What characterises gin is flavour and the starting point in the creation of our favourite hooch is the production of a clear spirit which is often vodka or vodka based. Unlike the vodka which people drink, though, which is as neutral as can be and has been distilled a number of times to eliminate impurities, a completely neutral spirit base isn’t necessarily the desired outcome for gin making.
A wide range of ingredients can be used to make the base spirit. Most commonly, corn, wheat, potatoes or grapes are used but you will find some gins which incorporate more exotic flavours such as bananas, apples or carrots into the mix. If the starting point is something which is starch-heavy such as a grain or a potato, then a malted grain or an enzyme will be deployed to release the all-important sugars. Because of the high levels of the enzyme in barley that does the converting into sugars, it features regularly in recipes for the base spirit. Where a fruit is deployed, the sugars necessary for the next step are already there in abundance.
Yeast is added to the mix, or to give it its technical term the mash, and it is put into a fermentation vessel where small bacteria will digest the sugars, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol. After a while a fermented, alcoholic liquid will be created which is then siphoned out and poured into a still where the base spirit for the gin can be separated from the more toxic remnants.
Our featured gin of the month comes from Chase Distillery in Herefordshire. What caught my attention about William’s Great British Extra Dry Gin, aside from the 20% discount on its price at Waitrose, was the fact that not only was the base spirit made from a mix of potatoes and apples but they were all from the fields and orchards surrounding their farm. Brewer’s yeast is added to aid the fermentation of the spuds. The spirit is then distilled four times and then a further twice in their rectification column which at 70 feet is reputed to be the tallest in the world.
To make the gin from this vodka base they use a 250 litre still called Ginny. The botanicals – ten in all are used including juniper buds as well as berries, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, almond, coriander, cardamom, cloves, liquorice and lemon – are put into a pillow case and placed into the head of the still where the flavours are infused into the vapours passing through.
To the nose the gin has a strong juniper smell with hints of spice and to the taste it is very dry, living up to its billing, and full-bodied with juniper to the fore together with citrus and spice. The aftertaste is spicy but it finishes with a strong sensation of citrus and apple. It is excellent when mixed with a tonic such as Fever-Tree – not too much, mind you.
The bottle is squat with a greenish hue and the stopper is cork. My bottle came replete with a natty Union Jack bow tie and a sticker saying batch number 166 and vintage 2015. GB appears on the top of the cap and GB and the Union Jack on the label – there is no mistaking where it comes from. A really great gin.
Until the next time, cheers!