Earlier this year I came across a couple of websites that talked about how easy it is to make your own gin at home by infusing cheap vodka with select botanicals. This intrigued me, and I even wrote a blog post about it. Well, it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I actually took a shot at it and just now that I finally wrote about it. Below is a recount of my experience.
I based my technique and recipe off of a combination of the information found on this website and this website (though mostly on the first one). I made trips to several stores to buy whole spices, including a local Indian market. I bought juniper (of course), black cardamom pods, bay leaves, black peppercorns, dried lemon peel, dried orange peel, fennel, coriander, and cinnamon bark (the good kind). Surprisingly, the hardest ingredient to find was juniper berries, but I finally managed to track them down at (where else?) Whole Foods. I also picked up a grapefruit to use some of the rind, a cucumber to put in one jar, and picked some rosemary from the backyard.
Anyways, after getting the botanicals, I picked up some hooch at the liquor store in the form of the cheapest handle of 100 proof vodka they had, and some 80 proof to use to dilute the final product. Having a plethora of mason jars, I decided to make four different batches and divided the 1.5L of vodka evenly among these jars. To create my recipes, and to emphasize that I am a nerd, I input the original recipes from the above websites into an Excel spreadsheet, then scaled them down to my smaller batches, and then created two of my own recipes (if you are also a nerd and would like a copy of my spreadsheet, email me and I will send it to you). As I mentioned above, one of my custom recipes featured some grapefruit zest and was "heavy" on the dried lemon and orange peel, while another one featured fresh cucumber and rosemary. I used my mortar and pestle to break up some of the whole spices for each recipe, put them in the jars, added the vodka and after giving them each a shake, put them in the pantry.
The four batches right after their assembly
The site I primarily based my recipe on suggested leaving them for a month or so. I would give them each a shake and a visual and olfactory inspection once or twice every day, but really didn't see much point in letting them sit for much longer than a week. So I strained each one through some cheese cloth, and came out with four jars of amber-colored liquid that smelled like they would make decent colognes. At the suggestion of one of the websites, I ran two batches through a Brita pitcher to, as the website seemed to promise, take them from their golden hue to the clear appearance that we all know and love. Well, this is where things stopped working out. I ran one of the batches through the Brita at least 12 or 15 times, possibly more. This stuff simply was not coming out clear. I guess that the oils from the botanicals mixed with the alcohol somehow and there appears to be no way to get it clear, save for distilling it (which I am not going to do). So I gave up, and finally just mixed it with the 40 proof vodka and called it a day.
The four batches after a week of soaking
This is how they came out after being strained (but before the Brita)
So how did it come out? Um, well, not terribly, which is good. I could definitely taste some differences in the two batches that I made, and could almost even taste the grapefruit from the rind that I added. Both were certainly drinkable. However, I think that since we eat and drink with our eyes first, it is difficult to get around the odd color of the gin, though it does mellow out a good bit when added to tonic water. Also, not being a gin connoisseur, I found it somewhat difficult to compare these side-by-side in an attempt to pick up on the subtle ways that this amount of fennel might have been better than this amount of cardamom, etc. I really just drank them with some tonic water. In conclusion: not bad, but I wasn't blown away either.
I believe this was #3, the one with the grapefruit peel, after being filtered through the Brita and diluted with 40 proof vodka
If that was #3, this is #4, the one with the cucumber and rosemary
So is this something you should do? Maybe. If you really like gin, and know what particular flavors you really like and really don't like, this may be a good way to go to try to craft your "perfect" or "signature" blend. It might be fun for Christmas or birthday gifts if you have friends that really like gin. Once you buy the botanicals, it is really a pretty cheap operation as you will, no doubt, have enough spices to make many, many batches. However, until someone can tell me definitively how to get rid of the yellow hue in the final product, I don't think I will be attempting this again any time soon.