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”

  • Dominik MJ says:

    First of all- great post; Jeffrey, you have quite wired ideas. And yes, what you did IS Gin – there are even some gins on the market which are using the cold infusion method (I think it was Svenska).

    And: I don’t think, that the vapor infusion is cheaper – however it is much more controllable, than maceration! However the botanicals cannot be for ever in the vapor stream and if you have to clean the pot or the basket makes for me not the big difference…

    But it is easier to operate a quite regular distill apparatus than to have a special one (for maintenance etc.).

    Hm – about the alcohol source: as Bombay Sapphire is a London Dry Gin, the alcohol HAS TO BE NEUTRAL GRAIN SPRITIS – so Jeffrey – no molasses allowed here!

  • Dominik, long time no see – welcome back, my friend!

    Thanks for the kudos and the information. However, I’m finding all kinds of conflicting info about Bombay Sapphire.

    In fact, on page 86 of Michael Jackson’s Bar & Cocktail Companion: The Connoisseur’s Handbook, he says:

    The base spirit for London Dry gin may be distilled from grain or some other raw material such as molasses, but it will have been rectified to neutrality before being redistilled with the botanical flavorings in a pot still.

    So I don’t know… Bombay is owned by Bacardi, no?

  • Dominik MJ says:

    You know, I was really pissed, when Bacardi dropped the alcohol content from 47% to 40% abv – however I don’t think, that it is distilled from molasses, as a lot of grain neutral spirit supposed to be around in England for no money…

    …I read it in several books and also have it from a “spirit expert” that London Dry Gin has to come from Neutral Grain Spirit – however I didn’t found a proof, yet.

    Besides, here in Dubai there is still the 47% abv version around, so no complaints on my side about the strength.

    Now the new (and old) big thing is arriving: Old Tom Gin! Did you heard already something about it in the States?

    Cheers!

    Dominik MJ

  • I’ve heard rumors of a new true Genever style gin being made in the US; but, nothing about an Old-Tom.

    Sure would like to see one, so I could know what an authentic Casino or Deep Sea Cocktail tasted like!

  • I’ve heard those rumors about Old Tom gin making a comeback in the United States as well… but I haven’t seen anything concrete yet.

    Maybe we should just make our own?!

  • JoeSixpack says:

    If you ever end up putting a still together to really give your gin wings, make sure to get one column dedicated to just making gin. The botanicals will stink up the stainless steel and everything will kind of taste like gin.

    I macerate and filter, it works just fine. I think the macerated stuff has a much richer flavor than the double-distilled.

    I’m making a holiday likker for some of my friends this year. The spices smell great together so I have high hopes. Vodka infused with vanilla beans and roasted/crushed almonds and a few knots of cloves. Add honey to sweeten and water down to 60 proof. Mmmm buddy.

    If you want to make your own vodka at home from sugar and yeast, you should probably check out brewhaus dot com. It runs me $1.50 for a fifth of good vodka made at home.

  • Darryl Nelson says:

    i might of missed it but how much gin does your recipe make? It sounds great

  • This makes two fifths, Darryl.

  • One interesting fact that came out during the Gin MxMo in the comments section over on the cocktailnerd site*, is that Bend Distillery, makers of the Desert Juniper and Cascade Mountain Gins isn’t actually a distillery at all. All they do is macerate spiced in Grain Neutral Spirits they purchase and then bottle it.

    So you’re not the only one making Gin without distilling!

    *Reference

  • Bryn494 says:

    What an interesting column…

    Thanks for the Gray Kangaroo link JB.

    I’m trying essential oils too and so can ‘mix’ small amounts.

    I plan to distill some of these as well and see what happens to the flavors.

    The list of oils to play with is humungous (follow your noses and instinct).

    Remember a weak flavor is cheaply remedied, an overpowering one may be UNFIXABLE.

    Stainless holds scents, so do redistilled gins. I use glass to minimize this.

    The Carteret still is really 2 stills, the first produces the raw extract into the botanicals container(s, 2 so you can switch without stopping production) and the heat from this process drives the second distillation.

    The best method is too double distill your raw alcohol beer and then soak/steam/oil with a third distillation and a final additional of any oils best not ‘steamed’.

    Happy heebie-jeebies all.

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