Gin is a beverage that has existed for longer than most, from dutch geneva to the gin we know today. It can take on many forms and be prepared in a variety of what depending on where you’re from and what botanicals are selected to be used.
But, despite being around for so long, a lot of mystery still seems to surround its production.
How exactly is gin made?
In this article, we’ll go over the three main ways it’s made, and the differences each of them have with each other that go into affecting the final result.
Read more: This guide takes you step by step through the process of making gin at home.
What Exactly Is Gin?
Gin is a distilled spirit made from a neutral spirit base like vodka or pure ethanol. It’s then combined with botanicals using a method like maceration, vapor infusion, or infusion. Juniper berries are what make gin, gin, and typically these comprise about 80% of the botanical bill but contemporary gins are starting to challenge this by using much less juniper (or much more!)
Method 1 – Maceration
In this method, the botanicals are soaked or steeped into neutral alcohol before distillation. This could be;
- In the boiler of the distill for a few days, and left in for distillation
- Added just before distillation
- Macerated, then removed before distillation
.Think of this method of making gin as something akin to tea bags steeped in hot water. They are usually soaked for a fixed period of time — usually a day but longer depending on the specific distiller’s recipe. The botanicals added can either be any one or more of the ingredients. This results in almost limitless variations in taste afterward.
Examples of botanicals include but are not limited to Juniper, Coriander seeds, Angelica root, Orris root, Citrus peels (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit), Cassia aka Chinese cinnamon, Cardamom, Nutmeg. Some tropical variations of gin also have it being made from mango or other fruits. Read more on our complete guide to gin botanicals here
Afterward, the regular process of distillation takes place — the mixture is boiled to convert it to vapor, then the vapor travels through the pot head of the still and through a condenser tube where it condenses back into liquid. Thus, resulting in the final gin. Quite a straightforward process.
Some brands that use maceration to produce their gins include Plymouth, Bombay Saphire, Copper & Kings, and Beefeater.
Pros of Maceration:
- Easy to perform and requires no extra equipment or tools. The tools used in this method have rarely changed through the ages. They are rarely available in all sizes so even home-distillers can make it.
- Depending on the desired flavor, it can produce a gin with very distinct taste notes. The fact the flavors are steeped into the alcohol means that the flavors are more pronounced.
- Some say it produces better tasting gin than vapor infusion — this though depends on the kind of botanicals used more than the actual method itself.
Cons of Maceration:
- Some botanicals do not produce good flavors using the macerated method. This is because they are already so potent that, when used in maceration, produces far too strong a taste.
- Due to the need for steeping the botanicals, it might take longer to perfect and perform than the other methods.
- This ‘hot boil’ method can change/destroy some flavor compounds
Method 2 – Vapor Infusion
Whereas maceration is a technique that sees the botanicals being steeped into the neutral spirit first. In the vapor infusion method, the alcohol is boiled first to produce ethanol vapor. The vapors then travel through a mesh basket that is packed with botanicals before they go into a condenser to be cooled back into a liquid state. The flavors acquired through vapor infusion are vastly different from that of maceration due to its lower temperature and it is basically only getting the sweat of the botanicals.
For instance, it produces a more subtle and lighter flavor compared to maceration. If you are working with an especially potent and flavourful botanical, vapor infusion might be the way to go.
Brands that use vapor infusion include Bombay Saphire and London Dry Gin.
Pros of Vapor Infusion:
- It is much faster to make compared to maceration.
- it’s possible to add and remove botanicals mid-run with this method.
- It allows an infusion of typically potent botanicals that might otherwise be too strong if macerated
- Good for floral and citrus components
Cons of Vapor Infusion:
- Generally less efficient at extraction than maceration. Therefore you’ll need more botanicals
- Gin basket can become ‘crowded’ which blocks the still and doesn’t utilise many of the botanicals
- Flavors are generally less intense
Method 3 – Infusion
The gins resulting from this kind of method might also be known as compound gins. They are the result of a mixing of the two earlier methods or of steeping without distillation. Steeping with distillation entails simply soaking the botanicals in the base alcohol for a long time. The finished product will then be heavily watered down in order for it to be consumable.
Sometimes, a gin maker would like to play with the accents and notes that might be acquired from merging methods and, thus, will produce a compound gin.
These are usually the product of home distillers experimenting and playing with flavors though some big gin brands do engage in compound infusions. This is more akin to gin made in survival situations though and rarely bear a pleasurable taste unless done with a degree of finesse.
Pros of Infusion:
- Allows for more freedoms with regards to how much you can play with flavors. This is a method sometimes employed by those working in large gin brands who’s job it is to search for new flavors to infuse.
- Can sometimes result in flavors that cannot be arrived at with only one method.
Cons of Infusion:
- As is the case with steeping without distillation, some countries might not consider it to fit the definition of gin.
- Even when made professionally, they are generally considered lower in quality than traditionally distilled gin.
- It might take longer than either of the first two methods to produce.
- the gin will not be clear and colorless
- Often, sugar is required to balance out the flavors.
No particular method is better than the others. Choosing the best method is simply a matter of preference. Making gin is an art that has taken on many forms throughout the centuries. What matters is that it tastes good and people find enjoyment in the final product.