What is Gin: An Expert Guide

Gin has soared in popularity in recent years. Between 2013 and 2019, gin sales almost tripled, and in 2020, gin sales hit £716 million in the UK. The sector is now worth a staggering £3.2 billion, which includes sales in the UK and overseas. Both small, independent, and large producers are thriving, and this trend looks set to continue. But what is gin? Read our expert guide to find out more.

What is Gin Made From?

man holding juniper berries

Gin is an alcoholic spirit made from grain, typically barley or wheat. Further botanicals, most importantly juniper berries, are then added to give gin its distinctive flavour. It is worth pointing out that a spirit can’t be classed as “gin” unless the main flavour is juniper berries. If another flavour takes precedence, it isn’t gin. Gin must also have a minimum alcohol by volume (ABV) of at least 37.5 percent.

How is Gin Produced?

Gin starts life as a pure ethanol spirit made from grain. Ethanol is flavourless so the characteristic flavours of gin, juniper berries, are added through a process of redistillation. Botanicals are allowed to steep in the alcohol or are macerated, which helps releases their unique flavours, prior to redistillation. Literally any kind of herb, fruit, or botanical can be added to gin, which is why there are so many unique varieties of gin being produced by small, independent distillers. For example, if you would like to know what’s in gin made on the island of Colonsay, follow the link.

How Gin is Distilled

Gin Distillery

There are various ways to distil a gin and the method used will dictate the eventual flavour and quality of the spirit produced. The traditional way to distil gin involves steeping a spirit base with juniper berries and other flavourings such as lemon peel or blackcurrants for up to 48 hours, prior to distilling for about 4-5 hours Water is then added (known as cutting) to reduce the alcohol content.

A second method used involves placing botanicals in baskets above a still containing the base spirit. The spirit is heated to evaporation point, and the evaporate rises and infuses with the botanicals. The steam condenses into a liquid and water is added, cutting to the alcoholic strength required. The result is a lighter, more delicately flavoured gin.

These two methods can be combined to produce different blends. It is used to combine spirits infused with different flavourings, where some more delicate botanicals are infused, and more robust flavourings steeped.

Vacuum distillation is a new method of producing gin. Here, the boiling point is achieved at a lower temperature, which creates a fresher flavoured gin.

Home-Made Gin

Gin can easily be made at home using vodka as a base spirit. Juniper berries, fruit, and sugar are added to create a sweet, dense flavour.

The Rise of Flavoured Gin

The beauty of gin distillation is that there are endless ways to create a delicious spirit drink, as long as juniper berry is the main tasting note. This has led to a proliferation of small producers experimenting with different botanicals to create different flavoured gins.

While classics like Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s Gin, and London Dry Gin are perennially popular, it is worth sampling niche gins made by smaller producers. You might discover a gin that blows the rest out of the water!


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