Seems every second Joe Blow is making a gin nowadays. And with the interest in the category showing no signs of abating, we bet we aren't the first to think about jumping on the bandwagon with our own. Forgetting the whole regulatory and tax thing (that's another story), how hard can it be to make what is essentially flavoured vodka?
Thanks to 58 Gin in London and Archie Rose in Sydney, we were able to put this to the test and explore two methods of gin distillation - firstly, the chuck everything in one pot (as we call it) and secondly, the blending method. If you're a whisky drinker, think of it as a single cask vs blended dichotomy. We should say first off, that both gins we made were consistent with the London Dry definition of gin, i.e. all botanicals used in the gin are added during the distillation and no colourings or flavourings are added after (with the exception of a small amount of sugar)
On paper, the one pot method sounds easy enough. Take juniper and a couple of botanicals, get some neutral spirit, throw it all into a still, turn on the switch and that's it right? That's certainly what we thought before we turned our hand to making our own with Mark Marmont of 58 Gin in London.
58 Gin is a relative newcomer to the scene but has already been named as one of 101 gins to try before you die by Ian Buxton. Whilst it's not officially imported into Australia (yet), those keen to try it can find it at gin bar Gin & It in Sydney's Barangaroo. It's made out of a space in Hackney Downs Studios by Mark, an Aussie in London who's had a quite a varied career before becoming a gin distiller. From growing up on a farm in Australia to working at Sizzlers and becoming a dive master and cat sitter, it seemed a happy turn of events that the self confessed cocktail lover found himself living at 58 Colebrooke Row (which is where the gin gets it name from). Even happier was the fact that number 58 is a stones throw from that renowned no name bar at number 69, run by drinks maestro Tony Conigliaro, who himself is arguably the Heston Blumenthal of the drinks world. Many a cocktail later at number 69, the idea for his own gin was hatched and the rest, as they say, is history. 2 years of experimentation, a studio largely built by Mark himself and a cool logo designed by tattoo artist to the stars, Mo Coppoletta later, 58 Gin was officially born with its first batch on January 2015.
Distilled in micro batches of 80 bottles at a time from a copper pot still christened Eliza, 58 Gin is a crisp gin that's quite citrus driven but not overly so; largely thanks to the lemon peel, pink grapefruit peel, bergamot peel joining the likes of coriander seed, orris, cubeb pepper, angelica and vanilla in the botanical equation. We liked it when we tasted it, so when Mark asked if we wanted to make our own during an impromptu visit, we won't lie; we had visions of this being the springboard to a global Sydney Cocktail Club gin empire.
So how easy is it to MYO gin, and should we start making plans for our own distillery?
Turns out it's easy enough if you've got a distiller guiding you through the process. It's also easy to see how it took Mark close to 2 years of experiments to work out the perfect recipe for his gin. It isn't simply a matter of choosing the botanicals and throwing them into the still, it's also working out which botanicals in what proportion will give you the style of gin you want, be it spicy, peppery, citrus-sy etc. Apart from juniper (which has to be the predominant botanical), the sky's the limit in terms of what and how many other botanicals you can throw in; some, like Monkey 47 have 47 botanicals in their mix, whilst others, such as Deaths Door only uses 3. Add to that the challenge of figuring out how much of each to use, and you have a veritable toe curling task on your hands.
For our first foray into gin making, we decided to keep things simple and went with angelica, cubeb, black pepper and pink grapefruit peel. All of our botanicals were then added to Dizzy (a smaller version of Eliza), which Mark had already filled up with a locally made neutral spirit.
The next challenge is working out which part of the distillate coming out of the still is good enough to be used for bottling - which is where you'll need your olfactory and tastebuds to work overtime. The initial run of liquid coming out will both smell and taste like paint stripper; it's easy enough to work out this is not good stuff but it takes a trained nose to identify the point at which those harsh notes become the alcoholic perfume that distillers (and drinkers) look for, and when that perfume stops. Our whole experience took just under 2 hours; from picking the botanicals through to bottling and sealing the wax tops on, yielding about 1 litre of alcohol all up. But golly, there's nothing quite like making your own gin to make you appreciate the skills required with so many steps of the process, not least trying to work out how the chosen botanical will turn out once it's been through the distillation process. So to all these gin distillers out there, we tip our hat to you! And we certainly have to extend a huge thanks to Mark for his hospitality and time in showing us the ropes of what it's like to be a small batch gin producer. If you're ever in London, go hunt down 58 Gin - it's sold at Master of Malt, Fortnum & Mason and good independent retailers but Mark does pop up at various locations, just check the website here
After our experience at 58 Gin, we got to thinking, what about if someone else did the distillation of each botanical separately and all we had to do was blend them together? This method is preferred by some producers such as Distillery Botanica on the NSW Central Coast (which produces Distillery Botanica gin and Moores Vintage Dry Gin) and Archie Rose Distillery in Sydney for the reason that they get better extraction of flavour from each botanical. If the distillation process is the hard part, surely blending the separate finished distillates would be like making a vanilla and cinnamon mocha frappucino? So we thought, which is how we found ourselves with our next post and Part 2 of make your own gin. Read on to see if we fared any better....