Why is my gin cloudy?
Gin goes cloudy due to a phenomenon known as louching. This is where the alcohol (a solvent) is no longer strong enough to keep the oils (the flavor compounds) dissolved in the solution. The oils then precipitate out, resulting in a white, milky-colored liquid. This can be due to a drop in temperature or adding water.
Before we dive into the intimate intricacies of gin cloudiness and louching, let us first indulge in the fascinating tale of one of the most popular alcoholic drinks of all time. As a long-time bartender and spirit enthusiast, perhaps one of my favorite drinks, and subsequently drink origin stories, is the always popular gin and tonic with a lime.
Although many historians have credited Holland as the original inventor of gin, and Britain as its main producer and consumer, India is most credited with the creation of an all-time classic cocktail, the gin and tonic with lime. Back in the 1700s, during the British colonialism of India, Indian sailors would load barrels upon barrels of gin onto their boats before setting out on their voyages, never too sure of what the proper amount to bring was.
Throughout the 1700s, especially within India, a lot of anxiety loomed about the dangers and risks these sailors were taking with potentially contracting one of the most widespread and deadliest diseases at the time, malaria. The most effective treatment for malaria was thought to be in the form of a substance extracted from the bark of the Andean fever tree called quinine. However, it was quickly found that quinine was very bitter and almost impossible to ingest by itself alone, so it was extracted and mixed into a drink we know today as tonic water.
The longer these sailors were out at sea, the more gin they drank, for purposes of morality, of course. Unfortunately, these sailors soon found they were quickly running out of gin, and with still a while to go, were almost dry. In a desperate attempt to stretch out rations, and for the safety and wellbeing of the crew, captains began ordering the crew to mix the remaining rations of gin with the quinine, as well as an addition of an old pirate’s trick, limes to combat the vitamin C deficient disease, scurvy. When the sailors arrived safely on land, a drink was born.
Although once heinous diseases like scurvy and malaria aren’t quite as prevalent today as they once were, the novelty of the drink and the gin drinker hasn’t changed much. They’ve just been given more options.
Why does my gin go cloudy when I add tonic?
You may be thinking to yourself, why does a clear, transparent liquor such as gin, suddenly become cloudy when tonic water is added? That drink mysteriously becomes cloudy when ice or tonic is added, because the oil solubility in gin (the measure of how much oil will dissolve in water at a certain temperature and pressure) decreases, turning the once clear and transparent liquid into a cloudy white. In a distilled spirit, such as gin, the aromatic compounds, or oils, found in the botanicals like juniper berries, lemon peel, and orange peel, are absorbed by the spirit in which the botanicals are steeped, or vaporized, which ultimately leaves trace amounts of these oils which provide much of the flavoring to the gin.
Is cloudy gin safe to drink?
Cloudy gin is generally safe to drink and is just evidence of the oils used to flavor the spirit. The cloudiness is almost a good thing to see, because it provides proof that what you are drinking is indeed gin, or another spirit that gets its flavoring from the distillation of botanicals or other oily flavorings.
Now that we’ve covered the basics and dispelled a commonly asked question, it’s time to apply this knowledge a step further, and introduce the gin maker.
Why has my gin gone cloudy when I dilute it?
Most distillers do not chill-filter their gins. However, it is important to distinguish what exactly that process entails. Chill-filter is a filtering process that chills the gin to around 0 degrees Celsius. This process in turn filters the liquid out to remove any outside, or offending, particles. However, the problem with the chiller-filter method is that most of these offending particles are just the essential oils from the botanicals used in the distillation process. While the chill-filter method of storing and drinking gin is sometimes a standard, mostly cosmetic, industry practice, a lot of seasoned gin distillers and drinkers prefer their gin undisturbed and served at or around room temperature. This is because most of the enjoyment of a nice fine gin is derived from the added essential oils, since that is where most of the work, creativity, and originality, comes from. It is often the case that most drinking consumers are trained to only drink clear liquids, so therefore, it’s understandable someone would have a certain amount of anxieties about their gin being cloudy. But at the end of the day, all it means, is that the essential oils are presenting themselves in your glass, and there is nothing to fear.
What is ‘louching’
‘Louching’ is the official or more technical term for when a clear spirit such as gin turns from clear to cloudy, milky, or opaque. When water is added to the gin, it immediately turns the gin from clear to cloudy. The more the gin is diluted with water, the greater the chance the essential oils from the botanicals will come out of suspension and cause the gin to louche. Also, the type of botanicals that are used will affect this as well. The botanicals with the higher amount of oil content, when they begin to be diluted from concentrate, produce a greater chance that the gin will louche.
Is louching a bad thing?
No, gin louching is not a bad thing, but rather a matter of style and taste. Some people, most often the casual drinker, can sometimes think louching looks suspicious, or rather, have been trained to see liquid clarity as more appealing, and louching as dirty, but that does not mean there is anything wrong with the drink.
How to correct gin louching?
When doing the initial distillation, the stiller can take what is called a “bigger heads cut.” That means, as soon as the spirit starts collecting in the still, collect the first portion that comes out, and discard it. There are many oils at the start of the distillation process because the still takes time to heat up, so the first fraction will be distilled many times, and as the vapor hits a cold section of the still, it turns back into a liquid and gives off its energy to heat up the still. This process leads to a heavy concentration of early juniper oils that need to be cut or discarded so that it does not overpower the gin. Another thing that can be done is “an earlier tails cut.” This is where the distiller doesn’t collect as many of the heavy oils at the end of the distillation, which will leave the stiller with less overall gin concentrate. Diluting the product with less deionized water will also correct gin louching and prevent it from happening in the first place.