Many people are confused about the production process of gin and what it is made from.
Starting out as pure ethanol, this neutral grain-based spirit is put through a long and careful process known as distillation. From there, the distillate is poured into a bottle and served wherever alcoholic beverages are sold.
In the following article you will be able to find answers to many questions, such as:Video – How is Gin Made
There are many different ways to distill gin and it all depends on the distillery and level of flavor that’s trying to be achieved.
While there is a science to gin distillation and curation, the gin production process follows a standard series of steps that transform the neutrally flavored ethanol into the juniper-forward spirit you’ve grown to know and love.
By understanding the ground rules of making gin, we hope to inspire a deeper love and appreciation for this finely crafted spirit, as well as give you a behind-the-scenes look into the art of it.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the ethanol beginnings of gin, what kind of botanicals make gin distinct (hint: it’s juniper), the types of distillation methods used by leading brands, how to age and package it and even how to concoct a homemade version in the comfort of your own home.
By the end of this article, you’ll not only feel more confident about the delicate production process behind your favorite spirit, but you’ll probably also be inspired to put your own spin on recreating your favorite brand in your own kitchen.
If you forget anything we mention in this article, remember this:
A spirit can only be called gin if it contains juniper.
Without the addition of these tiny berries, the spirit remains as vodka. Colorless and full of taste, gin undergoes a dual distillation process where the base spirit, or ethanol, is infused with a range of botanicals for taste. Depending on the distiller, the first distillation process of creating ethanol can happen in-house or be purchased from a manufacturer. Then comes the redistillation process where the juniper berries and botanical’s essential oils are introduced and mixed into the ethanol. This heating process is crucial to gin production and can affect the taste and intensity of the spirit.
Once the liquid has cooled, the concentration is reduced with water and bottled for mass consumption. With a predominant flavor of juniper and a careful distillation process, it’s no wonder gin has become the base for many classic drinks that have stood the test of time.
Easy to mix with most juices and tonics, gin is versatile and is a staple in bars everywhere.
Types of gin
Do you know what type of gin you’re drinking? Surprisingly, not all gins are considered the same. Depending on how they are distilled and what additives are included in the final product, gins vary in taste, mouthfeel and concentration.
London Dry Gin
One of the most popular types of gin is London dry gin.
Unlike the name suggests, these kinds of gins aren’t all created in London, although they did get their humble beginnings from there. Known for having little to no sugar added and a pungent juniper taste, these gins are considered ‘drier’ because they aren’t on the sweet side.
These gins must also be distilled at 70% ABV (alcohol by volume) or higher without any artificial colors or flavors added.
Old Tom gin
Lighter and less intense than Genever, Old Tom gins are on the sweeter side and get their flavors from malts or added sugar.
One of the most elusive gin styles, Old Tom is making a comeback into the gin world and is an excellent gin for whiskey drinkers who crave heavier undertones in their liquors.
This gin is locally sourced and can only be made in Plymouth, England, to be considered this gin style. Sweeter than London dry gin, this spirit has an earthy taste and makes an excellent base for a gin and tonic. With a softened juniper flavor, this type of gin is dominated by one brand with the same name.
Considered the forefather of London dry gin, this heavily malted and savory flavored gin includes botanicals like fennel to increase its darker tones.
Starting out as blend of malted barley, rye, and corn, this grain mix is mashed down and fermented to create the base of this type of gin, giving it the wholesome and similar-tasting qualities as its Scotch brothers.
Gin’s smooth flavor is mainly attributed to its juniper berry foundation, giving it a pungent and unforgettable taste.
Contrary to their name, these small rounded fruits are not berries at all but are in fact little pine cones. Grown on a juniper tree, these blue-purple berries have a tart piney flavor, with hints of citrus. To release the essence, the berries are crushed, chopped or ground, and then added into the distillation process.
The amount, the type and the location of where the juniper berry is sourced are all important factors that come into play when determining the unique taste of gin.
Common gin botanicals
Along with the juniper berries, botanicals are also infused during the distillation process. During this heating process, the essential oils are released and added to the neutral spirit.
Botanicals can be classified as flavor-enhancing roots, seeds, berries, fruits and/or herbs.
In addition to juniper berries, these botanic additives are known to enhance the final product. Depending on the kind of taste you’re aiming for, the flavor can range from sweet to citrusy, and in some cases, woodsy and pungent.
Some of the most popular botanicals added to gin are orange and lemon peel, which thoroughly enhances the natural flavors of juniper berries. Additions like coriander seeds provide an extra layer of complexity to the taste, adding in hints of candied ginger and sage.
More commonly found seasonings like cinnamon and licorice provide subtle, yet surprisingly delicious notes to the spirit.
How do you distill gin?
Now that you know what goes into gin, you’re ready to see how the entire transformation process happens. Here is where the real craftsmanship and customization begins.
Once the juniper berries have been gathered and the botanicals have been sourced, it is now time to turn the neutral grain-based spirit into the beloved drink known as gin. There are many ways to distill gin and infuse the essential oils into the spirit and each method is favored by some of the leading brands in the industry. Here, we’ll break down each distillation method, giving you an inside look into what it takes to truly create the great taste of gin.
The most traditional of methods, steeping has been around for centuries and has been the go-to process for many distillers looking to create their own brand of gin. In this process, the ethanol is heated up in a pot still, or a drum-like distillation apparatus. The pot still provides the perfect apparatus for the alcohol to collect and condense overtime.
During the heating period, botanicals are dropped directly into the alcohol and steeped for 24 to 48 hours.
After the proper time has passed, water is added to the mix to lessen the potency of the spirit. Known for their London Dry gins, Darnley’s Gin utilizes the steeping method and curates their blend of juniper, coriander, and cloves in small batches for an authentic taste.
Aside from the traditional method of steeping botanicals, other distillers use a method known as vapour infusion. Unlike steeping, this process relies mainly on the vapor to combine the flavors of the botanicals with the base spirit.
Using the heated vapors from the ethanol, the distiller places all of the botanicals into perforated metal baskets above the pot still. When the liquid is heated, the essential oils are released from the cooked botanicals and meld with the vapour.
This process is known to allow subtler, floral notes to surface, giving the gin a lighter, yet satisfying taste. Bombay gin, a globally popular spirit, was one of the first brands to list the botanicals they use on the bottle and is known to stand by the vapour infusion method.
By adding cassia bark, almonds, and cubeb berries to their botanical basket, this steaming process releases delicate undertones that would have been otherwise muted in the steeping process.
New distillation methods are always on the rise. One that is growing in popularity is vacuum distillation. Due to its rather complex nature, vacuum distillation took a while to catch on but has now been mastered by some of the best gin brands on the market.
Also known as cold distillation, this process requires a lower boiling point for alcohol distillation and botanical infusion. Normally, pot stills are heated to around 78 degrees Celsius. But the pressure from the vacuum actually brings down the degrees into the 25 – 40 degrees Celsius range. In these cooler conditions, the botanicals remain intact and aren’t as thoroughly brewed as they would be in a steeping or vapour infusion method. By doing so, more of the flavor is restored instead of getting evaporated in the heat.
Having mastered this technique over the past 9 years, Oxley gin has made this technique their signature style. With a strong vacuum motor, they push the boundaries even further by distilling at -5 degrees Celsius.
With new technologies and modern brands bringing creativity to traditional methods, distillation techniques are continually transforming the way gin is made. Taking a spin-off of the steeping distillation technique, some distillers are separating the botanicals and boiling them individually.
At the end of the process, each distillate is added together to create the finished gin. Others, like Lone Wolf Distillery, distill their own grain-based spirit (or neutral spirit) from scratch. Most brands purchase the ethanol from other companies and focus on the botanical infusion process, but Lone Wolf believes in doing everything in-house, even if it’s time-consuming.
Hepple Gin is another brand that pushes distillation boundaries and uses a rotary evaporator and a CO2 extractor to heighten the flavor of juniper notes without adding copious amounts of the berries.
Unlike whiskey or brandy, gin isn’t normally aged and has fallen out of favor in recent years. Still, aged gin is something to explore, as the process introduces flavors that aren’t normally associated with the clear spirit. Taking on woodsy, vanilla and caramel undertones, these mature gins are housed in oak caskets that previously contained other liquors like Scotch or Vermouth.
Sitting in the barrel for two to three months this process creates a full-bodied experience for even the most experienced gin drinkers. The great thing about aging gin is that it opens up the door for more drink combinations, allowing a different spin on classic gin cocktails.
Swapping in an aged fin in a classic whiskey cocktail like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned can truly be a delight to the taste buds. Due to gin’s versatility and subtle flavors, fusing the spirit with darker undertones like a woody nuttiness makes aged gin a must-try, even for seasoned gin drinkers.
If you’re interested in trying out a few blends, we recommend giving Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve and Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gins a try. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
Gin Bottling and Branding
When it comes to marketing gin, there’s the spirit and then there’s the presentation. While the spirit itself will keep the customer coming back for more, the bottle and brand labeling that’s chosen will determine if they even pick up and buy the bottle in the first place. For this matter, it’s important to focus on the look and feel of the bottle, and most importantly, the story behind the spirit.
After the story has been created, the next option to consider is the type of bottle to house the spirit in. Out of all of the alcoholic beverages, gin bottles have some of the most unique and beautifully designed bottles that truly speak to the fine quality of the spirit inside. Heavier bottles with an embossed stamp on the glass can signal that the gin is of superior quality. Customized bottles can also be made from sustainable materials, signaling to the customer that the brand is environmentally friendly and conscious.
Every distillery has its own style and it truly comes out in the bottle that is chosen, as well as the label created. Once the label is designed and slapped on the bottle, it should do its best to communicate the story behind the gin brand. All of these elements tie in the gin making process and thoroughly enhance the gin drinking experience.
We’ve guided you through how the big brands mass produce their beloved gins. Now it’s time to take the power into your own hands. While you may not have a vacuum apparatus or large pot still laying around in your house, there is a way to curate a homemade bottle that resembles the taste of gin.
Crafting your own spirits is a fun experiment to try in your home. And for those nights you don’t want to go out and drink, you can always dabble and drink from your own blend. While the final result won’t visually resemble that of your favorite brand and might come out a bit yellow or orange depending on the botanicals you use, it’ll still taste great, especially since you know it came for your own hands!
With a few ingredients, a dark closet and a large jar, you’re well on your way to crafting a homemade version of gin. All you’ll need is a mason jar, your preferred vodka (which will be used as the neutral spirit), juniper berries, and a handful of botanicals of your choosing. A few we recommend starting out with are coriander seeds, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and a lemon or orange peel for a zesty finish.
Once you have sterilized the mason jar, add in your botanicals. When it comes to the lemon or orange, make sure to remove the pith since this part of the fruit can add an unwanted bitter taste to the mix. Once all of the botanicals have been added, pour in the vodka and cap it.
Place the jar in a cool dark place for 24 hours so that it can begin the infusion process. Afterwards, taste test it and add in more botanicals if you want to punch up any specific flavors. Leave for 24 more hours and give it a gentle shake. After this, strain the liquid to remove any sediment from the botanicals and let sit for another few days.
After a final strain, your homemade gin is ready to drink and enjoy!
Now that we’ve understood the art of creating gin, let’s put all the pieces together. We’ve watched quite a few videos on how to make gin, and this one would be our top recommendation:
From its humble ethanol beginnings to its full-bodied juniper-infused finish, gin has been a staple in the beverage industry for centuries. Its relatively simple distillation process has allowed newcomers to arrive and experiment with the process and botanical additives. Through all these years, gin has remained a favorite amongst seasoned gin lovers and first-time tasters. Whether you’re making it at home or enjoying a classic cocktail in your favorite lounge, you’ll now have a better understanding of how this timeless spirit came to be.