I get a number of enquiries from people wanting to make gin, or people making gin, and everyone has their preference, or their preconceived idea, about how to distil gin. So I ask myself: what is the correct technique for distilling gin? The answer is that there is no correct technique, but there are many techniques and they all produce a result that tastes delicious.
The most common style of gin, based on my customer enquiries, is vapour infussion. The style requires vapour to pass through the botanicals before being condensed. The variations of this style will position the botanicals in a different place on the column, so let’s start with the simplest varation – the pot distillation configuration. This technique is like making whiskey except that the botanicals are put in the path of the vapour (see photo of Gin Pot Still). The gin basket can be placed anywhere before the condenser and the only real consideration is in the design of the basket to ensure that the vapour gets contact with all the botanicals.
Another technique is to put the gin basket in a rectification column. The gin can be put at the top of the column (see photo) and the dephlegmator can be operated such as to produce a reasonably consistent ABV running through the botainicals. Since alcohol at different percentages will draw different flavours from the botanicals, this technique will draw only certain flavours, but a lot of flavour. The basket can be put at the bottom of the rectification column in which case the heavier flavours that are drawn from the botanicals will be distilled out of the gin in a subtle manner. You could even put the basket in the middle of the column! I can’t tell you how noticeable the gin will taste with the same botanicals and different techniques, that is up to the distiller to determine and then stamp his or her brand on the taste.
A lot of people use the Carter Head type of gin basket which can be used in the pot still or column still configurations and it is always positioned at the top of the column. The
Carter Head gin basket is set off to the side of the column and and any reflux produced by ambient cooling of the basket does not run back into the boiler. The feature of HHH’s new carter Head gin basket is that the vapour can only flow through the botanicals and bypass aroound the side of the internal basket like others in the market. There are gin baskets that stand alone beside the boiler and these are convenient for their size. They can fit all the botanicals necessary for the distillation and do not need to be changed out during the process.
The other style of gin is macerated gin where the botanicals are ground up, added to the ethanol and left to soak for hours or days before being distilled. The botanicals are therefore placed in the boiler and the flavour leaves the boiler with the vapour. Using this technique the flavour profile you get will be determined by your starting ABV. Some oils (flavours) will only dissolve at a certain combination of ABV and temperature so if you start with a 30% maceration you will get only those flavours that dissolve in a low alcohol concentration, the lighter oils. If you start at 80% ABV you will get a wider range of flavours.
The only advice I can give to those grappling with which technique to use is to follow your instinct on the technique and adjust your recipe to give the great taste you are looking for. No one technique will give a better product than another, only a different product.