Gin is easily one of the most popular alcoholic beverages. The rise in its popularity has led to an endless amount of flavours constantly being produced, as well as a vast array of flavoured tonics specifically designed to be enjoyed with this alcoholic beverage too.
There are plenty of options and combinations out there to explore and be enjoyed, as well as an explosion of cocktails that feature this popular spirit as the base alcohol for many cocktail recipes.
But how is gin made? And what does gin have to have to be classified as a gin and not a ‘gin liqueur’ – that is what we are going to talk about in this blog and discuss the process of how to make gin.
What is Gin?
Gin is a spirit that is distilled from a natural based grain of wheat or barley, the flavours in gin come from gin botanicals such as herbs, seeds, spices, flowers and plants. Gin makers produce the gin by infusing the neutral spirit with the flavours until the desired flavours are met.
The main key ingredient for gin is juniper berries – and for gin to be called gin, juniper berries must be the key ingredient and predominant flavour – which is a rule by law. They also must be at least 37.5% of pure alcohol in the volume of liquid, which is the A.B.V you see on the bottle.
There are three traditional types of gin which are London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin and Old Tom Gin. The more modern types of gins cannot fall into any of these traditional gin categories including flavoured gin, gin liqueurs and sloe gin.
How is Gin Made?
For gin production, there are a few different distilling methods that can be used to create many different flavours of gin. Gin makers follow a few basic steps to produce gin.
Combine the Base Ingredients
To make the base, a mixture of the prepared and dried grains are brought together. Gin makers will then heat and stir the mixture which is sometimes referred to as ‘gin mash’. When it is well combined it is ready to ferment.
The base mixture is stored for a specified amount of time, which is often between one to two weeks, this fully ferments the mixture and the compounds begin to break down and produce a simple and natural alcohol.
Once the fermentation of the ingredients has completed, the liquid is strained away from the fermented solids, they’ll discard the solids and use the liquid to make the gin.
Next, it’s time to distil. This is a process that purifies a liquid by heating and vaporising it, then collecting the vapour as it re-condenses to a liquid. The recondensed liquid is considered purer since it leaves behind many impurities when it evaporates and becomes more alcoholic.
Different approaches to distillation can be done, some gin makers may distil only once or twice while others may be required to repeat the distillation process several times before the liquid and therefore alcohol is completely pure. Botanicals can be added at various stages of this process too.
Collect the Product
The liquid that comes from the distillation process is not all the same, as ethanol distils, the resulting liquid changes.
The first 35% of the distillation results in an ethanol product that contains methanol or acetone and can be highly toxic. Distillers usually throw out the containers of these liquids which are called ‘foreshots’ and ‘heads’.
‘Hearts’ are the best and most usable product, which make up 30%. Then the final 35% are the ‘tails’ which again, are impure but can still be kept back and redistilled to get a bit more product.
Flavoured gin is a term that has sprung up due to the modern boom in spirits pushing all the boundaries of the traditional spirits including gin. Adding all the flavours and aromas to this popular distilled drink.
The traditional and common botanicals take more of a back seat with flavoured gins, containing more strong flavours from fruits, spices and berries and due to their high sugar content and lower alcoholic volume with lack of the ever so important juniper berries. They legally have to be advertised and labelled differently. This is why you see a lot of flavoured gins labelled as ‘gin liqueurs’, as they don’t qualify to meet the full requirements to have the label of a gin.