I have been chronicling my exploration of the ginaissance over the last couple of years and during that time have learned a lot about the history of my favourite spirit and the botanicals that give it its varied taste, ranging from the ultra-sweet to the spicy and all points in between. As there are over 200 gins available, there is no risk of me running out of new experiences for a while, particularly if I want to protect my liver. Everything in moderation, including moderation, as Oscar Wilde once said.
When I was younger, in the 1970s, and the beer and wine available in pubs and supermarkets were almost universally dreadful, there was a spell when every man and his dog was brewing their own. Shops like Boot’s would have row upon row of all the impedimenta you would require to brew a hooch of your choice in the privacy of your home – demi-johns, siphons, thermometers and the all-important home-brew ingredients, usually in round tins, if I recall. Wherever you went, airing cupboards were full of liquid fermenting away and occasionally friends and colleagues would sheepishly confess to an unexpected explosion which deposited the contents of the demi-john on the floor and surrounding walls. That was fine but the words that always filled me with dread were, “I have just bottled my fresh batch of nettle and bramble wine. Why don’t you come over and sample some?”
In the age of JAMs we need to look after every penny and for a while, I have been mulling over the idea of making my own gin. This is what retirement does for you. The kick up the demi-john that made me translate idle fancy to practical reality was a thoughtful present given to me at Christmas, a gin making kit. It came with a glass jar with artificial stopper, a sieve, a funnel, some labels and chalk and 100 grams of juniper berries. The instructions were somewhat rudimentary but one of the joys of the internet is that you can easily find more extensive and coherent recipes at the press of a few keys.
Of course, the starting point is the creation of the base spirit which adds a greater degree of complexity to the whole process and elongates the timescales. As a beginner, I decided that the sensible course was to miss out this step and concentrate on masceration, by buying a commercial vodka – triple distilled French grain vodka, available at all reputable branches of Asda. It being early January when I conducted this experiment, there were no flowers in the garden or the hedgerows for me to pluck and the weather was unconducive to foraging in the garden for roots, I took the easy way out by buying a pack of botanical gin blend from the admirably efficient Drinkstuff website. The pack consisted of coriander, angelica, orange peel, cassia and cubeb peppers.
The process was remarkably simple. I weighed out 25 grams of juniper berries and 17.5 grams of the botanical blend and poured them into the 500 ml glass jar. A note of caution – juniper berries are tricky customers and if you are not too careful or attempt the exercise with the early morning DTs, you can find you spend some time chasing the varmints around the kitchen floor. I then added some vodka up to the start of the neck of the jar. Some of the botanicals sank to the bottom while the majority floated near the top and I could discern bubbles appearing in the spirit. Only time will tell whether this is anything to worry about.
I then put the jar in a dark, cool place, our utility room, where it will do its magic for 24 hours. Then the fun part will start, sampling and adjusting to taste. If I survive the experience, I will report on how I got on next time. Cheers.