How to Make Gin

Learn how to make a tasty, juniper based gin known as Genever, that’ll mix nicely, so you can enjoy delicious, homemade Gin and Tonics.

| May 2019

gin-glass
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When I was starting to learn about distilling, one of the first things I thought about making was gin. I had only a hazy idea, at the time, of how gin was made, and no idea at all about what grains were used to make it. Then there are the juniper berries and other flavoring ingredients, referred to on gin bottle labels as "botanicals." The more I read about gin, the more intimidated I began to feel. Compared to making whiskey or rum, the process of making gin seemed complicated and a bit mysterious.

When I finally did get around to trying it, I decided to begin with genever-style gin. Although it is a multi-step process involving several distillation runs, for some reason it appealed to me as a place to start.

Genever is the Dutch word for "juniper,” the evergreen shrub whose aromatic berries supply the dominant flavor of gin. Traditionally, genever is distilled to a lower proof than London dry gin; it is also usually lightly sweetened. The two main styles of genever are oude {old) and jonge (young). These terms refer not to the age of the spirit but to the recipes used: oude is the old or traditional recipe, and jonge is the more modern recipe. As in the United States and Canada, the ingredients used and the alcohol content are defined by law. Dutch law also specifies the level of sweetening that is accept­ able in different types of genever.



Genever was originally created around 1650 by a Dutch doctor, Franciscus de la Boe. It was promoted as a medicinal tonic; juniper berries were well-known even then for their diuretic properties. Genever quickly became popular outside of Holland, particularly in England, where its use as a beverage soon outgrew its medicinal use. By the early 1700s, the more full-bodied, slightly sweet genever was changing in England to a lighter, cleaner style that became known as London dry gin. This style, still the most widely known gin type, is much closer to a neutral spirit than traditional genever, as it is distilled to a higher proof.

genever-jars

Compared with London dry gin, the process of making genever is unique. London dry gin is typically made from a mash of wheat or rye, while genever utilizes corn, rye and malted barley. The fermented mash is then distilled twice to make a "malt wine," a full-bodied spirit not unlike malt whiskey. The malt wine is then steeped with juniper berries and other botanicals and then redistilled. This results in a complex and very interesting gin. Some genevers are then aged in barrels, increasing the smoothness and flavor profile.

Just reading through the process of making genever, it sounds like a labor of love. Some low-quality mass­ market gins are made by simply mixing extracts of juniper berries and other botanicals with a base spirit (a neutral spirit similar to vodka). Top-quality gins are distilled at least three times; during distillation, the vapors rise through a special basket that holds the botanicals, picking up the flavors and resulting in a subtle and complex gin. Genever is usually distilled to 72 to 80 proof

(36% to 40% ABV), while London dry gins are typically distilled to 80 proof or more.

When I made my first batch of genever, I decided from the start not to sweeten it. The addition of sugar, along with the fuller body of the malt wine-based spirit, has given genever the reputation of not being recommended for mixed drinks. Being a fan of the classic Gin & Tonic myself, I decided to try to make a genever-style gin that would lend itself easily to the G & T, and maybe even a martini.

Ingredients

  • 4.2 gallons (16 L) of water
  • 4.4 pounds (2 kg) cracked corn
  • 4.4 pounds (2 kg) malted barley
  • 4.4 pounds (2 kg) rye {malted or unmalted)
  • 1 gallon (4 L) of water
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) distilling yeast
  • 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons (15 to 20 ml) of lightly crushed juniper berries

Fermentation

  1. Heat 4.2 gallons of water to 74°C/165°F.
  2. Stir in grains, cover and hold for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat 1 gallon of water to about 93°C/200°F and add to mash pot, stirring well.
  4. Cover and hold for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  5. Increase temperature of mash to 72°C/162°F, stirring frequently. Cover and hold 30 minutes.
  6. Strain liquid from grains into fermenting bucket.
  7. Cool liquid to about  28°C/82°F.
  8. Pitch yeast (I used 2 tablespoons distilling yeast) and  ferment.

Distillation

  1. Transfer wash to still, keeping back as much of the yeast slurry as possible.
  2. Do a stripping run, aiming for a distillate of about 30% ABV.
  3. Redistill low wines to about 46% to 48% ABV.
  4. Divide malt wine into four equal volumes (I used quart Mason jars).
  5. Part one stays pure malt wine.
  6. Part two is redistilled to 75% ABV.
  7. Part three: Add lightly crushed juniper berries to the jar. Let soak 2 to 3 days and then redistill.
  8. Part four: Grind and add remaining botanicals (below) to the jar, let soak 2 to 3 days and then redistill.

 

Botanicals

  • 3 tablespoons (10 g) juniper berries
  • 1-1/2teaspoons (s g) coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon (2 g) wormwood
  • 1 teaspoon (2 g) angelica root
  • 2 teaspoons hops (4 g) or 1 teaspoon (2 g) if pelletized (I used homegrown East Kent Goldings hops)
  • 3/4 teaspoon (2 g) caraway seed
  • 1 teaspoon (2 g) each: lemon peel, orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: lavender flowers and lemon grass
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cubeb, grains of paradise, anise seed, peppercorns, orris root
  • Combine all four volumes of malt wine.

juniper-berries

At this point, I thought the aroma of the genever was very pleasant but not strongly aromatic. I redistilled the spirit one more time in my small essential-oil distiller, adding juniper berries and lemon and orange peel to the steam chamber above the boiling pot.



This additional distilling run further concentrated the flavors and resulted in a smoother, higher-proof spirit. I then poured it into a half­ gallon Mason jar, diluted it to 40% ABV and added a couple of handfuls of lightly toasted American oak chips to the jar. Then I waited, quite impatiently, for the recommended 3 to 4 weeks before tasting my creation.

 mortar-and-pestel

After all that work, I had finally gotten over my initial timidity about making gin. And, oh boy, did I enjoy my first Gin & Tonic, made with my first batch of gin! It definitely has a stronger juniper flavor than a lot of gins, and might not be to everyone’s taste in a mixed drink. Personally I think the key is balance: use the right amount of tonic water (see Recipe on page 166). In a later chapter, I'll walk you through the process of making your own tonic water.

I'll keep working on my genever recipe and techniques, but over­ all I'm very pleased with the results from my first attempt at making gin.

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More from Craft Distilling


Excerpted with permission from Craft Distilling by Victoria Redhed Miller, Published by New Society Publishers.





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