I thought that I’d try making gin; partly as a displacement activity during lockdown, partly because of the proliferation of micro distilleries and partly because of a recent unsatisfactory trialling of Negroni I thought I’d see if I could make one that doesn’t require adding elderflower tonic or other flavourings to make it interesting.
The name gin is a shortened derivative of an old English word genever, related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever so while gin is at its most basic just a neutral spirit alcohol base flavoured with juniper, making gin is inevitably more complicated than that with a long history involving variations in type, style and flavourings.
Types: Traditionally it seems there are three types of gin:
Distilled: in which Juniper berries and other aromatics are added to a fermented mash and distilled.
Redistilled: where a neutral base spirit is redistilled with juniper berries and other aromatics, and.
Compounded: which is made by mixing a neutral base spirit with juniper berries and other aromatics.
Stills are simply just a way of enabling the alcohol created from fermenting a mash to be extracted by raising the mash to somewhere above the boiling point of alcohol i.e. above 78.4degree and then condensing the vapours leaving water and the botanical mash behind.
However, given that I don’t have a still, with no inclination to make one, and following on from my schnapps making experiments I thought I’d try the compound type: sometimes known as cold compound or bath tub gin (because it is made cold and can be made in a bath tub)
Styles: There are also a number of styles. There's London Dry which is devoid of all sweetness; Plymouth Gin, which must be made in Plymouth, so that’s out, Old Tom gin which is a little sweeter; Navy Strength. which is 57 percent alcohol by volume or higher; and finally, American or West Coast gin, which is usually more herbal.
Base: The neutral base alcohol for gin is actually the same as for vodka, the difference lies in the addition of juniper. Typical bases are made from corn, wheat, rye, potato, grapes, and sorghum, however, as triple distilled grain vodka is readily and cheapy available in supermarkets, I decided to use that to make a Dry gin with locally sourced botanicals and herbs and, as it would be made at home, I thought I’d call it Der Bontaniker; Richmond Dry, cold compound bath tub gin.
Flavouring: With a handful juniper berries into a litre vodka, add whatever botanicals or flavourings you want: cucumber and verbena was very interesting as was grapefruit, rosemary and pepper. Dried fig leaves add a coconut oiliness which is really pleasing, but my favourite mix so far is grapefruit zest, orange zest, star anise and pink pepper corns with foraged verbena and dried cranberries.
Method: Infuse the alcohol and flavourings in a covered glass container for at least 4 weeks, then, having strained the alcohol, pour through a water filter and repeat at least 4 times.
This makes a delicious gentle citrus flavoured gin with a beautiful yellow tinge, perfect with plain tonic water and ice but with so many variations to play with I might not be able to concentrate on painting for a while.