Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: This is not Carol Burnett’s bathtub gin.
(Remember this from Annie?)
This recipe came to me from Gourmet Live, by way of the lovely folks over at The Peche. It’s packed with some of my favorite fresh and dried herbs and spices. I should note that this is an infusion, and true gin is made with a still (not legal for home use, and not something we remotely recommend ever trying at home.)
I should also note that this gin isn’t crystal clear.
At least, mine picked up a hint of yellow-green from the fresh herbs. Now, I’m sure this will bother gin purists. But hey, it’s gin I made at home, and you connoisseurs are probably firmly ensconced with your favorite bottles, anyway. Plus, what it lacks in pristine-as-the-first-fallen-snow clarity, it makes up for in flavor. It’s delicious. So there. (Besides, if you take the time to run it 2-3 times through a coffee filter, the clarity improves dramatically.)
I should also note that I gave some to a (badly) hungover friend, and he said it perked him up. Probably too soon to start touting this as a hangover cure, but initial results are promising. 😉
So what’s in gin, anyways?
And there’s not really a simple answer. The short response is: Gin can be a lot of different things.
As long as you’re looking at a neutral, hard liquor that’s been flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals, it qualifies as gin. Pretty open ended, right?
Here’s a look at some of the botanicals that go into gin. You should be able to find all them at a well-stocked grocery store.
Let’s start with the star. Juniper berries are these things here.
Juniper trees are evergreens that make their home in North America, Europe & Asia. The ancient Egyptians used juniper to cure tapeworms. The Romans and the Hopi used it to treat stomach problems.
Western Europeans planted juniper trees by their houses to ward off witches. The Scottish burned it to ward off the evil eye. And the Tibetans added it to incense to exorcise demons.
Not to mention that juniper has also been used medicinally to cure everything from gas and heartburn to bladder and kidney infections.
Pretty good stuff, right?
Aside from juniper berries, I tossed a lot of other botanicals into this batch of gin, including:
Green Cardamom Pods
Cardamom pods smell AMAZING, and have a ton of different uses outside of amateur gin-making, including in baked goods, ice cream, tea—and the cuisines of the Middle East and Scandanavia. It’s also a key player in chai.
The cardamom plant is actually in the ginger family. It’s also the world’s third most expensive spice, right after saffron and vanilla beans. This is probably because the pods have to be harvested by hand, when they’re three-quarters ripe.
Not only does fennel seed smell like licorice, but it’s good for your digestion, too.
Fennel has been used to cure all sorts of ailments through the years, from snakebites to obesity to stomach trouble. Fennel seed also plays a role in a handful of other liquors, including aquavit and absinthe.
Lemon peel is one of my favorite ways to brighten up almost any drink or dish. Be sure to scrape off as much of the white pith from the inside of the peel as you can. It’s bitter, and you don’t want that in your gin.
A good friend was kind enough to donate some of her homegrown lavender. (Gorgeous, right?)
If you can’t find fresh lavender, I’m sure you could use a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers.
Lavender is a mainstay in French Herbes de Provence, and dried lavender is getting easier to find. Just be sure you don’t use anything that’s not food grade (i.e. potpourri). I like to order my herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs. (Their lavender listing is here.)
What do the experts say?
Now, what makes GOOD gin is an entirely different question…and one that I’m probably not qualified to answer. I’m just a little mouse who likes to tinker with homemade infusions. (Believe it or not, I actually like making them better than I like drinking them.)
So, I’ll leave the expert commentary to, well, the experts.
Luckily, the Barkeep over at SeeMyDrink.com, a free social networking site for cocktail enthusiasts, was kind enough to indulge us on the topic of gin. Here’s what he had to say. (If you’re one of those with a penchant for Instagramming pics of your cocktails, you should seriously check this site out.)
“Ever since the cocktail resurgence began a few years ago, the gin landscape in the U.S. has changed. Your choices used to be limited to a London gin. Glass bottles were the good stuff; plastic bottles were nothing more than paint stripper. Today, we’re fortunate to have a great variety of gin styles.
A few words about London Dry. Many people think gin originated in the UK. Actually, it’s a product of the Netherlands.
Around the turn of the century, Londoners were cranking out gin like it was water. Because this “bathtub gin” wasn’t regulated, it actually caused a public health crisis ranging from injury, blindness, to even death.
In response, Parliament quickly enacted the strict double distillation standards for production that exist to this day. These standards help make London Dry a favorite of gin drinkers worldwide. While Bombay and Bombay Sapphire are the most prolific of the London Drys, I feel the Plymouth Gin is the best in this category.
About ingredients. Gin is mostly associated with juniper, although there are no legal requirements for ingredients as with Champagne or bourbon. Typically, gin gets its predominant flavor from juniper during the initial distillation.
That said, I like two brands that think outside that box. New Amsterdam (not a traditional Amsterdam gin) has a nice light clean citrus flavor. Hendricks exudes earthy notes of cucumber.
Bols Genever is new to the US market and is currently taking speakeasies by storm. It’s a traditional Holland gin modeled after a 100+ year old recipe. It’s what people were drinking pre-prohibition. Its sweeter, malty taste is nothing like the aforementioned gins. In fact, it tastes nothing like any gin you’re used to.
Another new-to-you-but-old-as-the-hills gin is Old Tom, another pre-prohibition style gin that’s slowly finding its ways to shelves at better liquor stores. Similar in flavor profile to a London Dry, OId Tom is sweeter. Hayman’s is the best Old Tom out there, but whatever you can find will be a rare treat.
Finally a small note on what to avoid: Anything in a plastic bottle! (These are truly words to live by.) The one brand I always avoid is Tanqueray. Even though it’s everywhere, its distinctive taste is the unfortunate result of botanicals (namely, pine) being added during the second distillation, which distorts the flavor and renders it useless to any serious cocktailologist.
What would I put in my own gin? I have no clue. That’s your job, Mouse. I guess I’d start with the cleanest spirit (least amount of aftertaste) so that when cocktailing, my accent liquors are allowed to shine through.”
I also asked a bunch of you guys
I also took it to the street and asked our fans and followers on Twitter and Facebook about their favorite gin brands and cocktails.
I got a ton of responses. Here are some of them. (You gin drinkers are an enthusiastic bunch! Thanks so much to all for contributing!)
“Hendrick’s is my favorite gin.”
“Ooh, I’ve heard great things about Hendrick’s…”
“The brewers of Anchor Steam make a bracing gin great for G&T. As for cocktails… Corpse Reviver #2. Several versions around, but it should call for Lillet Blanc and absinthe, or it’s not legit. And please get real Marasca cherries. A work of art in a shaker.”
“Death’s Door is my fav. It has a strong flavor!”
“Bombay is the best tasting. Bombay in the blender with fresh orange juice and pink lemonade with a few cubes of ice and yummers! Refreshing summer momma Slurpee!”
“We have just tried Old Lady and it’s not too bad and a good price.”
“Have you heard of Brecon gin (wales) or Chase gin (Hereford, England)?? The chase gin is made from apples 🙂 both really good and very easy to drink!”
“Leopold Bros. Gin. I also like Plymouth, and my drink at the moment is The Last Word, a prohibition-era cocktail comprised of equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur, and Lime Juice.”
“Beefeaters is a classic in Mexico, Tamarindo martini is my fav, very refreshing with chili powder on the rim.”
“I love Hendrick’s and, locally, knockabout gin from Ryan & Wood in Gloucester.”
“Only recently started drinking gin, but a great drink is one I got at Zaytinya here, called a Beach (or Town?): Plymouth gin, lime, maraschino & egg white.”
“We love Hendrick’s after having it in Scotland. For me, G&T with the cucumber garnish.”
“For Cocktails I love Voyager, and for gin and tonics I like Tanqueray Ten”
“Plymouth is an utterly smooth and easy gin. It’s great in cocktails where you don’t want to get smacked in the face with juniper or when you want to fool someone who doesn’t like gin.”
“No.3, Old Raj, Death’s Door, and the Imperial Cocktail, the Aviation Cocktail and the classic Tom Collins.”
“Magellan gin, St Germain, tonic, twist of lime, ice. So good.”
“My favorite gin is Hendricks, and I love it with a cucumber garnish and maybe some St. Germaine.”
“Gin and tonic with grapefruit bitters on ice is my favorite summer gin drink.”
“Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, NC made a terrific roasted blackberry infused gin.”
“<3 gin! Particularly new ones from St George. Aviation, Last Word, The Gypsy. Mmmm.”
“The “Strange Brew” at Death and Co. An IPA tops off a gin and citrus delight.”
“Vesper! And Death’s Door is incredible.”
“Cucumber Mint Ice Cubes, my favorite way to serve gin.”
“I really like Rogue Spruce Gin and Barr Hill from Caledonia Spirits.”
“One of my colleagues swears by Tanqueray and tonic. Says it keeps the horseflies from biting.”
“Sweet Patootie Cocktail: Gin, Triple Sec, OJ, ice….”
“I just tried Gale Force Gin, it’s from a distillery in Nantucket, I believe. Although it won’t be replacing my Bombay, it is pretty tasty.”
“The Bijou is always a good gin drink.”
“I know little about gin and am intrigued. I helped a great deal, I know.”
How about you? What’s your favorite cocktail? Brand of gin? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Ready to make your own gin?
The best part about making your own gin? You can 100% control what goes into it. The mix below produces a fragrant gin that’s light and refreshing.
For a stronger juniper flavor, infuse the juniper berries overnight, then add the rest of the ingredients and infuse for another 24 hours.
The short version of the recipe goes like this:
- Stuff the herbs & spices into a very clean bottle.
- Cover with vodka for 24 hours
- Strain, filter (if necessary), rebottle, enjoy!
Here’s a little eye candy for what that looks like.
Adapted from Gourmet Live
1 (750ml) bottle of vodka
2 Tablespoons dried juniper berries
3/4 teaspoon coriander seed or ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3 green cardamom pods
3 black peppercorns
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 piece fresh lemon peel
1 sprig fresh lavender
Makes 1 bottle of gin. Serves as many as you want to share with.
Combine all the ingredients
Gather your herbs and spices. If you’re partial to one flavor, or hate another, definitely feel free to play with the ratio of ingredients, or even omit some and add others. After all, it’s your gin.
Sterilize a glass bottle with hot, soapy water.
Add all the solids to the bottle.
Pour in the vodka.
Shake & infuse overnight
Give it a good shake. Let infuse overnight.
The berries and seeds will rise to the top. That’s just fine. Make sure they’re covered with vodka. Shake the bottle every once in a while.
Strain & bottle
I strained it once to catch all the solids, then ran it through a coffee filter a couple of times to try to improve the clarity.
The final brew definitely has a fresh green tint from the herbs.
Cheers and enjoy!
Now the big question: What’s your favorite gin cocktail?
And what’s your favorite brand? Have you ever made your own gin? Leave a comment, let us know!
Stay tuned for a couple of gin reviews and a cocktail or two in the coming weeks.