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”

  • John says:

    I have a ton of juniper bushes (well a lot) in my back yard so today I stuffed a bottle of 100 percent alcohol with tender ends of juniper shoots, berries and all.
    Think it will work if I infuse for a few weeks ? May make good go-juice for my car :>)

  • ZS says:

    Sounds brilliant and really easy. I like that you used normal household items rather than a fancy reflux system! I can’t wait to try this. Thanks for sharing.

  • jam says:

    Thanks for this awesome and inspiring post! It sure has legs …

    My question: I am used to making Italian infused liqueurs such as limoncello, nocino and “44”.

    The method for limoncello is to soak lemon peel and any additions in 180+ proof alcohol for a couple of months, then thin that down with a water/sugar syrup to your own preferred and drinkable proportions (30-40% alcohol) and sweetness. This final mix improves with some aging.

    Would this be a valid way of adapting your method? Basically, I’d soak the juniper and botanicals for (I really wonder how long) some amount of time, then thin the stuff down with filtered water to 40-50% alcohol content. If you soaked your stuff in vodka for only a week, I guess infusing almost pure alcohol any longer than that would be unnecessary and might bring out undesirable flavors?

    I’m planning on putting the first batch of this down in a week or so. Anyone with experience on this willing to give me advice, I thank you in advance!

  • Jesse says:

    WOW!!! Just talked with a friend last week about how to make gin. Went on-line today and found you on the first try!
    I guess I’d better get going. Have juniper in my yard and God knows how many in the surrounding area. Also, can buy it bulk from an herb company with whom I do business.

    Thank you, thank you.

  • Craig says:

    Jeff, thanks for the recipe. I tried it out this week. I sort of jumped the gun and couldn’t wait the entire week for the mixture to mature. Found most of the ingredients in my local Whole Foods. Sipping on my infused vodka and ice right now. I have to give it two thumbs up. Craig

  • Leif says:

    Thanks Jeff for a stimulating and fun site. The posts are great too. Question. Is it possible to create an alcohol free gin? Someone told me that Budweiser uses real brewed beer for their O’doull’s brand of N/A beer, and simply freezes the beer, then pours off the alcohol which doesn’t freeze. Doable with gin?

  • Twig says:

    To Leif, an alcohol free gin is blasphemy. Its flavored booze, if you remove the booze, its just flavored water. You can’t freeze gin at normal temperatures, I used to keep a bottle or two in the freezer for emergency cold drinks.
    That is why antifreeze was alcohol based in the beginning.

    You could either boil off the alcohol – dangerous and should only be done outdoors with lots of ventilation – or dilute the gin with enough water to freeze it and then separate the alcohol by freezing.

    Feel free to experiment, but I think you are moving in the wrong direction. You should try adding alcohol to items that don’t normally contain it, like chocolate milk or pudding. That’s the edge of science where the real research is done.

  • Joe says:

    Pick ripe and unripe Juniper berries. Juniper berries take more than one year to ripen and the blue/black ones are in the back. More unripe berries will give a greenish cast to a gin and tonic. The ripe ones give more of an amber color.

    Get the highest quality, highest proof neutral spirit you can. Avoid the golden grains and other high test ethanols, they include a high proportion of the heads and tails you would avoid in multiple distillations.

    Soak a bunch of the berries in the alcohol for several months. In a 32oz bottle one cup of berries is good. No matter what the concentration you can adjust this when you mix with the unflavored alcohol.

    Use this mixture to flavor your alcohol. One bottle of highly concentrated juniper extract can flavor an awesome summers worth of bottles of gin. Fresh juniper berries come out better than the dried juniper you can get on the Internet.

    All those other subtle flavors of fruit and spices can always be added but first get to know the fresh combination of highly distilled spirits and juniper as the starting point.

  • Martin says:

    Just to answer the point on the infused vodka going cloudy when diluted with lower proof vodka, it was the high 180 proof vodka that extracted more of the essential oils from the botanicals which when diluted back caused the infusion to cloud. Alcohol is very good at extracting essential oils, but in this case there was more than could be contained in the lower proof liquid- Pernod is a good example of this- as soon as you lower the proof it clouds as the essential oils from the aniseed fall out of solution.

    I had a similar experience when diluting an infusion of other botanicals in brandy with some white wine according to a centuries old recipe to make Royal Usquebaugh – I thought I would be clever and use more of the wine than was specified (as the spices were stronger than I wanted after infusing) and the result was a cloudy (but delicious) drink when mixed back with the wine.

  • Parrishnut says:

    So I have tons of Junipers on my property. Could I use those berries? Non dried? How much would I need, or do I need to dry them first? And If I need to dry them what do I do? Love the idea of Gin from My own garden!!!!

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