I'm a big fan of gin.
The flavor of gin is hard to pin down. Gin is a pine tree covered in snow. It's the smell of sunshine on a springtime meadow. It's resinous, floral, complex, and all packed into one awesome clear liquid. I'll have it in bubbly tonic glowing under a blacklight. Or maybe with lime and sugar on a humid summer afternoon. But, by far, the best delivery of gin is the Martini. Shaken (not stirred) until its so cold that ice crystals start to form. Did I mention that along with all these flavors it'll get you tipsy too!? It's refreshing, light, and complex, and a classic flavored alcohol.
One day I thought a peculiar thought at the bottom of a particularly tasty G&T...
Why not make my own?
The Instructable attempts to recreate Bombay Sapphire gin by making what is called a compound gin. A compound gin is created by soaking all your ingredients in neutral spirit, filtering them out after a set amount of time. Gin is normally a clear, distilled alcohol, but I'll make the argument here that you can get pretty close with a compound gin. It won't be clear, but it will taste and smell like the real thing. If distillation is legal in your area then by all means search out instructions to do so on the internet, but be aware that distillation is beyond the scope of this Instructable. Please check with your local and state laws, but in my particular jurisdiction, infusion of spirits for personal use is a-ok while home distillation is illegal (United States federal law).
I love food almost as much as I love science. When it comes down to it, flavor is just applied chemistry with some botany and physiology mixed in. In my search for gin knowledge I made myself familiar with the aromatic compounds that give gin its identity, and give different gins their unique personalities. As a bonus, the later steps in this Instructable are devoted to each ingredient typically used in gins, as well as their notable component aromatics and what flavors those aromatics contribute. Yay learning!
This is a bit helpful when deciding what substitutes you should make for hard-to-find ingredients, but is mostly knowledge of gin for the sake of knowledge itself. My knowledge is by no means complete or pulled from primary sources: I mainly used the brilliant bible of food On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, as well as some googling and wikipedia to fill in the gaps. Feel free to correct me or make and additions you feel would be necessary. Feel free to skip over this and read over the recipe and procedure, but you'll be missing out!
Onto what you'll be needing....
Step 1: Hardware
You'll need the following hardware:
Non-porous container (I used a 1L hinge-top bale jar)
Mesh bag/spice ball (optional)
Funnel and coffee filter/strainer
A kitchen scale is essential for this Instructable, since proper proportions can make or break your DIY gin. I'd opt in for a mesh spice bag similar to those used for nut milk to make filtering your gin a bit easier, but it's up to you.
Step 2: The Spice Must Flow!
Here are the basic proportions you should use for any gin recipe, obtained from the website here. This Instructable covers all the ingredients necessary for a gin similar to Bombay Sapphire, but feel free to browse other recipes to your hearts' content.
Per 1L of spirit- 20 g Juniper (20g will be X, the base for our gin)
X Juniper (20g)
X/2 Coriander (10g)
X/10 Weak Botanicals (2g each)
X/100 Strong botanicals (0.2g each)
I use the following ingredients:
2.0g Angelica root
2.0g Liquorice root
2.0g Grains of paradise
2.0g Cubeb berries
2.0g Cracked cassia cinnamon
0.2g Orris root
0.1g Lemon peel
0.1g Orange peel
As you can see, we're dealing with some mighty small measurements for subtle flavors here. Play around and see what you can omit or include in small batches. Be careful with citrus oils and cinnamon, as they can overwhelm a gin pretty quickly.
Where do you get all these ingredients? I purchased nearly all the ingredients from a local spice merchant called The Spice House. Penzeys also carries many of the spices and ingredients I use here. I purchased Angelica, Cubeb, and Orris on Amazon, and have seen them stocked in health food/naturalist stores previously. Your best bet is any combination of these sources, though I'll try to make it easy to come up with a substitute for rarer spices that you many not want to seek out or purchase.
Step 3: Liquor? I 'ardly Knew 'er!
As a quick aside: if you're dealing with a harsh or cheap spirit, or just want to make your spirit smoother, use the Brita pitcher trick. Brita pitchers filter water through activated carbon/charcoal, which happens to be how the major distillers of neutral spirits filter and purify their products (if they choose to do so). Just a few passes turns a vodka with a bit of burn into something amazingly smooth and indistinguishable from top shelf liquors. Don't take my word for it, why don't you Ask Jeeves? Or Dogpile? Or Lycos? While rocking acid washed jeans and listening to boy bands. I'm sure you can think of a search engine or two.
- Take your Juniper, grind to a medium grind, and add it to your mesh bag.
Place your mesh bag in your mouth. Pour liquor into mouth. Gargle. Wait...scratch that. Place mesh bag into your container of choice. Make sure to close it.
- Add your liquor, and let sit for 24-48 hours. This step is to really solidify the juniper taste for your vodka by infusing it on its own.
- Remove mesh bag, discard the juniper. Give the mesh bag a thorough rinsing. Your infusion should be a brownish tea color at this point.
- Grind the remaining ingredients to a medium grind, and put it in your mesh bag.
- Put the mesh bag back into your (now awesome juniper infusion) and make sure the ground ingredients are submerged. Close container.
- Let steep for 24 hours before retrieving your bag and discarding your ingredients. Your gin should smell amazing, and be a similar or slightly darker brown than before.
- Filter your gin through a fine mesh or coffee filter (or folded paper towels). Pour off into a container and enjoy!
Time for the chemistry fun. You can skip ahead to the end result and my reflections if you'd like. I won't blame you. I suppose I'll forgive you one day, after many years of therapy. You monster.
Step 4: Food Chemistry Geekery- the Foundation
Juniper and Coriander are the foundations to any gin, and give it that basic piney, citrus flavor. Adjust the coriander higher if you want the identity of your liquor a bit confusing, but you ARE reading a Gin recipe, after all! C'mon!
Juniper- The one, the only. The main component of gin, and one of the only spices derived from pine trees. The word Gin itself is derived from the word for juniper. Small, berry like, and resinous tasting/smelling. Goes well with wild game. There really is no substitute here. Rosemary can be used to accentuate it if other ingredients are substituted, but you can't have a gin without juniper.
Sabinene-woody, spicy, teatree
Myrcene- warm, sweet, green, hops, bay
Coriander- The fruits of the coriander plant, which some people may know as cilantro. Called coriander seed most often. If you're one of the unfortunate souls who can only taste soap when they eat cilantro/coriander leaves, you're in luck! Coriander seeds do not have the offending compounds, but share all of the green, fresh, lemony flavors.
Step 5: Food Chemistry Geekery- the Botanicals
Angelica Root - Celery-like stalk, sweet and greenish smelling. Hard to find, but check online marketplaces like amazon, or health food shops. Decent substitutions would be the herb lovage, or root parsley. If you omit it, increase your other ingredients in proportion, adding a bit more coriander.
Phellandrene- peppery, minty, citrusy
Limonene orangey, piney, citrusy
Angelica lactone- sweet, creamy, hay
Liquorice Root - A root used to flavor the anise-flavored pastries, candies, and liquors you've probably encountered in your lifetime. Liquorice root has a natural sweetener that is long lasting. Avoid using too much or your gin may have a bitter tinge. Decent substitutions would be anise seed, star anise, and fennel (not as strong).
Glycyrrhizin- sweet tasting compound in licorice, lingering sweetness
Paeonol flowery, woody
Ambrettolide musky, fruity, warm
Cassia Cinnamon - The cinnamon flavor that's recognizable in stores everywhere isn't technically cinnamon at all, but a close relative called cassia! This adds some spiciness and sweetness to your gin, as well as playing a part in the aroma. Use stick cinnamon or cracked cinnamon- powdered would be far too potent, or it could be old and tasteless. It's hard to tell unless you grind it yourself.
Cinnamaldehyde- main component, cinnamon, spicier
Cinnamic acid- honey like, cinnamon, sweet
Linalool- floral, spicy
Ethyl-cinnamate- fruity, cinnamon
Grains of paradise - This spice from the ginger family was a substitute for pepper until trade routes opened up in ancient times, and then fell out of favor. Used in Sam Adams summer ale and other beers. Tastes like a less hot black pepper, mixed with the woody/resinous notes of cardamom. A decent substitute would be black pepper with a small amount of green cardamom.
Linalool- floral, spicy
Caryophyllene peppery, clove like
Humulene woody, hoppy
Gingerol pungent, spicy
Shogaol Pungent, spicy
Cubeb Berries - Another old-timey sub for black pepper. Spicy, slightly bitter, with some fruity notes. Uncommon, but you can find it online and from specialty spice merchants. Black pepper with a small amount of allspice would be a decent substitute.
Sabinene woody, spicy, teatree
Terpineol lilac, pine
Cineole pungent, eucalyptus, spicy
Other potential botanicals to add in this category:
Other types of cinnamon (Saigon, True, Indonesian), Cassia flower buds.
Black pepper, long pepper, ginger, or even chilies
Bitter almonds (Though they may be hard to find)
Step 6: Food Chemistry Geekery- the Highlights
Used sparingly, they add some of the most interesting notes to your gin. Too much, and you risk overwhelming the taste- these flavors are strong.
Lemon Peel- Oblong, football shaped, pitted yellow things you may have seen at some point. Pronounced "Leh-MUN". Can be eaten with the skin on, although not recommended. Sour flesh. Bitter rind. Oh, you know what a lemon is? Well la-di-da you lemon-eating bourgeoisie, you're so much more advanced than us mud-farming proletariat...
Orange Peel- Spherical, pitted things. Usually found reflecting light at wavelengths 590-620nm. Pronounced "OR-unj". Can be eaten with skin on, I guess, whatever floats your boat. Oh, oranges too, huh? Floating that boat of yours over a lake? Some woman hand you a sword by any chance? Made you the king of knowing fruit, eh? Strange women lying in ponds distributing sword is no basis for government!
Orris root - Root of a particular species of iris, aged and dried. Smells like potpourri, used to make pomander balls, and has been used as a way to make fragrances long lasting in the perfume industry. Think of it as the binder for all the aromatics in your gin. Substitute violet petals, something else floral in character like rose petals, or just omit.
Oh boy. That was fun. Time to wrap up!
Step 7: Wrap Up
Be aware, this Instructable is still evolving as I experiment with proportions, infusion times, and ingredients. Experiments need to be made and consumed. Progress is slow, but marches ever onward. I'll add edits in the future with what I learn.
Some points to take away from my experiments so far.
- Citrus can be incredibly overpowering. I succumbed to temptation with my first batch and added a bit more, figuring it wouldn't hurt. It ended up overshadowing the juniper itself and becoming cloudy with essential oils when tonic was added.
- Infuse the juniper alone first, and for a longer period than your other ingredients. This will make sure the juniper flavor is dominant, and sets the stage for the rest of the flavors to come in and mellow together.
- Using a stronger spirit may make things difficult, infusion wise. Infusing with a higher proof for the same periods of time made the gin unpalatably bitter. Make sure to cut your infusion time. Let me know what time you settle on if you end up attempting to do so.
- There are so many variations to gin! Adding cucumber peel and rose to make Hendricks? Keep it simple and make a Beefeater clone? Add green tea, ginger, chamomile, and...make something delicious, or a monstrosity? Experiment and let me know how it goes it the comments.