Ok – first things first. No, you use your actual bathtub. That’s gross.
Bathtub Gin is a term that sprung out of prohibition. The term came about when unscrupulous moonshiners used botanicals to hide the terrible flavors found in their poorly-made hootch. In reality, the product is a type of Compound Gin (regardless of its legality).
Let’s start with a brief explanation of what Gin is. In the U.S. – and I’m only going to talk about U.S. Standards of Identity here, as the Europeans do it a little differently — gin is basically a naturally-flavored vodka that has juniper as the main flavoring agent. In addition to juniper, other natural botanicals added to gin include cardamom, coriander seed, star anise, cinnamon and even rose petals and cucumber more recently. The law just states that juniper must be the leading flavor.
Gin can be distilled from anything – potatoes, grains, etc. After being distilled to 190-proof (the same degree as vodka before dilution), flavors are added to the spirit in one of two ways.
Distilled Gin – takes the rectified spirit, adds water to it before sending through an extra distillation, this time with something called a Gin Head attached to the still. The Gin Head is a special chamber in the still that holds the botanicals. As the alcohol vapor passes through the gin head, it picks up flavors that will make it into the finished spirit. Distilled Gin is considered the most artisan and premium way of making gin.
Compound Gin – is made in a number of ways that don’t include use of a still. The easiest for home-tinkerers – the Maceration Technique – simply means muddling, crushing or cutting the botanicals before soaking them in the spirit. A natural infusion takes place.
I used the Maceration Technique to create my special Hot Pepper Gin. Why hot pepper gin and not hot pepper vodka, you ask? Well, it’s because I am quite fond of juniper – and happened to purchase a 3-pound bag of it that was in need of use.
I made Compound Gin because I do not have use of a still. (Federal officials do not look kindly upon home distillation.) Therefore, I had to find a commercial spirit base. Since I live in an area where Everclear 190-proof is available, so I chose that. Made from 100% corn, it’s about as close to a professional starting-point as an amateur can get. Of course, you can use any vodka (the higher the proof the better) if your state or county does not allow for the sale of Everclear.
I created two cheesecloth sacks. One I filled with diced vegetative botanicals – habañero, jalapeño, chili peppers and cucumbers. The other I filled with hard seasonings, after crushing them with a garlic press. These included juniper, cardamom, star anise, gentian root, cinnamon, lime peel and marjoram.
The herbs you can leave in for up to four days. I used 36 hours for this batch. However, the vegetative components – and this is important! – should not stay in for more than 24 hours. I used 12 hours with this batch because I had ruined previous batches by leaving in vegetative botanicals too long. It left the gin with a very bitter chlorophyll taste that made me throw out the whole 800 ML jar.
Now, since my gin started out at 190-proof, I had to dilute it with distilled water. I add the water to each cocktail, individually, to make storage simpler. I used 20 ML of gin with 25 ML of distilled water for the tasting. Distilled water was used because tap, filtered or spring water will cause cloudiness due to the minerals contained inside. That’s called the Louche effect.
Eye: Greenish color, with very viscous legs. Very noticeable contrast where the water met the high-proof spirit before mixing.
Nose: A little licorice. Juniper. Pine. But interestingly, there is not any pepper notes.
Tongue: Whoh! There’s the pepper – the very first thing you taste. Then, lingering juniper on the tip of your tongue, while the pepper moved to the back of your palate.
Finish: A little juniper and pine in the finish with lingering heat.