You can easily make your own gin at home without the need of distilling your own spirit. You may have heard the expression, “Gin is just flavored vodka.” That’s pretty spot-on, and with the right botanicals, you can create your own personal gin with very little effort. In the following post, I will break down some of the basics of gin and how to make a Compound Gin.
Gin is on a hot streak lately, and new gins are popping up all over the world at a record pace. Distilleries are pushing the envelope of flavor with new and interesting additions to challenge the classic London dry gin style. The first gin I remember that really took me by surprise is St. George’s Terroir; a gin created to invoke the taste of California with its botanicals. Terroir has a beautiful woodsy douglas fir aroma along with sage and citrus. Another gin I enjoy, Copper & Kings, uses apple wine with no neutral spirit as their base, giving the gin a fruit-forward flavor with flowery notes. There are many others out there. The world of gin is ever-expanding. And you can be a part of it at home.
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HOW GIN IS MADE
Gin is made, in the simplest terms, by macerating (infusing) botanicals into a neutral grain spirit (e.g. vodka), and then distilling the infusion to produce a clear spirit. This method is referred to as the steep and boil method. However, there are many other ways to make gin. Along with steep and boil, there is vapor-infusion, vacuum distillation, individual botanical distillation, and multi-shot distillation, and the method we talk about below, compound gin.
The key botanical that makes a spirit gin is that it must contain juniper. Coriander is another main component in most gins. After juniper and coriander, anything is fair game, within reason of course.
Distilleries can use one or all of the methods for making gin. For example, to make St. George’s Terroir Gin they distill the douglas fir and sage on their own in a 250 liter still, then vapor-infuse the juniper and fresh bay laurel in a gin basket, along with the rest of the botanicals thrown right into their 1500 liter still. They do all this to preserve the flavors to the best of their ability and make a consistent tasting spirit.
For the home bartender/hobbyist, distilling is out of the question, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make gin. You can make a compound gin. Compound gin is the steep part of the steep and boil method – without the boil. By taking a neutral grain spirit and infusing it with botanicals you are making gin.
A big difference in making a compound gin compared to other methods is that it takes on the color of the botanicals infused in it. The coloration doesn’t have any effect on the flavor.
LET’S MAKE COMPOUND GIN
Before we get to the how-to of making compound gin let’s first talk about safety. Making your own alcohol can be dangerous, even if you aren’t distilling. There are a few things to keep in mind.
- When working with and around alcohol avoid open flames. Don’t smoke while doing this. Don’t do this by candlelight. Just avoid all fire, please.
- Always buy food-grade ingredients.
- Check the botanicals you’ll be combining with Cocktail Safe or another reputable resource, as mixing herbs and botanicals can cause drug interactions or allergic reactions. You don’t want to put anything in your compound gin that could harm you or a friend.*
- Know where the botanicals you are infusing are coming from to ensure quality
*Use Cocktail Safe to find out which botanicals you shouldn’t use and substitutions for them. It is a great website run by Camper English of Alcademics. The site is a great resource not only for botanicals but also for ingredients used in making cocktails. There are also a few books out there that talk about botanicals used in the bar. Botany at the Bar is a cocktail book with recipes for making bitters, shrubs, syrups, and vermouth with a lot of information on botanicals. The Drunken Botanist is another great resource for botanicals used in all aspects of alcohol production.
Let’s all enjoy ourselves responsibly and safely.
THINGS YOU’LL NEED
To make gin you are going to need botanicals – like herbs and roots. There are many places to source quality botanicals on the internet, and here are a few I recommend and use to get my own.
High Desert Botanicals
Mountain Rose Herbs
Penn Herb Co. Ltd.
Foraging for your own botanicals can yield an amazing bounty, but your life is in your hands. If you have the knowledge to discern safe plants from unsafe plants go for it, but if you are the least bit unsure don’t. Also, be aware of chemical pesticides that may have been used on the plants. If you are deep in a forest somewhere you can probably be sure no chemicals have been used, but if you find wild fennel, for example, growing on the side of the road it’s best to avoid it. The city may have sprayed chemicals in that area and just the toxic fumes from cars can have an adverse effect on the plant. Better safe than sorry.
Neutral Grain Alcohol
To make your compound gin you’ll need a neutral grain alcohol. Vodka is an easy and obvious choice, and Everclear also works well. With any recipe, the better your ingredients, the better the product. With that said, you can use lower shelf vodka if you’d like because you will filter it.
The higher proof alcohol, the better the extraction from the botanicals. An 80 proof vodka will work, but 100 proof works better and faster. Everclear comes in 120, 151, and 190 proofs. If you happen to live in an area where you can get the 190 go for it. In the end, you will proof your gin down to 80 proof, so don’t worry about the high alcohol content now. To reiterate, the higher the alcohol the better the extraction from the botanicals, but then end proofing will remain the same.
Tools & Supplies
The tools you will need to make your compound gin can be found in any grocery store, home store, or online.
Depending on the amount of gin you are making get a jar that is close to, or slightly larger than you need. When you put the botanicals in the alcohol the liquid level will rise so err on the larger size.
Cheesecloth, Teabags, or Nutbags
This is what you will use to hold and infuse the botanicals. As you are smelling and tasting your compound gin throughout the process, using a sachet or bag makes it easy to pull one botanical if you feel that it is starting to overpower the gin without having to pull everything out.
I prefer a cheesecloth. I wrap each ingredient individually and secure it with a string. The great thing about cheesecloth is you can make it any size you’d like. The cheesecloth is also used to do initial filtering before the Brita.
If you want to go the teabag or nutbag route make sure to get a few different sizes. The bulk of your botanicals is going to be juniper and possibly coriander so having two large bags helps.
Mortar and Pestle
You’ll use a mortar and pestle to break up some of the botanicals to allow a better infusion. Cardamom for example.
Cast Iron Skillet
Use a cast-iron skillet to release the oils of botanicals for syrups. Distillers also do this for their botanicals. You gently heat up your botanicals in a dry, seasoned skillet until they are fragrant, which will release their oils for infusion. For example, to make St. George Terroir gin they roast their coriander in a well-seasoned wok to release its oils.
Using a digital scale and measuring your ingredients in grams will allow you to be very precise with your recipe. Get a scale that will measure at least to the tenth degree. When making small batches of anything you are generally going to wind up with .4 or .8 of something.
Pitcher Water Filter
This is one of the last steps of the process. During the infusion process, small bits of botanicals can and will float around in the alcohol. The filter helps get those out but it will also clarify the booze to a point as well. Follow the directions for the filter system you bought to prime the filters. Don’t just pour your precious hooch into a brand new filter.
For when you go to bottle your new concoction.
This is used to get all the liquid gold out of the tea bags.
You can recycle your old bottles or buy new bottles online, at stores like Cost Plus, or online.
Hydrometer and Test Tube
If you only use an 80 proof spirit you won’t need these, but if you use a higher proof spirit I recommend that you buy these two items. When you’re done with your infusion and have filtered your compound gin, it’s time to proof your spirit. If you used a 151 proof neutral grain spirit for your infusions you’re going to want to proof that down to 80 proof.
Notepad and Pen
I probably don’t need to say this, but write down everything; all your botanicals, their weights, when and what time they started infusing and when you pulled them. Take note of the alcohol used. How many times you filter it through the Brita or another filter. If you are questioning if you should write something down or not, write it down. It will help you in the future, I guarantee it.
And last but not least, a fun, inquisitive and open attitude. This is a fun experiment. If something goes wrong, it’s just booze. Learning from your mistakes is the best lesson. It seems a bit cheesy but it’s true.
STEPS TO MAKE COMPOUND GIN
For your first batch, I say start with something simple. A basic botanical to alcohol ratio is 20-35 grams botanicals to 1 liter of alcohol. I have culled some of this information from LoveBrewing. (For the method I used, I will reference some of their knowledge and add on to it.)
Making a gin is a bit like an equation. Juniper is the main ingredient in gin so there will be more of it than any other botanical. Here is a simple breakdown.
J = Juniper
.5J = Coriander
.1J = More typical gin flavoring botanicals. For example, angelica, cassia, cinnamon, licorice, bitter almonds, grains of paradise, cubeb berries
.01J = These are either fresh ingredients or more aromatic botanicals. For example, bitter & sweet orange peel, lemon peel, ginger, lavender, orris root, cardamom, nutmeg, savory, calamus, chamomile, fennel, aniseed, cumin, and violet root.
J + .5J + .1J + .01J = 20-35 grams
Example 1 liter batch of compound gin
Juniper 12 g
Coriander 6 g
Angelica root .6 g
Liquorice root .6 g
Orange peel .12 g
Orris root .12 g
Cardamom .12 g
Adds up to 19.56 g of botanicals.
As you can see it’s not exactly 20g. The equation is just a way to keep your botanicals in check and not overpower it. For this example, I could bump up any one of the botanicals or add another botanical. Whatever you do, it’s a nice rule of thumb to keep the botanicals in this rough ratio when you start out making your own gin. After a few batches, you’ll understand your botanicals a little better and how to use them. At that point, you can do whatever you want.
How many botanicals should you use?
That is totally up to you. I recommend starting out making a simple gin to learn the botanicals. Death’s Door gin from Wisconsin only uses three botanicals; juniper, coriander, and fennel. St. George Botanivore gin uses nineteen different botanicals. Barr Hill Tom Cat gin is a barrel-aged gin that only uses juniper and honey.
Step 1: Measuring
Now that you have figured out what botanicals you want to use, measure out each one and place it into its own cheesecloth sachet or tea bag. If you plan on pan-roasting any of your botanicals do it now and let them cool to room temperature before putting them into the sachet. Label the string end of each bag so you know what is what. This will make it easy to know which ones to pull if you think they are overpowering the gin. Write down your recipe along with weights and any notes i.e. pan-roasted coriander for x minutes.
Step 2: Steeping
Fill your sealable jar with the measured neutral grain spirit. Then drop in your tea bags with the strings hanging outside of the jar and seal the jar. You can drop all of your botanicals in at once or you can start with just the juniper and coriander if you are using it. Then after 24 hrs, you can add the other botanicals. Write down the date and time you sealed the jar. Now place the jar in a cool dark place like a closet and wait for 24 hrs.
Step 3: Evaluating
No matter if you did all the botanicals at once, or just the juniper and coriander, it’s a good thing to check it after 24 hrs. It’s also good practice to give the jar a shake now and again as it steeps. I cannot tell you what is good and what is not, you have to evaluate that based on your palate. This is what is so fun about making a compound gin. You are making a gin specific to you. If you didn’t put all the botanicals in at once, after the 24 hrs everything should be soaking. Remember to make a note of when and what you added or subtracted. I had a batch of compound gin go almost four days, so always be tasting and smelling.
Step 4: Filtering
Your gin is now done and you have deemed it worthy of your palate. Grab your salad spinner and place each of the tea bags into it. Give it a good spin. This will get all the last drops of your gin. Pour that liquid back into your jar. Get out your pitcher water filter and prime the new filter to the manufacturer’s specifications. Once primed, pour your gin through the filter. The color may lighten up a little bit and that is ok. It is really up to you on how many times you want to filter it, but since everything was in tea bags you probably don’t have a lot of particulate in the alcohol. With this method, my max filtration is maybe two or three times.
Step 5: Proofing
Now that your gin is filtered, pour some of it into your hydrometer test tube. Place your hydrometer in and take a reading. If you remember anything from high school chemistry, read the line on the hydrometer at the meniscus. Now that you have your reading you can proof your gin to 40% abv or 80 proof.
2 x ((initial proof/proof you want)-1) = x Liters of water to be added
If you have 1 liter of 100 proof or 50% abv gin and want to get down to 80 proof or 40% :
2 x ((50/40)-1)=.25 liters or 250ml of water needed for proofing.
Make sure both your alcohol and water are room temp. Add the two together and you now have your 80 proof gin.
Troubleshooting Cloudy Gin
I have had a compound gin go cloudy. Cloudiness, or turbidity, could be caused by oils from the botanicals. This is only a cosmetic flaw and does not alter the flavor. I have tried a few different methods to fix this issue. One way to fix this is to slowly add alcohol until the cloudiness disappears. Before you go pouring neutral grain spirit into your gin. Give it another filtration. That may solve the problem. I have also tried a somewhat cold filtering process where I placed my gin in the freezer and then filtered it through a coffee filter. The water in the gin will freeze but I let it come to room temp in the filter. This way some of the oils get trapped in the filter. Ultimately, you don’t really need to do any of this if you don’t want to.
Step 6: Bottling
Using a funnel, bottle your compound gin. I highly recommend you use bottles that have swing tops or cork tops. It really is the best way to reduce oxygenation. Screw top bottles can and will cause oxygenation which will alter the flavor.
My first attempt at making my own gin went a little awry. I read Jeff Morganthaler’s post on making your own gin without a still and figured it was easy. I made additions and subtractions to his recipe and guess what? It turned out to be a caraway bomb; more of a kümmel than a gin. Had I stuck to his recipe I may have learned a thing or two. I recommend reading his post.
After that experience, I abandoned my gin making. Then the idea again popped into my head and I sought out other websites to aid in making gin. That’s when I found Lovebrewing.com, one of the top-rated homebrew sites in the UK. They have a lot of helpful information on wine, beer, cider, and spirits. If you are in the UK they have a couple of physical stores you could pop into if the mood strikes your fancy.