recipe back to England, but initially, it did not make a splash.
However, the true popularity of gin came when the English put a heavy duty on the import of French brandy and needed another alcoholic substitute. It is where gin came in, as the English government allowed an unlicensed gin production, which sprouted a period in England known as the Gin Craze. The vast amounts of gin led to low prices, and it became the prime drink of the poor.
Later, in 1751, the English government enforced laws and prohibited unlicensed gin production, but only licensed distilleries and retailers could carry this drink. You’ve probably heard famous expressions like gin mills and gin joints, which have emerged during this time. Later scientific achievements led to improving the gin production process and led to the emergence of several famous styles of gin: London gin, Old Tom gin, and more.
During the 1800s, the British colonies faced a severe malaria problem and used a blend of gin and tonic water to mask the bitterness of quinine, the anti-malaria remedy. It is how the now world-famous gin and tonic cocktail came to be. Now that you know a little about gin’s history, let’s see how this drink is made.
The Ingredients in Gin
The essential ingredients in gin are:
- Grains – the base of gin is a distillate made from a mash made from grains. The most commonly used grains are barley, wheat, and rye.
- Juniper berries – this is the primary ingredient and the common ingredient in all gins. The juniper berries are added into the gin and distilled together, allowing the flavors to combine and come together.
- Botanicals, herbs, spices – every distillery has its unique blend of botanicals, spices, and herbs that add to the final product’s flavor. The most common botanicals used are coriander seeds, lemon and orange peel, cinnamon, almonds, ginger, rosemary, and more.
So, How Exactly Is Gin Made?
All gin starts as grain mash. After the grains are crushed, yeast is added to the mash. The yeast speeds up the metabolization of the sugars from the mash to produce alcohol. Depending on the fermentation conditions, this process lasts from one to two weeks.
After fermentation is finished, the mash goes on to be distilled. The distillate is almost pure ethanol, which is ready for the next stage – infusing the flavors. If you leave the distillate as it comes out of the stills, you’ve got vodka. Yes, you are reading this correctly; all gin starts as vodka; the spices and flavorings added later make it into gin.
The base alcohol (obtained with distillation) is put in pot stills. The blend of juniper berries and other botanicals are added to the spirit and are left to steep for a certain amount of time, usually between 24 and 48 hours. After the steeping process is complete, water is added, and the liquid is prepared for the next distilling.
Once the following distilling process is complete, the finished product is what we know as gin. Depending on the actual distillation process, there are different varieties of gin.
- Pot-distilled gin – the earliest style of gin, this gin is made in pot stills. The fermented mash, usually made from barley or rye, is distilled, and after steeping the botanicals, the blend is distilled again. Double gin is made by doing another subsequent distillation of the gin with more botanicals. This type of gin usually has lower alcohol by volume and is often aged in tanks to retain a heavier, malty flavor.
- Column-distilled gin is made by first distilling 96% ABV spirit from fermented mash in a column still. The distillate is then redistilled with juniper berries and other botanicals suspended in baskets near the top of the still. The alcohol vapors pass through the baskets and extract the flavors from the juniper berries and other botanicals. This type of gin has a lighter flavor and is often called distilled gin or London dry gin.
- Vacuum-distilled gin is made using vacuum distillation. This method involves redistilling the neutral spirit and the botanicals using a vacuum, so the blend boils at a lower temperature. The result is a fresh-flavored gin.
- Compound gin is made by flavoring any neutral spirit with natural flavorings, natural botanical ingredients, or essences. The process is simple, as the neutral spirit is blended with the botanicals, and it is left so that the flavors can infuse the gin, and there is no redistillation involved.
Gin Distillers Have a Key Role
Since the gin is basically vodka redistilled with botanicals and juniper berries, it is the distiller’s job to ensure every batch will have a consistent flavor. The distillers taste every batch of botanicals, especially the juniper berries, as these have the most significant influence on the flavor of the gin. Master gin distillers usually spend months perfecting the recipe and adjusting the ingredients to ensure a consistent flavor.
Every gin has its own unique recipe. The recipes include a specific number of botanicals in strictly determined weights. Even if the same distillation method is used, the flavor will depend on the botanicals used.
Styles of Gin
Well, as we noted above, depending on the distillation methods and added ingredients, there are different styles of gin:
- London Dry Gin
- Plymouth Gin
- Old Tom Gin
- Aged Gin
- New Western Dry Gin
- Navy Strength
Make Your Own Gin: Step by Step
As we have noted above, gin is basically any natural spirit infused with juniper berries and other botanicals. You can make your own gin at home using this recipe:
- Pour 750ml vodka into a bottle
- Add about 30g (1 oz) juniper berries, cap and shake the bottle and allow it to steep for 24 hours in a dark place.
- Prepare a finely chopped blend of botanicals (juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica roots, orange and lemon peels, and anything else you want.) Put the botanical blend into the bottle with the vodka and juniper berries, shake well and leave for about 12 more hours.
- Take a fine sieve and strain the botanicals from the blend and voila: you have gin.
- This type of gin needs to be stored in a glass bottle in a dark place, and will be good for up to one year.
Conclusion: Every Gin Is Made By A Unique Recipe
But all have one thing in common – juniper berries. There is, of course, much more to this, as the ultimate flavor depends on the type of grain used, the other botanicals, the distillation process, and the aging process. So, next time you are in the mood for a gin-flavored cocktail, you will know what you are drinking.