Making gin at home was my latest venture. As a serial hobbyist, I’ll just tell you that it’s neither as hard nor as easy as you might initially think.
Why Bother Making Gin at Home
Why would you make your own gin? Well, why bother making anything, yourself, really. If you’re a do-it-your-selfer and serial hobbyist, as I am, and if you just like to try new things, this is yet another thing you can try. After all, it’s just vodka and spices (including juniper) so it sounds dead simple. And, since I’m on a real gin tasting kick, it fit in with my gin efforts.
Part of my motivation just stems from that. I just like trying to do various thing, myself. As long as I don’t have to buy lots of special equipment, I’m up for it. I have plenty of rubber-sealing jars around, so I figured I’d just try this out.
But the other motivation is that I don’t live close to many liquor stores. I can’t buy different gins to try all that easily. I have to drive over an hour to get to any liquor store that might have something new that I haven’t yet tried.
Thinking about all this, I also started thinking that I could make my own a lot cheaper than driving all the way to some big city to buy it. And then, only to spend a bunch of money on something I might easily have all the ingredients for, myself. As such, I decided that, yes, I was going to tackle this.
Before You Call the “Revenuers”
First of all, I’m not distilling anything. What I’m doing is just macerating a bunch of ingredients in a jar with some vodka. So, before you tell the authorities to drop in and check my basement for an illegal still, don’t bother.
Next, you’re thinking this isn’t the “right” way to make gin. But, yes, it is. Some of the gin we buy is merely macerated. Some of it that we’re buying at the store as a craft spirit is actually not made much differently than what I’m going to suggest.
In this world of “craft” spirits, anyone can slap that word on their bottle. As consumers, we might have some glamorized view of someone receiving ingredients, distilling their own product, and making something unique for us. But the actual process isn’t always like that. Some distillers truly are “craft distillers” in that way. However, the words on the products don’t always help us know who is or isn’t. Groups such as the American Distilling Institute provide certifications to help consumers identify such distillers. However, in the US, there’s no law or countrywide standard, at this time.
Making Gin at Home the Legal Way
So, I suppose you probably have to be of legal drinking age, to start with. You definitely can’t sell what you make and I’m not clear that you can even give it away. I make it purely for my own use.
If you’ve done any maceration, hopefully you have glass jars that you can seal. I have the type that have rubber seals on the top. You’ll have to sterilize them. The other task is to look on the internet for recipes. Throw the ingredients in, let it sit, then strain it. You probably won’t leave this to macerate for more than 1-4 days, and four is probably only for the most delicate recipes, where 1-2 is my guess at the most likely time you’ll need for this.
But, you strain it and then you have your own gin. Give it a try. If you hate it, mix it with something, like a juice, tonic water, whatever you think will make it palatable. In any case, keep trying and you’ll find a recipe you like or will adjust whatever recipe you started with to make something you like.
The Hard Part of Making Gin at Home
That all sounded pretty easy, but here are two reasons why this is a lot harder than that easy process suggests:
Reason # 1: It’s not necessarily easy to get the ingredients. When you start reading the gin recipes, you’ll see all types of things you might never have heard of and probably don’t have around. If you’re like me, you might hesitate to buy a lot of ingredients that you might never use, again. I searched and searched before I found one where I didn’t have to buy herbs and spices that I didn’t already have.
Note: I should backtrack and tell you that I have a considerably wide selected of herbs and spices always on-hand. In addition, gin requires juniper. I always have plenty of juniper around. But if you don’t have it and you go to your grocery store, you’ll see little bottles of it and it’s not that cheap. But you won’t find some of the other ingredients such as angelica at your grocery store. For me, living way outside of civilization, I’d have to mail order any of those. And, regardless where you live, you still might have to mail order the less common items.
Reason # 2: It’s not that easy to find the right recipe. As I just stated in Reason # 1, the first hurdle is to find a recipe you’re willing to tackle, where you have enough of the ingredients, are able to get them, or are willing to them them. But the other issues is that, once you’ve found it, you might actually like it. Then, getting something you actually like drinking or mixing is actually not that easy.
Making Your Own Gin Taste “Good”
First of all, I bought the cheapest vodka on the shelf. That was a mistake. That worked fine for me making liqueurs, which have strong flavors that overpower the spirit. For making gin at home, it didn’t work for me. I didn’t like the taste of the gin I purchased and I could still taste it through the flavors I added.
Many vodkas say they’re “five times distilled.” It means just that – they’re distilled five times. It doesn’t mean you’ll like the taste. So, next time, I still won’t pay a lot for the vodka but I can still find something fairly inexpensive that I’ll like better.
On the other hand, if you’re going to use it as a mixer, maybe it still doesn’t make that much of a difference, depending how sensitive your taste buds are and what you’re mixing it with.
Another issue is that it’s hard to know how it will taste when you’re just looking at the recipes. I chose two recipes. Partly, I’m not sure if some of my spices were a little old. But I also didn’t realize how strong some of my spices were, either.
One of the recipes I chose included half a stick of cinnamon, among many other ingredients. It was a small one. But that gin ended up tasting almost of nothing else besides the crummy vodka flavor and the cinnamon. It mixes fine with orange juice, though.
The second recipe I chose also had many ingredients, including mint. I wasn’t excited about it. My suspicion was that the mint would overtake everything. I only tried it because I had all the ingredients. And, out of fear of the mint, only used half the mint the recipe called for. Here’s the surprise – the mint covered the vodka flavor and rounded out the entire combination. It not only didn’t take over but really the gin drinkable either straight or mixed.
So, it really seemed a trial-and-error task.
Container Tip for Making Your Own Gin
Making gin at home doesn’t require much in the way of equipment and my choices on this project are based on what I already have. If you look at the image I’ve included, you’ll see two different types of glass jars with rubber seals. The clear one in the front is what I use for macerating my spirits (and as canning and pickling jars, too).
The pink and the blue ones in the back are what I put spirits into when they’re finished and ready-to-drink. I just use these for decorative purposes. The top is too narrow to use for the maceration and straining but fine for final storage of the liquid.
You can fairly easily buy replacement seals for the ones as I’ve shown in the front. When the seals become stiff, you need to replace them. In addition, they might need to be replaced per use, depending what you’re using them for.
But while you can probably find just about any rubber seal for any container, somewhere in the world, it’s not that easy to find other sizes. In fact, for the jars in the back with the smaller tops, I gave up looking and made my own.
Here’s what the nice people at Ace Hardware told me to do – buy a square gasket sheet from the plumbing department and make your own. This is most easily done if you saved the old one – just trace it onto the square gasket sheet and cut it out.
As yet another tip, I have some jars that I use for hot sauce that have the more narrow tops but are smaller (maybe holds half a pint?) and I now just replace the gaskets on those the same way, by buying a gasket sheet in plumbing and making my own.
Final Comments on Making Your Own Gin
The actual process of making gin at home is simple. If you don’t like fiddling with lots of fancy processes, this is an easy task to take on.
Finding the right recipe for the ingredients you want to use can be difficult. If you don’t like searching the internet and making your own personal treasure hunt, then you’re not going to like finding recipes for this.
If you’re the type of person you gets upset if you make something you don’t like, you also won’t like this. For those of you already thinking you’ve got plenty of mixers and can deal with it, like me, then this is the type of challenge you might enjoy. If you’re the type of person who will keep at it until you get something you’re proud to call your own, this could be your next ongoing project.