On making gin

I got on a bit of a craft liquor kick a while back, and recently started making wine, syrups, shrubs, and other bartending-related treats. The latest was to make gin (and allspice dram, but that’s still aging; check back near the middle of July).
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There are many many recipes online for making home gin, most of them are of the infusion of botanicals into vodka variety. Some would say that this isn’t making gin, but simply infusing botanicals into vodka. They would be partially correct, I suppose. Gin is essentially a neutral grain spirit infused with botanicals (specifically juniper berries), either before or after, or during the distillation process. In any case I had to do a re-distilling in order to get anything even remotely tasty the first time around.
So, here’s what I did.

  • 350 ml 50-57% neutral grain spirit alcohol (I only had Stolichnaya)
  • 3 Tbsp crushed juniper (purple)
  • 1 tsp crushed coriander
  • 1/4 tsp dried, chopped licorice root
  • 1 tsp lemon peel (fresh zest)
  • 1/2 tsp orange peel (fresh zest)

The list of added botanicals is large, and can include orris root, bitter almond, angelica root, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and others. I didn’t have any of these others, so I made due with the above list. The process in the online recipe was terse, but simple:

Soak juniper for 24 hours, rest of botanicals for 9 hours. Fine strain.

The resulting concoction was brown, cloudy, and horrible tasting. Probably, the recipe omitted an important step:

Add vodka to fill 750ml.

I took half of the foul tincture (about 200ml) and topped up a 375ml wine bottle with straight vodka, and the result was a clear, cleaner, transparent gold liquid. It still didn’t taste like gin, but it tasted a bit better. My guess was that if we filled a 750ml bottle, it would have turned out ok.
Instead, since I didn’t have that much vodka left, I ran it through an internal alembic still:
internal_alembic_still.jpg
… yep, an asparagus cooker, the lid reversed, and filled with ice, with a measuring cup set inside to collect the spirit. Hint: keep changing the ice, and keep the burner set on low. Amazingly, this method of purification was quite effective, giving me 200ml of fine, clear, 50% alcohol distillate. A little math suggested I could add 50ml of filtered water to bring it down to drinking strength. This tasted exactly like gin.
For those interested in trying to make gin at home without going crazy and burning the place down, Jeffrey Morgenthaler has an interesting article about infusing gin here.
For those who like fire and explosions, try this reference. Both have some interesting recipes.