How Is Gin Made?

With thousands of new bottles on the market, it's never been clearer that gin is in.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

On paper, gin is the sum of three parts: water, spirit, and botanical. While that may sound simple, the gin category is expansive and explosive, spanning hundreds of brands and thousands of bottles. “The global gin movement has reached an extreme level,” says Marshall Minaya, beverage director at Valerie, Madame George, and Lolita in New York City. “We currently offer 80 different gins and we haven’t even begun to skim the surface of the category.”

Essentially, there’s a gin for every whim.. You could sip a juniper-forward British bottling or make a Martini with a Mediterranean gin that expresses Italian provenance through citrus and olives. Or, reach for a Canadian gin that captures the misty Pacific Northwest via rose, seaweed, cedar leaf, and oakmoss.

Not into gin? You likely just haven’t found the right one yet. “Gin offers such a wide range of flavors and styles,” says Christine Wiseman, the global beverage director of Bar Lab and 2023 Tales of the Cocktail US Bartender of the Year. “There are bottles that appeal to a lot of different palates, allowing gin to uniquely offer something for just about everyone.”

How is gin made?

Gin is a neutral spirit flavored with botanicals, primarily juniper. There are two key steps to production: First, a neutral base spirit (similar to vodka) is made. Then, the base spirit is redistilled with botanicals to extract essential oils and aromas and build flavor.

There are a few different methods of botanical extraction and infusion. Similar to tea (but on a far grander scale), some producers macerate the juniper and botanicals in a spirit for under 48 hours to infuse flavor before the final distillation. Other producers place botanicals in a basket inside a still. As the still heats, the spirit turns to vapor and passes through the basket. The final liquid retains the flavors and aromatic compounds of the botanicals.

Outside those steps, the process is malleable to the maker’s preferences. Base spirits can be made wheat, barley, corn, grape, potato, whey, or any other raw material that can be fermented into alcohol. To add flavor, distillers can choose from a world of botanicals, including seeds, berries, peels, spices, herbs and fruit  — coriander seeds, orris root, orange peel, and angelica root are especially popular choices. though many regions (including the United States and the European Union) do require juniper to be included).

There are several distinct styles within the broader gin category. “I usually reach for a London Dry Gin,” says McLain Hedges, co-owner of Yacht Club in Denver. “while I enjoy a large number of amazing new world styles, I tend to gravitate towards that bright juniper and citrus pop.”

Related: 31 of Our Favorite Gin Cocktails

What is London Dry Gin?

London Dry Gin was born out of necessity. During the gin craze of the 1700s, an average of one in four homes in London would produce their own gin. Most were (literally) sickening — home distillers would cut corners and craft cheap, often toxic brews, using chemicals like turpentine or glycerine as a flavoring instead of juniper. Real distillers lobbied for an official mark of provenance and now, the only additive London Dry Gins allow are water and a scant amount of sweetener.

Today the style is one of the most popular, identifiable by its dry palate and clean, crisp profile with pine-forward notes of juniper. “I like a juniper-forward London dry style,” Wiseman says.“The dryness and crispness of a London dry makes it a timeless, reliable choice for well-balanced and refreshing cocktails.”

If you’re not sure where to start, Minaya considers London Dry-style gins an excellent workhorse gin. “They take that mantle well — capable of being lovely in a martini, G&T, and a range of cocktails,” he says.

Other historic categories include Plymouth gin, first created in 1793 in the city of Plymouth and known for more subtle, citrus-driven flavors, and Old Tom — a slightly sweet, often-aged style of gin that gained popularity in the 18th century.

Related: 22 Gins That Every Martini Lover Should Try

The rise of new world gins

Since a gin recipe can be modified to meet the maker’s whims, many new producers are using gin as a vehicle for expressing terroir, working with local botanicals and ingredients that explore a sense of place. These gins are often loosely categorized as new world or contemporary gins.

“The botanicals present in new age gins are beginning to tell the story of their terroir,” explains Minaya. He points out a few of his favorite examples, likeIsolation Proof from the Catskills, which uses a Whey distillate as the base for their gins and flavors the spirit with seasonal ingredients like apples from the area. He’s also fond of Gin Mare, which uses ingredients true to its Mediterranean location like thyme, rosemary, and Arbequina olives.” He’s also keen on Abrojo Gin, a Oaxacan project that uses agave fibers leftover from the mezcal process distilled in either traditional clay or copper pots. It’s herbal with notes of lemongrass and lemon verbena, slightly smokey..

Related: 35 Unusual Gins to Add to Your Home Bar

How do you find the best gin?

With such a broad world of gins, how do you find the perfect fit for your palate? “You just have to play around and see what combination works best for you,” Wiseman advises. “There are some interesting high-priced gins available that offer more intricate and nuanced flavor profiles (such as rare botanicals) and there are some lovely lover priced gins that are just extremely well-balanced and delicious — they’re great for home bars and frequent uses.”

Valentino Longo, the co-owner of ViceVersa in Miami and founder of Shoshin Art Club, picks gin based on what cocktail he’s making. For Martinis, he prefers dry gin with a slight botanical touch. Long drinks like highballs call for a citrusy, more aromatic offering.

Wiseman prefers a 50-50 martini (equal parts gin and dry vermouth) because it gives drinkers an opportunity to taste the gin without being overly boozy.

Essentially, gin is whatever you want it to be — it’s all a matter of finding the right bottle. “Everyone has a different metric to what is best for them in terms of flavor, price, and application,” Hedges says. “In today's gin climate, that means there is something out there for everyone. The time is now!

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