How Gin Is Made | Ingredients & Production
In the United States, gin is any distilled alcoholic beverage primarily flavored with juniper berries and with an ABV of at least 40%.
This leaves plenty of room for variation and experimentation, but the leading varieties and styles of gin are made a certain way.
How To Make Gin
In earlier times, gin was a cheap, easy-to-make, addictive, and dangerous drink favored by the poor. Today, it remains relatively easy to produce, both commercially and privately by those who have the proper experience and equipment.
Mash & Fermentation
Most gin starts as a grain like wheat, corn, barley, or some mix thereof. This is ground up, mixed with boiling water, and heated to create a mash.
Once a mash is ready, yeast is added and the heat is lowered. The yeast then ferments the sugars released by the mash, converting it into ethanol and a few other byproducts over the course of a week or two.
After fermentation is 100% complete the mix is filtered through a cheesecloth to separate the mash water from any solids or sediments left behind.
This liquid is then put through the distillation process, distilling/separating/concentrating the ethanol (alcohol) from the other liquid.
Importantly, the first 5% of the distillate (the foreshot) should be thrown away, as well as the next 30% (heads), as these will contain methanol and acetone along with other unwanted congeners.
Next comes the hearts, the 30% of the mix a distiller really wants. This neutral spirit is made up of nearly-pure ethanol.
The tails comes last, bringing with it unwanted organic compounds. This is likely re-distilled for purity.
What sets gin apart is the process of steeping and the wide-range of different ingredients that can be used.
The base spirit is placed in a pot still with juniper berries and any other flavoring compounds the distiller prefers.
The spirit is then steeped for up to 48 hours and distilled, extracting the now-flavored compound gin (sometimes known as bathtub gin) from the solids and sediment left behind.
This steeped spirit is then diluted with distilled water to achieve the correct alcohol content and bottled.
Other Gin Bases & Botanicals
While most gin is made from grains like corn, barley, rye, or corn, it’s possible to use a wide range of other bases. In fact, gin was originally distilled from wine, creating a unique subtype of gin known as genever that is still made today.
If it has sugar in it, that sugar can be fermented into ethanol, and that ethanol can be flavored to create either traditional or brand-new original varieties of gin.
In recent years, distillers have been successful making wine from bases as diverse as honey, molasses, sugar cane, apples, potatoes, grapes, carrots, milk whey, and much more.
Traditionally gin was flavored with juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root, and orris root. But today common additions may include:
- cardamom pods
- lemon peel
- orange peel
- cinnamon sticks or cassia
- bay leaf
Types Of Gin
While gin comes in a wide range of modern styles, some key types include:
London Dry Gin
This is widely considered the best gin variety, or at least the most sophisticated. It uses a specific distillation process that integrates botanicals into the distillation process, popularized in London centuries ago. It does not include artificial flavors or any sweeteners.
This gin is a bit sweeter and subtler, with notes of juniper mixing with liquorice and orris.
Old Tom Gin
An older and sweeter gin than the others, Old Tom features sugar or honey originally used to disguise poor-quality distillates.
This red-tinted drink is made by steeping finished gin with sugar and sloe berries, creating a sweeter and differently-flavored final product.
Making Your Own Gin
Distilling homemade gin without the proper permits is a crime in the United States, though good quality distillery kits are widely available for making industrial ethanol.
Classic Gin Cocktails
Gin recipes for mixed drinks are widespread. But two of gin’s oldest and best-known classic cocktails include:
Gin & Tonic
Gin is famous for its part in gin and tonic, a classic drink with a bitter taste balanced out by the zest of the gin and citrus garnish.
Gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup mix in a tall glass with ice for a sharp, fizzy, and refreshing outdoor drink known as the Tom Collins.
Gin & Alcohol Dependence
Gin was once considered an especially dangerous and addictive drink. But in reality, any alcohol can become habit-forming if abused.
How Much Does Gin Cost?
The price of gin varies widely depending on the type and brand. In general, aged gin and gin made with rare ingredients is the most expensive.
The most common types of gin and their price ranges include:
- London Dry Gin, which usually costs between $12 and $70 per 750ml bottle
- Navy Strength Gin, which usually costs between $25 and $50 per 750ml bottle
- Old Tom Gin, which usually costs between $22 and $40 per 750ml bottle
- Plymouth Gin, which usually costs about $30 per 750ml bottle
Learn more about Gin Brands & Prices
What Does Gin Taste Like?
The taste of gin depends on how it’s made and the ingredients used. In general, it has a juniper, pine, or coriander flavor.
To learn more, read What Does Gin Taste Like?
How Much Alcohol Is In Gin?
Gin is 40 percent alcohol on average, or 80 proof. Actual alcohol levels across brands may vary, but gin is a strong type of alcohol even when it is mixed into cocktails.
Learn more about Gin Alcohol Content
Is Gin Good For you?
Gin is made with juniper berries, which offer health benefits such as:
- reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses
- reduced risk of infections
- healthier skin
- longer lifespan
Unfortunately, the effects of juniper berries don’t seem to survive the fermentation process (the process in which juniper berries become gin). That means drinking gin doesn’t necessarily offer any health benefits.
To learn more, read Is Drinking Gin Good For You?
Is It Risky To Drink Gin Straight?
Drinking gin straight can be dangerous if you drink frequently or in large quantities. Abusing any alcohol, like gin, can lead to heart disease, liver disease, and pancreatitis. Alcohol can also impact brain functioning and cause cognitive impairment, including memory loss.
Learn more about the risks of Drinking Gin Straight
Does Drinking Too Much Gin Lead To A Hangover?
Drinking too much gin can cause a hangover. Hangovers can lead to nausea, headaches, and decreased productivity the next day. Controlling your gin intake is an effective way of avoiding a hangover.
Learn more about Gin Hangovers
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