How to Make Your Own Gin Without a Still

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There aren’t many spirits that inspire such passionate opinions as gin does. I know vodka drinkers who recoil in horror when confronted with a bottle of Tanqueray, and gin drinkers who would rather abstain completely than suffer through a Grey Goose martini.

But what many people don’t realize is that gin and vodka begin life in the exact same way. You could even say that gin is nothing more than infused vodka. In fact, I’ve used this exact line on so many customers trying gin for the first time that I’ve decided to prove it to myself! What a better way to waste a bunch of time and ingredients while getting an opportunity to learn more about my favorite mixable spirit, right?

In his book The Complete Guide to Spirits (HarperCollins, 2004), Anthony Dias Blue describes cold compounding as a legitimate method for producing gin.  He even provides a rough recipe for infusing a monster 2,000 liter batch. Not having access to a tanker truck of vodka or a hundred pounds of juniper, I did a little math and came up with something more workable.

That first batch was a drinkable, yet super-perfumed gin that I felt could be improved with a little trial-and-error. I won’t bore you with the details of my many failures before honing in on the recipe you’re about to see, but I will say that I’ve now got a liquor cabinet full of funky gins that may or may not ever be consumed.

I’ve tried to limit the ingredients for this very basic gin for two reasons. First, I wanted to use only ingredients available in the bulk spice section of my local grocery store. Second, I wanted to provide you with a basic gin that would be easily expanded upon by you, my three readers.

I got fancy and bought a digital scale for this project, so use one for maximum accuracy if you own one, or just follow my crude conversions if you don’t.

1 750mL bottle 100-proof vodka
1 750mL bottle 80-proof vodka

20 grams dried juniper berries (about ¼ cup)
8 grams whole coriander, crushed (about 2 tbsp.)
2 grams dried orange peel (about 1½ tsp.)
2 grams dried lemon peel (about 1 tsp.)
3 grams whole cinnamon (about 1 stick)
1 whole cardamom pod, crushed

Use a mortar and pestle – or a food processor pulsed in five one-second increments – to break up the coriander and cardamom before adding them to the other dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients before macerating in the vodka.

Once you’re certain that everything has been measured correctly, place the herbs into a large resealable jar and add the whole bottle of 100-proof vodka. I’m using Stoli 100 here, but there are a few options out there; just take a tour of your local liquor store and see what else you can come up with. Hang on to that bottle of 80-proof vodka, we won’t be using it until the very end.

The dry mixture immediately after being added to the neutral spirits.

Place the jar in a dark, room-temperature spot for one week, and be sure to give the jar a good shake at least once a day. When the mixture is mature, it will look something like this:

The mixture after steeping for seven days.

Yes, it’s got some color to it, and that’s okay. In fact, this is exactly what many commercial gins look like before they’re distilled a final time. You don’t have a still at home, so you’re going to have to put up with a little tint to your gin. You’ll be fine.

Taste it. It burns a little, right? Don’t forget that you’re running at 100 proof here. This is when we want to add that bottle of 80-proof vodka you’ve (hopefully) been saving. Taste it again. Better? Yeah.

Next we’re going to take all that macerated fruit and herbs out of there, so we’re going to have to strain the mixture through cheesecloth.

Preparing to strain the mixture of solids.

Wrest all the liquid you can from the wet ingredients, there’s going to be some vodka that just won’t want to let go. When you’re done you should be left with a mixture that’s free from solids but, (as we say here in the Pacific Northwest) still party cloudy. Enter the Brita pitcher. Get yourself a $20 Brita, or if you already have one, just a brand new filter. We’re about to put your filter through the wringer.

Note: be sure to follow the directions the fine folks at Brita have provided you. Soak the new filter for fifteen minutes, and then run several pitchers of water through it to activate that charcoal.

Remains of sediment in the filter bowl.

You’re going to see a lot of sediment in that filter bowl, and that’s a good thing. Keep running your gin through the Brita, say, five times, and don’t forget to rinse out the bowl between every pass. Soon you will have a crystal-clear spirit ready for mixing.

Our stalwart Brita pitcher full of gin.

When you’re done, bottle your gin and start experimenting. Why not add some dried grapefruit peel to pair with a Negroni? Adding a single Kaffir lime leaf could be a nice way to add some more depth to a Pegu. Throw in a couple more cinnamon sticks this winter and try an Alexander Cocktail. I wonder how lavender would fare in Paul Harrington’s fabulous Jasmine. A double-dose of dried lemon peel in your gin for a souped-up Aviation Cocktail, anyone?

Here are some more suggestions for ingredients to add – in small quantities (think 1-2 grams per addition) – to flavor your next batch:

Thai basil
Cherry bark
Whole nutmeg
Cilantro leaf
Arbol chile
Star anise
Whole cloves
Indian sarsaparilla bark

Have fun, and if you get a chance to try the recipe, leave a comment below and let us know how it turns out!

132 Replies to “How to Make Your Own Gin Without a Still”

  • JB says:

    I used to use Brita’s for filtering. The problem is that they seem to be good for only a few distillations.

    There’s a company here in Philly that produces personal liquor filters (Gray Kangaroo) that last about 5 times longer than the Brita if you’re looking for long term filtering solution.

    It’s pretty inexpensive as well.

  • scoobyhed says:

    Have you thought about trying angelica seeds? They’re sorta obscure and hard-to-find (I got a vial working on a story about spices), but they taste exactly like gin smells.

  • Keith says:

    I swear i’m not stalking you…I did hear a tale about a guy turning water into wine and as far fetched as it may seem, it sounds pretty good to me. Keep up the good work, we’ll try and get in earlier next time around!

  • Hey Jeff,
    For the answer to the question “Is infused Vodka actually ‘Gin'” we have to go to the most exciting piece of regulation ever written – The CFR 27 Title 5 Section 5.22 “Standards of Identity:

    (a) Class 1; neutral spirits or alcohol. “Neutral spirits” or “alcohol” are distilled spirits produced from any material at or above 190° proof, and, if bottled, bottled at not less than 80° proof.

    (1) “Vodka” is neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.

    LET”S COMPARE TO GIN:

    (c) Class 3; gin. “Gin” is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof. Gin produced exclusively by original distillation or by redistillation may be further designated as “distilled”. “Dry gin” (London dry gin), “Geneva gin” (Hollands gin), and “Old Tom gin” (Tom gin) are types of gin known under such designations.

    So the way I read this, Infused VODKA, could only be labeled as Gin if it also included Juniper Berries.

  • Christiane says:

    What a great experiment! And the end result is one of my absolute favorite liquids of all times.
    I must try this. Thanks!

  • Jeffrey says:

    Kevin, you freaking genius. Thanks for the info!

    And Christiane, please let us know how yours turns out!

  • Jeffrey says:

    Scoobyhed, I couldn’t find any Angelica seeds, but I know that Bombay Sapphire uses them – the ingredients are listed on the side of the bottle!

  • Heya… As I understand it, the genius of the “head” method of Gin Distillation, as practiced by Bombay and others, is that it allows them to use a continuous still to manufacture their gin.

    They skip the maceration step, and the cost/time associated with it, along with being able to use the more efficient column still instead of a pot still.

    What they lose is a certain richness of flavor.

    I expect, once you get past the initial equipment costs, it costs a lot more per gallon to manufacture Aviation or Junipero Gin than to manufacture Sapphire.

  • Erik

    I was trying to wrap my brain around combining a column, or continuous, still working with a gin head basket tonight while I was at work, so I did a little research.

    If I understand it correctly, Bombay uses a column still to generate their neutral spirits (from molasses, apparently – I had no idea) and then they use what’s called a Carterhead still to flavor the gin with their ten botanicals one final time. There’s a picture here.

    I hope I got this right…

    Jeff

  • Yeah, I guess you are right, and I am more cynical than I need to be.

    I still maintain, however, that this method is cheaper and faster than the more traditional methods.

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