Gin 101: What Is Gin & How Is Gin Made?

You might have noticed that gin has become increasingly popular in Australia in recent years, but it’s not just a matter of being ‘on-trend’.  The Australian craft distilling industry really only started in the last 30 years, with new laws allowing small-scale distilling coming into place in the 90s, led by Bill Lark (aka. Australian Distilling legend). This gave the opportunity for small distilleries to open up, just like us in 2016, and since then has grown to over 300 distilleries in Australia.  The combination of this, with our rich Australian botanical pantry has allowed us and our fellow Aussies to experiment and push the boundaries of what has always been known as ‘gin’, incorporating weird and wonderful natives botanicals to establish a truly special ‘Australian gin’.

“We’re lucky, in Australia, to have such an interesting botanical pantry to choose from, and they really make our Australian spirits stand out when you put them up against the international brands. “ Says our Co-Founder, Vanessa Wilton.  “The first time we won Best London Dry Gin at the World Gin Awards, we knew we were doing something right.”

Though it’s a little easier these days to set up a distillery and making gin is fairly straightforward, what surprises most who get into gin distilling is how hard it is to make a truly great gin.  There’s a big difference between a good gin and an excellent gin, and it’s all found in learning the art of balancing botanical flavour profiles.  The whole process of creating a gin, perfecting the recipe, scaling up from a mini still to a full-sized still can take months, if not years.

A step-by-step guide to how gin is made

  • Birth of the distilled grain spirit

What is gin made from? Making gin is a bit like creating a watercolour painting – you need a good quality blank canvas to start, and that’s where a distilled grain spirit comes in. At Manly Spirits, we use an Australian wheat based spirit, which is sourced from our local Australian wheat farmers.

If you’ve been on one of our distillery tours, you’ll know that we also produce another type of grain spirit for our whisky, which is made from Australian barley.  Unlike Gin which can be bottled after distillation, Whisky requires maturation time in the barrel which can take several years to mature.  So while our craft spirit range at the moment consists of mostly gin, botanical vodkas and liqueurs – it’s interesting to know that currently a large portion of our production is actually making barley newmake spirit for our whisky.

  • Adding of Juniper berries & botanicals

Once the grain spirit has been acquired, the magic begins. This is truly where what makes up gin comes into play. Juniper berries and other botanicals are carefully selected and added to the neutral grain spirit.  In fact, no ingredient is more important to gin than Juniper berries. To be considered gin at all, Juniper berries must be included in the manufacturing process otherwise technically it becomes classified as a ‘Botanical Vodka’, like our Marine Botanical Vodka and Terra Firma Botanical Vodka.

For our product development process, we start with experimentation, trialing and tasting with a small 2.5 litre still.  Once the team have perfected the recipe and flavour profile, the hardest part starts – scaling up to the 600 litre Holstein still, which we have aptly named ‘Bella’.  She’s by far the most beautiful still at Manly Spirits, and is also named after David & Vanessa’s daughter. We do this by testing on our 50L still, then testing again on ‘Bella’ for the final run.

When choosing the other botanicals, it’s important to know what style of gin you are making.  Traditional botanicals like Coriander seeds and Angelica root are often used as a base for London Dry style gins, though when it comes to contemporary style gins, you can go heavier on the fruity, floral, earthy, spice, or citrus botanicals to make something really unique. For us here at Manly Spirits Co., all of our gins are handcrafted in Manly using a carefully considered blend of sustainably foraged marine botanicals, Australian native and more traditional gin botanicals, balanced neatly with the highest quality Australian grain spirit.

  • The distilling process

We use the distillation method called ‘one shot’, which means we craft the perfect recipe and ratio of raw botanicals to be placed in with the neutral grain spirit into our ‘Bella’ Holstein still, with one distillation run.  There are multiple methods that can be used to make gin – we’ve also experimented with vapour infusion and blending.  All of these methods completely change the end result of the gin, bringing out certain characteristics of each botanical which can make the product development process really interesting.

The time spent distilling will vary depending on the desired style and distiller’s preference.  The distiller will make several cuts, depending on the method used, usually making a first cut called the ‘heads’ which contains leftover flavours from the previous gin run, and will interfere with the desired outcome.  The still will continue running the ‘hearts’ which will hold the flavours the distiller is looking for.  The distiller will then determine when to finish the cut, and let the still run out the ‘feints’ or ‘tails’ which will have an undesirable flavour.   Gins typically run from 37.5% to 50% ABV, though most sit around the 41% ABV mark.

For a gin to be considered a London dry style it needs to use the single shot production method. It can only be watered down to a minimum strength of 37.5%, it must contain no artificial ingredients, contain only a minute amount of sweetener and cannot have any flavour or colour added after distillation.  However, many flavoured gins will go through an infusion process to bring a distinct colour to the gin, which can take anywhere from 12hours – 12 months!

Now, how about trying it for yourself?

Making gin at the Manly Spirits Gin School

Located in the Manly Spirits Distillery, “The Stillhouse” offers you a unique hands-on experience — the chance to make your very own, one-of-a-kind bottle of gin to take home for yourself. You’ll take charge of a miniature copper still, developing and distilling a unique blend of botanicals, juniper berries and grain spirit in our outstanding laboratory. You’ll discover how to make gin and take home a 700mL bottle of gin as a souvenir to savour. Book your Gin School Experience or secure a Gin School gift card for a special friend today — and while you’re there, make sure to enjoy a cocktail at the bar too.

Discover more with a gin distillery tour at Manly Spirits

Here at Manly Spirits Co. Distillery, we take no shortcuts; our craft is honoured with the utmost respect, blending traditional and modern distilling techniques along with the finest ingredients, to create our exquisite craft spirits.

A visit to our gin distillery will provide an immersive behind-the-scenes look into how we incorporate foraged marine and native botanicals into our distinctive range of Australian gin. And perhaps best of all — afterwards you’ll be able to visit our distillery bar to sample bespoke drinks created with the Manly Spirits range.

You can book your gin distillery tour online today. And to discover more about what Manly Spirits has to offer visitors, get in touch — one of our friendly gin experts will be more than happy to help.

June 07, 2023
Tags: Journal