I’ve always enjoyed distilling gin. I started distilling 18 years or so ago, covering for our full-time blender and distiller and found something that was interesting and quite good fun. When the first spirit flows from the condenser it seems a bit magical, the fronts (first part of the distillation) are so strong and spirity and smell a bit like acetone, then shortly you start to get the lovely fruity notes coming from your botanicals, this becomes the heart of the distillation, and will become your gin. The heart of the distillation is the good bit, you get all the constituent flavours of your gin starting with the lightest notes, and as the run continues, and the alcohol strength diminishes, you get the heavier more earthy notes. The difficult part is deciding when to make the change to the tails, or final cut of the distillation, leave it too late and you risk masking the light floral notes. Change to tails too early and you get no “bottom” or weight to your gin. The beauty of small batch gin distilling is that everything that you do can affect the flavour of the resultant batch of gin. The speed you run the still, the amount of reflux, or the temperature of the condenser can all affect the flavour profile, as can the quality of your spirit and botanicals.
For my gin (Perivale Dry) at “The Fabulous Vodka Company” I wanted a light citrussy London Dry gin, one that could be drunk neat, on ice with a slice of lime or lemon. Having plenty of distilling experience, I was able to come up with the recipe quite quickly, just a couple of trial distillations were needed, however, many gins are produced as a concentrate, or super-strength gin and added in tiny quantities to what is basically a vodka. The stainless steel flavour stills I used are ideal for this, and many of the gins produced by the distillery are award winners, but I specifically wanted a small batch “one shot” distillation method, as I get more control over the final product. The spirit that I distil is the only spirit used in the final gin, the re-distillation makes it softer, I also use much smaller quantities of botanicals so have to be much more careful with my selection and my weighing out! I am currently the only producer to use these stills in this way and I’m really happy with the gin that I get, it is very delicate and not at all like a perfume, which so many gins are these days. Another benefit with this method of distillation is that each batch of gin has very subtle differences, the current batch is very slightly softer than the last, which makes it easier to drink neat or as a martini, however, it is also easier to drown out with tonic, which isn’t so good, but as I like a strong (50/50) gin and tonic that isn’t a problem that I’ve run into!
Gin is currently enjoying a re-surgance, and the increase in the numbers of boutique gins is great to see, and there are some really good new gins on the market. The rise in popularity of boutique gins is being led by some pubs and clubs who seem to be competing with each other in having the greatest choice of gins on their shelves. There are also so many gin and cocktail websites and blogs dedicated to the use of boutique or specialist spirits that small producers, like me, are beginning to get more recognition for what they are producing, for which I’m very grateful. When I’m out selling to the public, the look on someone’s face when they realise that there’s more to gin than the big brands or supermarket own labels, and that gin can be drunk straight without burning your throat, is great to see, and it’s a great feeling when something that I love to do is appreciated by someone enough that they buy and enjoy that product, and even come back for another bottle or two!
- Gin and Tonic: New Twists on a Classic Combination (washingtonian.com)
- Big Gin: a little distillery with big dreams (ballardnewstribune.com)
- City of gins and creative spirits (newstatesman.com)
- The Gin and Tonic (howtobeswell.com)
- Gin & Tonic By VL92 (blackrockstar.wordpress.com)