The liquid base for gin consists of spirit alcohol. Neutral spirits are distilled from cereal grains or sugars, such as molasses, grapes or sugarcane. Common grain spirits fermented for gin are made from corn, rice, barley, rye or wheat. Pure spirits are strong and very high in ethanol content and have no flavor apart from the natural flavor of the grains.
Makers of gin use a variety of botanical additives for flavoring. All recipes for gin contain juniper berries. Other common ingredients include orange blossoms, lemon peel, coriander, anise and angelica root. Depending on the final stages of the distillation process, the botanical ingredients are placed in a copper basket or cheesecloth in preparation for infusion with the neutral spirits.
Maceration or Vaporization
Low quality gin is made via maceration of the botanical ingredients. The juniper berries and other flavoring ingredients are added directly to the grain distillate in the cheesecloth or copper basket. They then steep for one day to one week in order for the alcohol to absorb the flavors. The grain distillate is then heated briefly in an industrial vat or in a pot on the stove-top to complete the distillation process.
Superior quality gins are made using a vaporization process for the botanical flavoring; this creates a smoother gin. At home, the natural ingredients are placed in a cheesecloth and suspended above the alcohol in the pot while the spirits are boiled. The steam penetrates the natural ingredients and transfers the flavor to the alcohol. Industrial producers of top-quality gin use essentially the same process, on a larger scale. The juniper berries and additional botanical ingredients are suspended by copper baskets above the vats of grain spirits as the internal temperature is raised. This more refined vapor-infusion process makes for a smooth gin with subtle flavor notes.
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