With the rise in gins popularity over the past few years even after the gin boom, we are often asked how do you make gin? Whether you’re interested in making your own at home or just a gin lover, it’s useful to learn how gin is actually made.
Before we get started its important to know the law. This article is purely written for information. Distilling any spirit in the UK requires licenses and registration with HMRC. Just to be extra clear – Distilling alcohol (including gin) is illegal in the UK. Emma, Joe and Springmount Spirits cannot be held responsible for the actions taken by any individuals not acting within the parameters of the law. Now that’s out the way lets get on with the article.
The history of gin can be traced all the way back to the 16th century in what we now call the Netherlands. Originally it was called “genever“. Genever is still actually made today from its original recipe although London dry gin’s recipe has evolved since then.
Originally Genever was made using malt wine which gave it a malty flavour taste. Genever can be split into two types – Oude and Jonge. The older “Oude” is the much more traditional style of genever and contained 15 – 50% abv malt wine base. This created a heavier malty taste along with a deeper flavour.
“Jonge” is the newer version and uses less malt wine which creates a lighter flavour. The malt wine used is a lower ABV as well usually up to 15%
Fast forward through time
Gin was introduced to Britain in 1689 when William of Orange became King and brought genever with him from the Netherlands. Society tended to emulate the Kings behaviour and so the demand for genever increased.
King William of Orange passed the ‘Act For The Encouraging The Distilling Of Brandy And Spirits From Corn,’ which meant common people now had access to all sorts of spirits. Its no wonder there was a 400% increase in the production of gin!
How gin is made
In order to produce a basic version, a two-step process is required. The first one being the base alcohol. This is typically a “neutral grain spirit”. As mentioned above the early versions of the base alcohol where actually wine made from malt.
Gins base spirit can actually be made using fermenting and distilling any agricultural product. Examples of this are corn, wheat and malt. In fact, these three can also be combined and used the create the base spirit as well!
In order to make this from scratch the agricultural products as combined with distillers malt, yeast and several gallons of water. These ingredients are usually heated up to around 152 °F whilst being mashed together. Lastly, the ingredients are left for 1 – 2 weeks to ferment.
The perfect ABV for the base alcohol is around 80% ABV.
The second step is botanicals. Everyone has heard of botanicals! This fun part is all about creation. Gin is all about botanicals and is what sets this spirit apart from the others. Every gin uses their own combination of botanicals, the most popular ones uses are:
- Angelica Root
- Corriander Seeds
Of course the most important of all these botanicals is Juniper. People often confuse the taste of gin and juniper. When people say they prefer the older styles, it’s really all down to the amount of juniper the gin contains.
Adding the botanicals can seem like a really simple process. Often people imagine throwing random amounts of botanicals into a pot similar to adding herbs when cooking. Much more science is involved than this! Each botanical is carefully and more specifically chosen to create depth and flavour to the gin.
When we create our gin, weeks and months are spent carefully choosing the botanicals so the end result is perfect. Each one of our gins have balancing botanicals as well as the “main” ones that we list on the bottle.
A great example of this is our Mint and Lime Gin. It doesn’t just have mint and lime in it. It contains another 9 botanicals to create a deep and well-rounded taste.
This can often confuse people into thinking it is a liqueur. Liqueurs are not made how we are describing here. A bit about liqueurs can be found further on in this article.
Heads, Hearts and Tails
The base alcohol is then placed into a still along with the botanicals and heated up. The steam is collected in the top of the still and cooled back down into liquid. This liquid is actually the gin distilled.
Not all the liquid taken from the still can be used to bottle though and thats were heads, hearts and tails come sin.
The first 5% of the gin produced is called foreshots and contain methanol. This is extremely toxic and extremely volatile. This can not be consumed. Methanol causes a variety of negative ill health effects such as blindness.
Following from foreshots is the heads. This is the next 30% that comes off the still. This is full of volatile alcohol called acetone. Acetone is also dangerous and whilst wont cause blindess will give you the worlds worst hangover!
This 30% of the gin is the keeper. This is the part full of flavour and most importantly safe to drink. The hearts of the gin is the bit that gets cut down to bottling strength and then bottled and sold.
The last 35% of the distillation is tails. Tails are weak and watery as the oils from the botanicals seep through into the liquid. Ideally, these are thrown away or used to form part of the base alcohol wash. Unfortunately, some gin distillers add a portion of their tails to the hearts in order to produce more gin to bottle. At Springmount Spirits we do not do this and only bottle the hearts in our gin.
After distillation, the gin is then watered down to bottling strength. All our gins are 40% ABV.
A quick note about gin liqueurs. These are much sweeter than gins and often contain added sugars and preservatives. They are also a much lower ABV which is usually around 20%.
A gin liqueur is made by soaking something edible in real gin. Anything can be used such as fruit, vegetables and even sweets. Making gin liqueur is much simpler and creates a weaker tasting drink.
Let the adventure be-gin
Gin really is an art form! From creating the base alcohol to choosing the botanicals. Each gin is as unique as the people who make it. We love creating our gins (and our rum too) and sharing our journey with you.
Until next time