Monday, June 13, 2016

Let Them Make Gin

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.


Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

The recent gin "revival" is interesting, to me. On one hand, I like to try new products. And as you note, gin is a good canvas to demonstrate various creative styles.

On the other hand, that's where some of these products lose me, a bit. Some of the newer gins I have tried don't taste like what I consider to be gin. To some degree I suppose it is due to my inexperience with anything other than the London style. I LIKE the taste of juniper.

Well, I'm gaining more experience with other styles (by accident, I suppose) and I still like the taste of juniper. Half the time (or likely more) someone raves about a new gin, I try it and think, "That tastes noting like gin." Typically the response of the recommender is "I know! That's why I like it."

Sam Komlenic said...

As regards cheap gin and compounding, the easiest way to determine if your gin was flavored during distilling or redistilling is to simply look for the word "distilled" on the label, which ensures the gin has not been compounded.

Lots of cheap gins are actually distilled and when you find your sweet spot, on a budget, you can stay gin-happy for not a lot of dough.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that people seem to ignore 'still memory'. As in, when fruit distillers start to distill grains, you taste that even after the stills have been cleaned. So, I think in distilling gin there's always a risk of thereby creating inferior whiskey.

Also, generally a still is one of the most expensive parts of a distillery. By clogging it up with gin, your lessening the output of spirit that can be matured to whiskey.

I would suggest making beer instead. You have the entire mashing and fermenters set up anyway, at least, unless you buy neutral alcohol...

Just a few thoughts.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I thought I made it clear that most agree with you and are making gin in a separate still devoted to that purpose. I apologize for the confusion.

JCK said... - Many places have laws preventing distilleries from selling beer from the same facility. Also, by using your brewing equipment to make drinking beer, you are similarly limiting your ability to make more whiskey by tying up your brewing equipment.

Chuck Cowdery said...

It's an odd rule, but federal rules don't allow a brewery and distillery to operate in the same facility. They can be side-by-side but must be separated by a wall. However, the brewery can supply wash to the distillery.

Unknown said...

Hey, Chuck! This is Ian Newton of the Baltimore Whiskey Company, and this post is right up our alley. I'm glad that you are not critical of this business move on the part of the craft distilling industry (we intitially considered gin to be barely above vodka on the legitimacy scale, but have since grown to truly love making and drinking our own gin). Our gin has really crushed in Baltimore and DC, and we'd never be able to make it the 2 years we want to wait before releasing our whiskey without it as part of our line. Your notes on redistillation are totally on point - we make a brandy liqueur with 100% apple brandy (produced by us) flavored with ginger by redistillation, and I am a huge proponent redistillation as a means of introducing flavors to spirits. We are totally committed to exclusively maturing our own whiskeys in full-sized (53 gallon) casks, and if that means that we have to produce some awesome gin for two years, then so be it. As popular as our gin is, we may end up having to ride the gin train in perpetuity, but talk to us in two years to see whether that remains the case.

Big fan of the work you do for the industry - our thanks to you.