Gin... The full story!
Since the February edition we have been running a series of articles on Gin, written by The Beer Emporium's Rich. To help refresh you memory we have brought all the articles together... enjoy!
Over the last few months, this little corner of the magazine has barely scratched the large & ever-changing surface of the beer world, but it’s a new year, so I think it’s about time we moved onto a new drink.
Anyone fancy a cheeky G&T? That’s right, the next few months will see us get to know a little more about gin, because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have failed to notice just how ubiquitous gin is these days. It’s undergone a huge resurgence, industry estimations are that there are over 600 UK gin brands, & nearly 200 distilleries in the UK alone. Historically, though, gin wasn’t always the preserve of middle-class England. Indeed, if you delve a bit deeper, the origins of gin did not show early 18th century society in the best light. Two reasons: it was cheap, & it was widely available. Duty was lower than beer, imported spirits such as brandy were expensive, & gin was even used as part payment of wages so is it any wonder that the government of the time estimated that the average Londoner drank 14 gallons of gin each year! That’s where we first came to get a taste for gin, however it was the need to make the anti-malaria compound, quinine, which was dissolved into carbonated water, more palatable that gave us the G&T that is now synonymous with an English summers’ day.
Not only are we a little bit more reserved in our consumption these days, but we’re somewhat more sophisticated in our palates. Long gone are the days when you were lucky if you got a choice of Gordons or Beefeater. Distillers are becoming more adventurous with the botanicals that they add to the base spirit, using everything from fruits, to tea, to flowers, to even hops. Yep, you can get gin infused with the same hops you get in your beer. What a time to be alive! So, let us start with the basics. Gin is a liquor or distilled spirit that derives its predominant taste or flavour from juniper berries. It started its life as a herbal medicine, & gin, as we know it today, can trace its roots back to the Dutch liquor, jenever. Jenever came from distilling malt wine to about 50% abv, however this rendered it pretty much undrinkable until herbs, & juniper berries in particular, were added to mask the taste. There are a number of ways in which we can make gin, & all are based around how the botanicals can be added to the base spirit, & over the next few editions, we’ll look at them all.
I concluded my ramblings here last time, with the promise of explaining the different ways in which our beautiful gin can be made.
It all starts off in pretty much the same way as beer does, in that you add grain to boiling water, then add yeast to turn the sugars into alcohol. This wort (remember that term?!) is then put into a still where the alcohol is distilled out, usually over a number of times over copper plates, to get to an ABV of 96% or more. This neutral grain alcohol is the basis for all types of gin, it’s what happens next that defines the end product.
Most gin makers, or rectifiers or compounders as they are more properly known, buy in this neutral grain alcohol rather than distil it entirely themselves. Partly because they then have a consistent standard base from which to add their botanicals, partly because it’s way easier and cheaper, but also because a rectifiers or compounders licence from HMRC is a whole sight more straightforward to get than a distillers licence.
This is where things start to diverge, as once they have the neutral grain spirit, the next step is to determine how they are going to infuse the botanicals. The options here are to compound, pot distil, or column distil the gin.
Compounded gin is the simplest method of making gin, and is at its most basic when you add your chosen botanicals, colour or flavouring to the base spirit. As long as juniper is part of that mix, the compounder just dilutes it down with distilled water to their chosen strength (no less than 37.5%) and that’s now gin. This is something you can do yourself at home using a bottle of vodka as your base spirit, and if you want a basic recipe, then tune in again next time!
Last issue we looked at compounded gin, so this time we’ll look at pot distilling before moving onto column distilling. We’re going to assume that for both types, the distilling of the grain has already been done, resulting in a neutral grain spirit of 96% abv being given to the Rectifier (gin maker!).
A pot distiller uses a big, usually copper, pot with pipes coming out of the top. The pot is heated, steam rises up through these pipes and is then cooled down, condensing the vapour back into liquid. The neutral grain spirit that goes in, is usually let down a little with some de-ionised water, because pure alcohol can have an adverse affect on some of the botanicals making it harder to extract all the oils and flavours. These botanicals are placed either on a shelf above the liquid, where the vapours can pass over them, or placed in the liquid prior to heating (macerated), or in most cases, put in the liquid and heated alongside the liquor.
Rectifiers will finely control temperatures at this point to ensure all the right flavours are extracted prior to it being cooled down back into a liquid. You can split the condensed steam into 3 parts, the initial distillate or the feints, the 2nd distillate or the heart, and the last bit of the distillate or the tails. Neither the feints or the tails are used, as these are the roughest, least flavoursome parts, and it is the measure of a great distiller who can identify when one bit ends, another starts and therefore the perfect gin is achieved once de-ionised water’s been added to get the desired abv. This can be the end of the process, however this method, particularly if the pot is a small one, doesn’t easily lend itself to consistent gins. So, in order to overcome this most pot distillers will load as many botanicals into the pot as possible making a concentrated extract that can be cut with extra neutral grain spirit before the addition of de-ionised water to get the intended strength.
I promised last time that I’d give you a simple recipe for making your own ‘gin’ at home ... but guess what ... yep, that’s right I’ve waffled on for a bit too long and run out of time! If you really can’t wait, swing by the Bottle Bank and I’ll give you a sneak preview!
Until next time!
In last month’s edition I promised that I’d give you a simple recipe for making your own ‘gin’ at home... of course, you can add whatever botanicals you fancy to the mix, depending on what end taste you want to get! The only thing I’ll stress, is that as you’ll be using vodka as your base spirit, don’t blame me if you chose a cheap bottle to start things off with! For what it’s worth, Russian Standard is a good clean spirit, and can usually be picked up at a reasonable price from most supermarkets.
What you’ll need:
1 bottle of good quality vodka
2tbs juniper berries (more if you like their taste!)
1tsp coriander seeds
2 cardamom pods
2 peppercorns (again, add a couple more if you like),
half a cinnamon stick,
1 small piece of dried orange
1 small piece of lemon peel (no white pith as this is very bitter).
1 1ltr mason jar/glass bottle.
What to do:
Sterilise the jar before you do anything, using boiling water or Milton. Add all the botanicals except the peel to the jar before adding the vodka. Put in a cool dark place for 24hrs.
Taste it, and it should have some of that juniper ginniness already. Add the peel along with any extra botanicals you want to taste more of. Leave for another 24hrs, shaking at least once, and taste it towards the end.
You don’t want to over-stew the mix, just like a good cup of tea really! When you’re happy, filter out the botanicals with a sieve, some muslin cloth or a coffee filter. Let it sit for another couple of days before filtering out any further sediment.
If you want to remove any colour from the liquid, you could run it through a water filter if you wanted to – don’t worry though, it won’t make any difference to the taste.
Lastly, stick it in a bottle, slap a sticky label on it and invite some friends round to enjoy it!
Until next time!
In the previous issue, I gave you a simple recipe to make your own gin at home, and I hope those of you who gave it a bash managed to make a tasty drink! This will be the last of this series about gin, where I’ll go through some of the different gin and mixer pairings that work well together, particularly given there are so many types of gin, (and tonic!) out there!
Depending on who you’re talking to, they’ll tell you there are anywhere from 4 to 10+ different groups that you can put a gin into. I reckon there are 5 top level groups that you can fit pretty much every gin into, and each 1 of these groups will have a couple of mixers that brings out the best flavours in that gin. Of course, you can then further segment each one of those groups and pair them up with other mixers that work just as well.
My first group is for traditional juniper-forward gins, typically with a dry, bitter finish. These classically go with plain tonics that emphasise the juniper, or elderflower tonic’s which add a complimentary sweet floral element to the drink. They’re also a great base to experiment with other flavours such as herbs (sage/thyme/rosemary/mint), or fruits, (strawberry and black pepper/grape and mint/raspberry and lime), or other flavours such as coffee or chocolate!
My second grouping comprises fruity gins. We’ve seen a huge growth in these gins over the last 2 years, and they’re typically either sweet, or aromatic and dry. These gins work best with elderflower, lemon or ginger tonics, but start out with a light tonic that will help you understand the specific flavours of each gin. The addition of berries, or fruits such as apples or pears, will round out or enhance what’s been added to the gin during distillation.
Herbal gins like Gin Mare have that savoury element that compliments the dry juniper notes of a classic gin. Any botanical tonic, Fever Tree’s Mediterranean, or Fentimans 1905 in particular will allow these gins to sing, but try it with some juicy strawberries and basil leaves, or rosemary and black peppercorns. If you’re open to new tastes, add a double shot to some tomato juice and a few drops of hot pepper sauce – a tasty alternative to a Bloody Mary!
Citrussy gins, such as lemon, blood orange, or grapefruit gins have enough going for them that they work best with a simple tonic and a complimentary garnish to emphasise the base citrus. Add a sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary to take it out of the ordinary.
My last group comprises spicy gins such as Ophir, which go well with warming tonics like ginger ale, or aromatic tonic. Add fresh lime, maybe a slice of chilli or ginger to add extra depth to the drink. They’ll also take a sweeter mixer like lemonade, so it’s pretty much down to your individual taste.
Rich - The Beer Emporium