What is Gin Made from?

What is Gin Made from

While seemingly simple, answering what gin is made of could require a bit of a complicated response. Rather than simply listing off a selection of ingredients, let’s take a deeper dive into what gin really is. How is it made? Where did it originate? What is it used for? If we can answer those questions, we will have a firm understanding of what gin is made of.

What is Gin?

Gin is a liquor that has a predominant flavor - it is that of juniper berries. While gin is quite possibly the most broadest category of spirits, with a lot of inherent freedoms in its processing, it all revolves around the presence of juniper berries.

Created way back in the middle ages, gin has seen an evolution from herbal tonic to popular cocktail staple. It traced its roots to a spirit called jenever and was popularized in England under the reign of King William III.

The History of Gin

Several entities have taken claim to the creation of jenever, and thus gin, but it is difficult to track down the true inventor. The earliest discussions of gin in literature date to the 1200s, while the first printed recipe appears to have been written in the 1500s. In either case, gin became wildly popular in the 1600s as England imposed enormous taxes on imported French brandy. It was during this time period that gin and jenever, or genever, split ways. Gin focuses on grains as a base, while “Dutch Gin” or genever utilizes malt wine as its primary ingredient.

The Gin and Tonic

As a fun aside, the gin and tonic was created for primarily health reasons. British soldiers stationed in the tropical regions required quinine intake to avoid contracting malaria. Quinine tasted terrible and was dissolved into carbonated water for consumption. This concoction became known as tonic water. In order to avoid that nasty flavor, the soldiers added gin to mask it with the powerful juniper nose. The gin and tonic was born and continues to be a popular cocktail to this day.

Four Types of Gin

In Europe, the law states there are four types of gin and separates them like so:

  • Distilled Gin: Re-distilled in gin stills with the presence of juniper berries.
  • Gin: Dominating flavor must be juniper but made by adding botanicals to a neutral spirit.
  • Juniper- Flavored Spirit: Pot distilled grain mash; re-distilled with botanicals.
  • London Gin: Re-distilled in traditional stills with the presence of all botanicals.

The United States keeps its definition of gin fairly simple. The legal definition is, “Gin is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits.” In short, any neutral spirit that has some presence of juniper berry.

With the definitions, we have seen of the types of gin and how they are legally defined, we can begin to deduce what gin is made of. Obviously, it varies based on the type of production process used to make it.

How is Gin Made?

How is Gin Made

By looking at how gin is made, we can certainly see many of the items that make gin what it is today. There are several ways of making gin. Each is still used today, however, some have become more popular over time for the sake of efficiency and overall quality.

  • Column-Distilled Gin: First, a high-proof neutral spirit is distilled in a refluxing still, also called a column still. Then the spirit is placed in a pot still along with the juniper berries and botanicals that are usually hung in a basket above the liquid. This allows for a more mild flavor while infusing the flavors of the botanicals. Column-distilled gin is typically finished as a distilled gin or London Dry gin.
  • Compound Gin: This would be your make it at home variety of gin. Any neutral spirit “flavored” with botanicals or other additives is known as a compound gin.
  • Pot Distilled Gin: The gin that started it all! Produced by pot distilling a mash from barley and/or other types of grain. This produces a malt wine, of sorts. Then it is re-distilled with the botanicals to provide flavor to the neutral spirit.

Answering the Question: What is Gin Made Of?

Some of us prefer direct answers rather than a history lesson. That is understandable. A typical gin recipe that the original producers would have used contains the following ingredients:

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Since its origin, gin has been experimented with and its ingredient list has evolved. A more modern gin could contain some of the following ingredients:

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    Citrus Peel
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    Lemon Peel
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    Orris Root
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    Angelica Root

As gin has evolved, so too have the ingredients amongst its botanicals. It would not be unusual to find basically any natural botanical in gin nowadays. There are hundreds of potential combinations out there. One thing we know will always be found in a favorite gin - juniper berries. This is the lasting requirement of any true gin and regardless of how many other botanicals make their way into the distillation process, juniper will always be a predominant flavor in gin.