How is Gin made? – A quick guide

Written by Seb  /  Edited by Natalia  /  Design by Andy

With so many different gins in the world today, it’s more difficult to talk in general terms of production, as there are many different techniques being used. However, if we look at the basics of the traditional methods of making gin, this’ll give a good base of knowledge from which you can have a better understanding of how all other gins are made.

As mentioned in ‘What is Gin – The Essentials’, the first thing to understand is that the process of making gin is a flavouring process. Traditionally, gin producers don’t make their own base spirit, although a small number of modern brands are making their own base spirit. However, traditionally gin is made using a spirit produced elsewhere.

The base spirit is then turned into gin by introducing juniper and whatever other flavours the gin producer wants to be present in the final product. These flavours come from the essential oils present in the organic flavouring ingredients, called Botanicals.

Botanicals are the natural ingredients that give gin its flavour. Juniper being the one essential botanical for making gin. Other than that, as long as it’s safe, natural and legal, you can use anything else in your botanical recipe. It’s this recipe of botanicals that’s one of the key defining factors between different gins.

The traditional technique for extracting the essential oils from the Botanicals, and fixing them to the base spirit is distillation. Both the spirit and botanicals are added to a still along with water, this mixture is then redistilled. This process will extract the botanical’s essential oils, adding their flavours and character to the base spirit, producing the gin’s unique flavour profile.

Redistillation is a technical word for a process that’s simple in concept, but takes years to perfect. The mixture is simply heated in a still to turn it into a gas. That gas flows up from the still and into a condenser that turns the gas back into a liquid. This liquid is then either collected to be the gin that goes into the bottle, or discarded as waste; which in gin is called ‘Feints’.

During this redistillation, the distiller will be looking to collect the ‘middle cut’. This is the part of the distillation that will end up in the bottle. The first part of distillation called the ‘Heads’ or ‘Foreshots’ are collected as a waste product ‘Feints’. That’s because the liquid coming off the still at this point has not yet collected essential oils and important, it’s also cleaning out the equipment from the previous distillation. As soon as the stillman can detect a clean flavour on the nose, the liquid coming off the still can be collected as the ‘Middle Cut’.

The ‘Middle Cut’ is collected until the last of the essential oils from the botanicals have been extracted. At this point, and the timing here must be perfect, the distiller stops collecting the ‘Middle Cut’ and starts to collect the ‘Tails’. This is the waste product at the end of the distillation that also gets collected as ‘Feints’. You are now left with a vat containing the ‘Middle Cut’ to bottle as gin. A vat of ‘Feints’. While in the still there will be some water and spent botanical solids left behind that must be cleaned out and discarded.

The ‘Middle Cut’ will be in the mid to high 80s as % ABV. So it’s essential to lower the strength to whatever the distiller wants the final ABV (or proof) of the gin to be in the bottle. The feints, which contain alcohol, can be distilled again and the alcohol sold or reused, although most distilleries will not reuse ‘Feints’ for gin. The water can be flushed away and the spent botanical solids can be put out onto fields as fertilizer.

High quality gins will be bottled from 40% ABV (80 proof) and above. That’s because alcohol is what carries the flavour of the gin. Therefore, the more alcohol in the bottle the more flavour can be delivered to the drinker. High strength gins carry more flavours, but will need to be used carefully when mixing. They will need extra dilution to release the flavours carried by the alcohol and to stop the drink from feeling too strong on the palate.

This is the most traditional process for making gin and the basic outline for how ‘London Dry Gin’ is made. However, some gins at the cheap end of the spectrum will simply mix essential oils into an alcohol base to add flavour and create a gin. The older version of this was to steep botanicals in alcohol to extract their flavours. This style of gin was also known as ‘bathtub gin’, as the steeping process could be done at home, in a bathtub. This is fine in a pinch, such as during the war, but you won’t get as good a fix of flavours to the alcohol or their complexities either. So, for high quality gin, you want some distillation in there.

Some gins, broadly called Distilled Gins, use distillation in various ways. Some distill botanicals with alcohol separately, then blend these distillates together to produce the final gin. While others distill some botanicals into a gin, then add additional flavours to this gin, maybe some that are less conducive to being distilled, after the distillation process.

Therefore, the best gins use at least some degree of distillation in their processing to extract essential oils and fix them to the alcohol. Interestingly, the process of making gin starts well before you get to the distillery. Deciding on what ‘Base Spirit’ to use and where to get your ‘Juniper & Botanicals’ are a vital part of the gin making process. Get this wrong and it won’t matter what you do in the distillery!

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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