11
Apr
11

Making gin

This is a copy of the gin album I had uploaded to my imgur account and posted to Reddit. I figure I should get a backup on here so it can’t be lost…

First, pour a drink:

To make a drink, you must first drink a drink. No one knows where there first drink came from. It’s a great mystery. I’m all out of gin (that’s why I’m making some, of course), so I’m setting for a beer, and I hope the homebrew gods won’t take exception to this minor slight. Anyway, this album will document how I make my own gin. First of all, we have to create neutral spirits to use as a base, so there’ll be a ferment and a couple of distillations before we even start thinking about gin. I’ll try to keep the jargon to a minimum.

Making the wash

The ‘wash’ is the distillers name for the liquid to be fermented and distilled. I’ll be making about 70L of sugar based wash. That big pot is going to be used to mix up fermentables, yeast nutrients, and some of the water, and it’ll be given a good long boil.

Nutrients

I’m going to help out my yeast a bit by bumping up the nutrient content with a number of things – diammonium phosphate, epsom salts, a B-vitamin tablet, gypsum, and some citric acid to drop my (very hard) local water down to the range where yeast are happy.

And some grain for good luck

I like to thrown in a bit of grain as well, just to make sure that there are traces of everything the yeast need to be happy and healthy little alcohol machines – The less stressed the yeast is, the ‘cleaner’ the end result will be. I normally throw in whatever is lying around. I was out of malt and wheat at the time I made this wash though, so the pantry got raided. Here is some of my flatmate’s oatmeal making the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Inverting the sugar

Inverting the sugar (by boiling it for a while in the presence of an acid) helps the yeast process it more efficiently. After this has been done, I cool this mixture, then add another 40L of water or so (I’m targeting a ‘gravity’ reading of 1.08, as measured by my hydrometer), and pitch the yeast, and wait for the ferment to finish. This bit is boring, so no photos. Now, some beer makers reading this are probably scoffing at a recipe (if you can even call it that) like this, but as we’re shooting for neutral, flavourless spirits, there isn’t much point starting off with grain. This is a hell of a lot easier and cheaper, and we’re going to remove all the flavours later anyway. All we want from this is the ethanol.

Stripping run

The ‘stripping’ run is the first distillation, this is pictured. I use a beer keg as a boiler, and that copper contraption is my pot still head. This is a pretty simple device, it is just a column, a bend, and a jacketed condenser to turn the boiled vapours back into liquid. The condenser is hooked up to a water recirculation system. There is very little finesse to a stripping run. You just run the still as hard as it can (without overwhelming the condenser or ‘puking’, where foam is forced up and out the column), and stop collecting when the alcohol is mostly depleted. I’m stripping directly into another keg boiler here, because after a couple of these stripping runs, I’ll have enough “low wines” (that’s what the stripped wash is called) to bother getting out my reflux still and doing a “spirit run”.

Alcometer

To measure the progress of the stripping run, I use my alcometer – this tells me the strength of a given sample. The output ABV will slowly drop, and when the output drops below about 20%, there is very little alcohol left in the boiler, and it isn’t really worth the energy to continue to extract it.

Spirit run

Right, so over a couple of ferments and stripping runs I’ve collected 40L of low wines at 40%. Now we fire up the big reflux still to make the neutral spirits that will be the base for a gin. A reflux still creates a very pure product by condensing a portion of the vapour and returning it down the column, where it mingles with the ot vapour coming from the boiler. The end result is that the ‘heavier’, higher boiling point compounds (such as water) get returned to the boiler, and the lighter fractions (like ethanol) make their way to the top. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the idea in a nutshell.

Vapour management

This is the top of my reflux column. The valve allows me to change the proportion of vapour that is returned as reflux, and the amount that is taken off as product. The thermometer allows me to see what I need to be doing with the valve, as the vapour temperature tells me the strength (%ABV) of the product being taken off at that time.

And the results….

This shows my alcometer giving a reading of 96%ABV. This is pretty much as strong as you can distill ethanol at normal atmospheric pressures.

Reducing takeoff

This is towards the end of the run. You can see that the valve is mostly shut – I’m mostly returning vapour as reflux, to supress various undesirable compounds and keep my ethanol clean. Eventually, like with the stripping run, I’ll decide that the last little bit of ethanol isn’t worth the time and energy, and shut down.

The run, cuts.

You have to make ‘cuts’ in a spirit run to keep the ‘heads’ (i.e. nasty hangover juice) out of the main run. These bottles are lined up in order of takeoff. The first three will be cut (although the 3rd bottle is still better than most commercial vodkas, I’ve got high standards). This means I’ve got 5L of heads that will be used as a general purpose solvent around the shed, and 13L of very clean, neutral spirits at 96%. I don’t bother taking off the ‘tails’ (mainly fusel oils) section of the run on my reflux still, I just shutdown and let them return to the boiler, so no tails cut to make. I find their smell and taste at these sort of concentrations to be so repugnent I don’t want them dirtying up my condenser. To my senses, they’re like rancid soap, filthy wet dog, and rotting mint. At pot still concentrations they aren’t so bad, more like wet cardboard.

Back to the boiler

So, I’ve reserved some of my neutral for other products, and the rest is going back into the boiler to be the base of our gin.

Don’t forget the water!

Water must be added back as well! It’s not very safe to boil pure ethanol, you put yourself at risk of observing the wonders of physics from far closer than desirable. So, nothing over 40% ever makes it to my boiler. I’ve got about 16L at 40% in there.

Fun time – Botanical mix

This is my favourite part of the gin making process – playing with botanicals. I am going to use a pestle and mortar here, but sometimes I get lazy and use a spice grinder or an old coffee mill. My recipe for today is:
113g juniper
1 big basil leaf
10 peppercorns
2 rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon catnip flowers (about 0.5g)
0.75g licorice root
1.2g fennel
2g almond
0.8 cinamin
4g orris root
15g corriander seed
0.16 dill tips
1.6g lemon zest
3.6g tangello zest
.5g bitter orange peel

This will make a nice fruity/floral gin. It is designed to knock the socks of a person who likes “that gin that comes in the blue bottle”, and as such is a bit of a gateway drug into other, less loveable gins. It stands up ok to a tonic but really shines in a martini. It is very customised to my tastes, but if I put my taster hat on, I think the obvious criticism is that it is “busy”. This is something that crops up in everything I do, brewing, distilling, cooking… I just plain like complicated, fiddly recipes and the tastes they create.

 

Juniper

I normally smash up my juniper berries separately from everything else, to ensure they get really nicely crushed. Juniper is the foundation of any gin, so I take special care with it.

Precision

Precision is essential in recipe development and repetition. I have some drug dealer scales that are accurate to 0.01g that allow me to be precise with my recipes.

The gin basket

This is a little basket that sits in the pot still column and allows the vapour to pass through the botanicals, extracting their essential oils and creating our gin. This is called vapour infusion, and is just one way to make gin. This is the way gins like Bombay Sapphire are made. This is a big batch, bigger than my basket can hold, so I’ll wrap the remainder in muslin cloth and put it above the basket in the column.

Basket in the column

Looking up the bottom of the pot still column to see the gin basket. The basket rests on the inside of my boiler connection flange. I made this basket in about 15 minutes, using a pair of scissors and an old tea strainer. It’s served me well.

First drips

The pot still is boiling, with the botanicals in the column, and the garage smells awesome. These first couple of drips hold a lot of oils, I normally keep them separate and then I can add them back at my discretion later.

Oils

See that layer of oil that’s come out of suspension in the first drips I’ve saved? Smells awesome.

The twist

See how the stream is twisting? That’s a property of high strength ethanol. Old time moonshines would refer to a second distillation run as a “double and twist”.
While it’s twisting like this, I don’t even have to reach for my alcometer. Later on, I’ll see the stream slow and smooth, and then as the ABV drops near the end of the run, it will become broken and splatter due to the surface tension of water.

Tasting the output

One of the awesome things about running gin is that all the oils tend to boil at different temperatures. This means that the flavour is constantly changing, and if you want good control over your end product, the different flavours must be captured in separate bottles for blending later. Of course, once you get comfortable tweaking recipes, you can do this at the recipe development stage, but I always collect in multiple vessels just for peace of mind, even if they only get a cursory taste during blending to confirm nothing has gone wrong.

Flame out

The ABV has dropped below 20%. I normally run to about 15% on my gin runs to catch a lingering almond / cinnamon finish that comes over very late.

The run

All my individual bottles are now ready for blending. They range from 82% down to 17%.

Spent botanicals

These botanicals are almost completely devoid of flavour now – we’ve captured it all, except a hint of cinnamon. A good sign.

Blending pot

I use my 30L stainless brew pot to blend the spirits in. You’ve got to be a bit careful what materials you put into contact with high ABV alcohol, but stainless and copper are very safe.

Cutting to drinking strength

Now, if I left it undiluted, we’d have gin at 70% or so, which is a bit over the top, and not very safe (for drinkers). So, I’ll use my cutting alcometer (it can only measure between 70% and 30%, but is much more accurate as a result) to get the gin down to 40% for general consumption. I prefer to leave it at about 45% for myself, but I don’t like giving away anything over 40% – you can’t rely upon others to be responsible around alcohol, and the potential damage increases sharply as the ABV goes up.

Sampling

A true test of a spirit should always be a sample drunk neat. I gave this sample to SWMBO and didn’t get it back, so it must be alright. I find that if I sample with mixed drinks, I’ll overlook flaws that will bug the hell out of me later. Doing this as a hobby turns you into a real perfectionist in some areas.

Xmas pressies good to go!

All bottled up and ready to go to friends and family for gin and tonics in the christmas sun. This run yeilded 14 bottles of gin @ 40%ABV, plus some sampling and a bit leftover. The leftovers were disposed of humanely.
Til next time (a post on scotch production should be along soon),
Cheers, good health.
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12 Responses to “Making gin”


  1. June 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I liked reading how you do your Rum and Gin. Really looking forward to your post on Scotch!

    Do you ever do any sour mash whiskeys?

    • June 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Hi there! No, I haven’t done a full sour mash whiskey yet. It’s on the cards though! after I finish my current build, I’m going to build a steam wand attachment for my stil allowing low pressure steam injection into a mash tun. At that point it becomes considerably easier to work with corn – beer gear doesn’t stand a chance by all acocunts, and gelatinising the corn is hard work without indirect heat. The steam wand seems to be the easiest solution. Too many things to learn and do, not enough time!

      I have done a lot of what is commonly called UJSM or Uncle Jessie’s Simple Sour Mash, where you use a sugar + grain mix over successive generations that builds up quite a sour taste with the recycling of spent stillage and the inevitable lacto bugs that get into the ferment. It’s a great way to learn to to distill, actually. Some of mine has been on oak for almost 3 years now, and it’s beating fairly reputable “authentic” bourbons in blind tasting. I sometimes filter it through Manuka Charcoal as well for a New Zealand spin on the Lincoln County Process. All good fun!

      Cheers
      Richard

  2. 5 emil
    November 8, 2011 at 5:37 am

    thanks so much for taking the time to do this, it has helped me focus my gin making efforts! Yum.

  3. January 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Reblogged this on thescumonsunday and commented:
    Mother’s Ruin

  4. January 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    nice story line & great pictures! Keep up the good work.

    Cherio,

    StillCooker……………..Still Cookin’ πŸ˜‰

  5. 9 Morgan
    May 20, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Hi there,
    I was woundering if you could tell me the exact ingredients and quantities of ingredients for the neutral spirit wash . because i have been using turbos that go to 20 % but i think it puts alot of strain on the yeast and produces those nasties haha . the spirit i make comes out at 94 % and still has the bad tasting stuff , cheers πŸ˜€

    • May 20, 2012 at 8:04 am

      Hey, my exact recipe is normally based on whatever I have to hand. Normally I’d say that a wheat germ wash masked the nicest vodka (google DWWG) but I take it you have a brew shop still like a turbo 500 or something similar with an internal element? Look up birdwatchers sugar wash on homedistiller.org/forum. but yeah, main problem is your wash strength. Dial it down and you’ll have less problems.

      • 11 Morgan Billett
        May 25, 2012 at 5:20 am

        Cheers mate , big help man . I have a reflux keg still which i made . yes it does have an internal element . Yeah ill dial it down to 14 % ish . you wouldn’t happen to know where to get empty beer kegs from in Auckland? haha thats a longshot , cheers again

      • May 25, 2012 at 5:54 am

        Yip sure do, might be the sort of thing best sent off the record though, I’ll flip you an email.


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