It seems every day a new Gin comes on the market and new micro distilleries keep popping up faster than you can say tonic. So it’s about time for us to understand the different stages of Gin production. There are two ways to make Gin – compounding and distilling. Compounding is considered to be the Dutch method, whereas distilling is viewed as a British way of making Gin. Below you can find more details on both.
Gin can be batch distilled in a pot still in a similar way to malt whisky, although a column still can also be used. A pot still allows a distiller to make only one batch of spirits at a time, and the still needs to be emptied out and cleaned up before the next batch can begin. The still is usually made from copper. The alcohol used in Gin is either from fermented molasses or from grain (rye, wheat, barley or corn). The alcohol is added into the pot of the still and reduced with water before adding botanicals. It is important to reduce the alcohol levels as the pure spirit would make extraction of the oils difficult by hardening the skins of the botanicals. It is, after all, the oils from the botanicals that give the Gin its unique flavour.
Some methods include a pre-heating process and the complete charge (the alcohol, water and botanicals) is left for several hours, sometimes even overnight, to macerate. The stillman will apply enough steam to make the alcohol boil. As soon as the vaporised spirit comes to the top of the still the pressure must be reduced. The alcohol vapour is passed through a chamber, the ‘gin basket’, which holds the botanicals. This vapour will extract the essential oils and aromatics from the botanicals as it passes through the chamber and on to the condenser. Using a smaller still or making it in small batches results in a higher-quality Gin and captures the essences of the botanicals better. This also helps to maintain the balance of the ingredients and the same character during each batch.
The stillman will separate the early parts, the ‘foreshots’, and the end ‘feints’, which can be redistilled, although not every distillery wants to redistill these, in which case the liquid goes to waste. It is the middle run or ‘heart’ that is used to produce high-quality Gin, and this is run off at about 80–85% ABV. Only further neutral alcohol, water or a minute amount of sugar is added after distillation. The water is needed to lower the alcohol level to the required EU legal limit. Blending needs skill and time to carefully marry the crafted concentrate and alcohol to create the perfect combination.
The Dutch method means Gin is produced by adding flavourings; the essential oils are extracted from the botanicals, or natural extracts are added into water, which is then blended with the spirit. No redistilling will take place. The final product can be called Gin but not distilled or London Dry.
Gin developed from Holland’s national liquor Jenever, meaning juniper, therefore juniper will be the dominant flavour, and it is up to the distiller to decide the rest of the ingredients. The most common flavours are angelica root, orange and lemon peel (fresh or dried), cardamom, coriander, anise and orris root. Even if some Gins use exactly the same ingredients there are still differences in the taste depending on the origin of the botanicals, and you often see botanicals being collected from all over the world. As the competition is getting tougher and wider, everyone has their own special ingredients and secret flavours, such as lingonberries, almond flakes, honey, exotic fruits or silver birch. I’ve even had Gin made with coconut, which unfortunately overpowered the juniper and cannot in my book be considered as Gin.
London Dry Gin – grain alcohol is re-distilled with botanicals and nothing is added after the redistillation.
Distilled Gin – neutral spirit and botanicals are re-distilled, but additional natural or artificial flavourings and colourings can be added after distillation.
Dutch Genever (or Jenver ) – made using a process similar to whisky, with malted grain, and aged in barrels.
Old Tom – sugar is added in re-distillation to make a sweeter Gin.
Compound Gin – basically the same as the Dutch method previously explained.