You might have just read out article, What is gin? Now that you know what it is, let’s delve a little deeper into how gin is made. There are three main methods:
Gin botanicals such as juniper, coriander, citrus peels, angelica root, orris root, cardamom and cassia are soaked in strong alcohol in the still for a period of time. They can be soaked in another container and then pumped into the still, but the pump needs to be able to handle solids.
This is often one day, but can vary depending on the distillery.
The botanicals can be left whole or chopped up or powdered. More finely powdered botanicals will result in greater extraction of the compounds present in that botanical. This might seem like a simple task. If I don’t have enough of a certain flavour, I’ll just powder it so the alcohol can access a very high surface area. However, botanicals are often not the same all the way through. A seed might have a certain flavour on the outside skin of the seed and quite a different flavour inside if ground up. Think of this like an orange. The outside is very different to the inside. If you don’t powder the seed, the majority of the extraction will come from the outer layer. This results in limitless combinations of gins!
After the gin botanicals have been soaked or “steeped” in the strong alcohol. The still is heated. The alcohol and compounds extracted from the botanicals will carry over as vapour into a condenser, which simply cools the gas down, back into a liquid.
There you have it! Gin made by the maceration method.
2. Vapour infusion
Instead of steeping the botanicals in the strong alcohol like in the maceration method, the botanicals are placed in some sort of container ABOVE the alcohol in the still. The still is heated up, and the alcohol vapour will pass through the botanicals, extracting some flavour, before being send to the condenser to be cooled back into a liquid. This is the method used by Bombay Sapphire (other distilleries do use it as well!).
The container can be a special polymer mesh bag which is hung inside the still, not touching the liquid, or it can be a metal container packed with botanicals which is joined to the still boiler by a metal tube.
Vapour infusion results in a different flavour than macerated gin. Firstly, the temperature is lower, so the botanicals are less “cooked,” which is not necessarily good or bad, just different. For instance, the temperature in the still boiler might be 85 degrees C, but the gas which boils off and passes through the botanicals will be at a lower temperature.
3. Steeping without distillation
This is only an acceptable method of making gin in a survival situation with access to alcohol and botanicals but no still.
Take strong alcohol, soak juniper and other botanicals in it for a period of time. Strain, drink. No quality distillery in the world uses this method. When botanicals are extracted, there is no way to select which flavours are included in the gin. For instance, the harsh, turpentine flavours in some juniper berries will be extracted. If gin is distilled, the distiller can stop the still at any time, leaving harsh compounds in the boiler so they don’t taint the final product.
HOWEVER, steeping can be an excellent addition to infuse a high quality gin made with the maceration or vapour infusion method with a fruit or other special botanical. Sloe gin is made this way. Beautiful colour, sweetness and other compounds can be added to a gin this way which would normally not carry over from the still. Some gins are steeped in Thailand’s butterfly pea flower, which gives them a strong purple colour and ability to change colour in a gin and tonic due to a reaction with the carbonated water, cool stuff! Daalgaal gin by Headlands Distilling Co. is made by taking a maceration/vapour infusion Australian gin called Boobialla and then steeping it in locally hand foraged Illawarra Plum fruit, giving it a deep purple/red colour and extracting a unique taste but also several compounds which have proven health benefits. Illawarra Plums have a higher antioxidant concentration than blueberries, which is extracted into the spirit!
What about vacuum distillation?
At normal atmospheric pressure, water boils at 100 degrees C and ethanol (drinking alcohol) boils at 78 degrees C.
If you dramatically lower the pressure, by sucking gas out of the still at the condenser outlet, you can get water and ethanol to boil at less than 25 degrees C!!!!!
This method isn’t a method on its own, but can be combined with either the maceration or vapour infusion gin making methods. Higher temperatures accelerate chemical reactions and also extraction of compounds. By distilling using a vacuum at low temperature, some flavours which may be altered or even ruined by high temperature can be preserved, or a much lighter flavour of gin can be obtained. Also, if a certain flavour in a botanical which is undesirable but isn’t very soluble in water or alcohol is present, you can basically stop it from dissolving. Higher temperature results in greater solubility/flavour extraction.
What about one shot or multiple shot gin?
Again, either maceration or vapour infusion methods can be done as a “one shot” or “multiple shot” gin.
One shot means all the botanicals are placed in the still or vapour basket at once.
Multiple shot means botanicals are distilled individually or in groups, but not all together, and then blended back together to make the final gin. Multiple shot allows a distillery to keep a concentrated form of a single botanical and then easily switch up the recipe.
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