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 base spirit 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. The water is needed to lower the alcohol level to the required EU legal limit (37.5% ABV, but many believe premium Gin should be at least 40% ABV to carry the flavour better). 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 artificial flavourings can also be used. These are added into water, which is then blended with the spirit. No redistilling will take place. According to the EU regulations the final product can simply be called Gin but not Distilled Gin or London Dry. See more about Gin styles below:
According to EU regulations, there are three types of Gin.
London Dry Gin – grain alcohol is re-distilled with only natural botanicals and only a minute amount of sweetener can be used after re-distillation. London Dry doesn’t have to be from London.
Distilled Gin – neutral spirit and natural botanicals are re-distilled, but additional natural or artificial flavourings and colourings can be added after distillation.
Gin – base spirit and flavourings (can be natural or artificial) are combined without re-distillation. This method is also known as ‘cold-compounded’. It is a cheaper way of making Gin, nevertheless not a very popular method.
There are other styles of Gin, but these aren’t regulated.
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.
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. There aren’t regulations on how much juniper should be used. The most common botanicals 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. Read more about botanicals here.
Have you ever visited a Gin distillery?