It was the great Athenian tragedian, Aeschylus, who wrote in Agamemnon that wisdom comes through suffering. Rather like Icarus I chose to reach for the sun and instead came crashing down to earth. No, I’ve not been overdoing it with the gin. What I’m talking about is my early experiments with making my own gin.
The hooch was a brackish brown colour, not the bright piss colour of Ungava but a colouration that is suggestive of some urinary complaint. Some diligent enquiries on the internet reassured me that this was not a problem. This is exactly what many commercial gins look like before they are distilled for a final time. As I don’t have a still, then I’m going to have to lump it, although sieving the contents will get rid of the floating sediment.
The major problems, though, were taste and aroma. The aroma was heavily peppered and to the taste it was like firewater with a very heavily pronounced spicy aftertaste. The problem, clearly, was that I had overdone it with the mix and that the ratio between juniper berries was out of kilter with the amount of other botanicals I had used. And, of course, whilst you can relatively easily add, what you can’t do is extract. So, other than dilute, I’m rather saddled with my first batch.
The only thing to do was to pick myself up, brush myself down, massage my by now heavily bruised ego and start again. This time I was going to play it safe. I had about 20 centilitres of triple distilled French grain vodka left to which I added 20 grams of juniper berries. This I left to mascerate. Originally it was going to be for 24 hours but some unavoidable family matters made me rather take my eye off the ball so that it was some 48 hours later that I was able to give the mix my full attention. There was a slight discolouration and the majority of the juniper berries were floating on the top but the smell and taste was much more like a gin.
It was at this point that I added some of the botanical mix – coriander, angelica, orange peel, cassia and cubeb peppers as before – but this time, a much more conservative 5 grams – and after agitating vigorously – that is the distiller’s term for stirring – I allowed it to mascerate for a few days, checking and agitating daily. After a week I judged that enough was enough as the mix had a recognisably ginny smell to it and whilst it was spicy, it was not unpleasantly so.
The next stage is to strain the mixture through some muslin or cheesecloth to capture the by now heavily marinated berries and other jetsam. I did this half a dozen times using fabrics with increasingly smaller mesh and, amazingly, the spirit started to clear. It still had a bit of a hue but was not as off putting as the original. Alternatively, you can use a water filter jug such as Brita make. I then bottled the spirit, put a label on naming it Hooch #2 and sampled it with some Fever Tree Premium Tonic. Not bad, if I say so myself, although the 200 or so distillers surfing the ginaissance have nothing to worry about – yet!