Gin 101 – Production

Let’s start with the basics. What is gin? How is it made? Gin starts life as a vodka. The definition of vodka is a spirit distilled to 96% or more alcohol by volume (abv). Also known as a neutral alcohol and the best has no taste at all. There are many possible base materials but most often used are grain, potatoes or molasses. This vodka must be then flavoured with the distinct, ‘piney’ essence of juniper to become a gin. A fine gin should contain at least 6-10 botanicals. Most often used are corriander, angelica root, citrus peel, cinnamon (or cassis- a commonly used variant), though in today’s Artisan world there is a huge spectrum of different botanicals allowing ever growing combinations of different flavours.

Once the distillation process is completed the liquid is then diluted with water to bring it down to desired abv. The minimum is 37.5%, although the strength needs to be higher (around 40%) to be considered premium and most prefer to drink around 42%. Navy strength runs at 57% (a whole story in itself). A higher alcohol level means a higher quality and therefore comes with a higher price tag due to the higher duty cost. There are 3 main types of gin:

Compound gin

This is a basic gin and is not redistilled. It has the botanicals and flavourings infused or mixed in. It’s labelled simply as gin and won’t be of the best quality as the distiller doesn’t have to worry about getting it right first time and can easily mask any unpleasantness with additives.

Distilled gin

Distilled gin is made from a neutral spirit (vodka) which is then infused with juniper berries and botanicals and redistilled. Alcohol and flavourings may be added after distillation and the end product may be coloured or sweetened. This means that small tweaks can be made but the original distillation needs to be good enough.

London Dry Gin

London Dry Gin is redistilled with juniper berries and botanicals. The flavourings may be added only during distillation and must be natural. The ethyl alcohol must be of high quality and the gin must contain at least 70% alcohol after distillation. No colouring can be added but sugar can be. This means the distiller has to get the flavour right first time, so this is classed as one of the highest qualities of gin production. London Dry Gin refers to the process only, therefore it doesnt need to be made in London and although preferred, it won’t necessarily taste like the heavy juniper taste we associate with London Dry. Additionally to juniper it can also include a wealth of different botanicals.

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