Anybody who wants to make whiskey is posed with a dilemma. How can I generate revenue while my whiskey matures?
There are many possible solutions. For many, the answer is gin.
Gin is attractive for several reasons. It is increasingly popular and the template for gin is very loose, so there is rich opportunity for creativity.
But what is gin?
Humans mostly ‘taste’ with our sense of smell. This is true in the appreciation of fine spirits and with no category more so than gin. A great gin is almost as much fun to nose as it is to drink.
Gin is neutral spirit that has been flavored. Juniper berry is the signature note, but usually just the beginning. Citrus peel (orange, lemon, lime) is common, as are coriander seed and cassia bark. Nothing is off-limits so distillers can experiment to their heart's content.
Most producers regardless of size don’t make the neutral spirit, they buy it from a specialized distiller. Although the neutral spirit doesn’t have to be made from grain it usually is.
Cheap gins get their flavor and aroma—what there is of it—from a liquid concentrate made in a flavorings lab. The producer takes a tank of neutral spirit, adds a few quarts of concentrate, stirs it, and bottles it up.
Artisanal gin-makers use a more laborious method. They take the natural seeds, berries, barks and peels (known collectively as 'botanicals') and infuse them into the spirit through a re-distillation process that both captures and concentrates the delicate, savory flavors and aromas. Most craft distillers find a pot still dedicated to gin production is the way to go, although there are many variations.
One way gin producers can distinguish themselves is by growing some or all of their botanicals. This is what Castle & Key intends to do. They will feature the botanicals garden as part of their landscaping.
Although you shouldn’t mess around with re-distillation, you can make gin at home using an infusion process. You just soak the botanicals in vodka, heated slightly (but be careful you don’t cook off the alcohol). You can get juniper berries and other suitable flavorings in the spice rack at the supermarket, although a specialized herbs and spices store will have more variety.
Juniper berries also are good for flavoring beef and lamb.
Most new gin makers will produce the London dry style, which also dominates the major commercial brands. Plymouth gin is a different style, slightly less dry.
A very different style is Dutch gin, which is the original gin. It shows a lot of the green spirit, like slivovitz, or a pomace brandy such as marc or grappa. You get bitter lemon and rye grass, and not much juniper or other aromatics. Unlike London Dry gins, Dutch gins contain sweetener, which makes them literally bittersweet, like horehound candy.
Dutch gin is common in The Netherlands, of course, but also in French Canada. It is unlikely that many American craft distillers will make oude genever.