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”

  • Bryn494 says:

    Carterhead :} not Carteret. See what sniffing fumes does to you… 😀

  • Really interesting wish I was involved in this forum from earlier on, I used to buy a ton of barley from a local farmer, malt it roast it brew it 1/4 at a time, I built a pressurised column still based on a huge works kitchen pressure cooker the brewing and distilling would be 6 to 7 days I would do a triple distille, taking fore shots, middle runs and end shots, as I was making Gin Vodka Whiskey I would use a hot infusion method, what amazing fun and really shows what taxs you pay, my last run was whiskey that I put in a presoaked sherry barrel I kept my eye on it for a week or so then put it at the back of a shed and forgot it for 6 years when I unearthed it, the shed had got too hot and sprung the barrel, the thought still hurts.

  • Adam says:

    Jeff,

    I appreciate your statement that you were only going to use spices available at your local grocery store; however, should you have a desire to follow the model of Bombay-Sapphire, a reliable on-line source for some of the more exotic spices lies in your own backyard. Mountain Rose Herbs (www.mountainroseherbs.com) is based just outside of Eugene, in Pleasant Hill, OR, and sells eight out of the ten aromatics listed by Bombay-Sapphire. Only the Cubeb pepper and Grains of Paradise are lacking from their product list. Of course several of the more mundane ingredients, such as almonds, dried lemon peel, coriander seeds and cassia, are readily available cheaper around town. Cassia is simply a cheap form of cinnamon. (See the Wikipedia articles on cassia and cinnamon for clarification. I was disappointed to discover that Trader Joe’s “cinnamon” is, in fact, cassia.) Search for Cubeb and Grains of Paradise on Amazon.com to find on-line sources, such as Blessac or ChefShop.com. These may also be available at your local Indian market.

  • Adam says:

    As an aside, a couple of things occur to me regarding the differences between the two processes you describe, above. To-wit, gin head distilling verses infusion. While I found this thread by searching along the exact line of your article — making a cold-infused gin from vodka — it occurs to me that there may be a difference.

    Ethanol has a specific boiling point of 78.29 C/173 F. All distilling takes place at this temperature. If the resulting liquor (i.e. vodka) is infused with botanicals, it becomes something different: a liqueur, such as Jägermeister. If you then boil the liqueur at the boiling point of alcohol, you simply get pure alcohol, which, theoretically, would again be vodka, no matter what you started with.

    If, on the other hand, you first boil the alcohol, and the steam-like vapors flow up through, and dissolving the essential oils from botanicals, the liquid that condenses would be something unique.

    If, instead, you infused the vodka with the botanicals, then again distilled them, I don’t see how you would wind up with gin. You would just have vodka, distilled from all impurities once again.

    The true difference between “cold infusion” and “gin head infusion” lies in whether the heat of the vaporized alcohol (at 78.29 C/ 173 F) is enough to release other volatile compounds, or whether the longer term infusion of the cold method adds something to the mix.

    Please set me straight if I’m missing something here.

  • Dominik MJ says:

    Dear Adam,

    may I disagree?
    Only Bombay Sapphire [as volume brand] and very few others are using the vapor infusion!

    Most of the other gin producer wether cold infuse, or warm infuse (means leave the botanicals in the neutral grain alcohol while distilling).

    Alcohol has indeed a boiling point of 78ºC – though you don’t take only the spirit of ONLY this temperature [you might separate the heart on a lower temperature till a slightly higher temperature] and the aromas are also coming through at mentioned temperature…

    I mean, this is the idea of all multiple distillations…

  • Adam says:

    Dominik,

    Mulling it over, I think you are right. I would certainly agree that Scotch, the resulting liquor from distilling barley mash (wash), is not vodka. Moreover, no matter how long one aged vodka in charred bourbon barrels, it would become be Scotch. Obviously, something more than just pure ethanol must make it through the still to give a good single malt all of the subtle qualities one can discern. I stand corrected.

  • Adam says:

    Oops, I meant “it would never become Scotch.”

  • UnclearFizzyCyst says:

    There are 2 main types of distillation, pot-still and reflux still. The pot still is, by far, the most common.

    When you distill ‘pure’ vapors do not exist, merely vapor with a predominance of the substance with the boiling point of the current temp.

    A reflux still just makes the substance coming off MUCH more predominant than a pot still.

    There are usually 4 ‘phases’.

    Foreshots come off first, these are the highly undesirable fusel oils and methanol and are (or should be) discarded.

    Heads come off second and are saved.

    The main run comes next, this is mostly ethanol.

    Tails come last (sometimes referred to as faints and tails).

    These are saved,usually in small batches as the temperature rises. This is where most of the flavor comes from.

    Heads and tails are then added back in varying quantites to taste. The remainder is thrown into the next batch (or saved and when there’s enough, run through their own batch by those in-the-know).

    Many commercial distillers remove the foreshots, take the heads, main and some tails in one go then add the next batch to the remaining hot liquid.

    Pure ethanol is, in fact, tasteless (fire water) so gin is the nearest thing to commercially pure booze you can get. Vodka makers allow just enough tails through to distinguish their product.

    Happy drinking… 😉

  • Dominik MJ says:

    …uff…this was a quite comprehensive comment!

    And it is very accurate… I just would comment, that also pot still have a reflux (especially tall and slender ones, stills with a kind of ball on the shoulder or pots with built in “floors”. More correct would be: that there are continuous stills (sollumn still, patent still, method armagnacaise etc.) and fractional stills (which is normally pot still & alambic).

    Another thing is, that aroma compounds are in relatively minor quantity in the spirit.

    A fellow chemist told me as well, that pure ethanol is not tasteless! It is quite pungent and sharp… only the dilution and the addition of aroma (if it comes from minor natural impurities or additives) makes the drinking alcohol “tasteless” – thats why “flavored neutral alcohol” are chemical cleaner ethanol as vodka, as the aroma alternate the alcohol smell…

  • UnclearFizzyCyst says:

    Very true, pot stills can have some reflux action.

    The aromatics and flavenoids, good and bad, are present in very small quantities. However, the nose can be extremely discriminating and these can be detected down to the parts-per-million level.

    Finally I suspect your chemist friend may have tried pure 100% ethanol. Distilled ethanol can only be brought up to around 95% pure, the rest is water. It then has to be ‘dried’ to 100%.

    For fuel ethanol (and others?) benzine is used to absorb the water and then the two compunds are seperated somehow. Another method, more expensive but I guess tastier, is to vacuum evaporate the ethanol.

    Well, that’s it for me on this topic. 😀

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