What is gin made from, and is it just flavoured vodka?
Gin is a complex drink, both in its distillation and flavour combinations. Here, we explain what gin is and the difference between gin and vodka.
What Exactly is Gin?
Gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that gets its signature flavour from juniper berries. The juniper shrub is from the cypress family that grows in much of the northern hemisphere. Its seeds, often called berries, have a bright, piney and resinous smell and taste. They have been used as a medicine and in food and drink for millennia.
The definition and classification of gin is based on its strength, distillation process, and the presence of juniper berry, colouring, additional flavourings and other criteria. From these deductions, gin is often broken down into four categories:
- Juniper flavoured spirits - produced via old fashioned pot distillation of a fermented grain mash then redistilled with botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds.
- Gin - a juniper flavoured spirit made not via the redistillation of botanicals, but by adding natural flavouring substances to a neutral spirit of agricultural origin.
- Distilled gin - produced by redistilling ethanol of agricultural origin in stills traditionally used for gin, in the presence of juniper berries and of other natural botanicals. The juniper taste must be predominant.
- London gin - obtained exclusively from ethanol of agricultural origin, whose flavour is introduced through the re-distillation in traditional stills in the presence of the natural plant materials used. London gin can’t contain added sweeteners or colourants, nor any added ingredients other than water.
Gin’s distillation process can be broadly outlined as follows:
- Distilled: Juniper berries and other aromatics are added to a fermented mash and distilled all together.
- Redistilled: A neutral base spirit is redistilled with juniper berries and other aromatics.
- Compounded: Made by mixing a neutral base spirit with juniper berries and other aromatics.
Read more about the types of gin here.
So Is Gin Just Juniper Infused Vodka?
Perhaps because gin and vodka are often interchangeable in martinis, with tonic and other popular drinks, this question has been the subject of many a pub conversation, or these days, many a Google search.
As stated above, gin is known for its juniper berries. However, the gnarly, coniferous juniper tree is not the base of gin. Gin is normally made by distilling malt or grain, and then combined with juniper berries for taste
In contrast, vodka is normally made from the distillation of potatoes, rye or wheat (any starch or sugar-rich grain works well), with water and ethanol forming much of its final makeup. The flavouring is mostly added after the distillation process.
With these facts in mind, vodka and gin have a number of similarities. They are both transparent, grain-based spirits with origins in Europe that employ similar distilling methods.
Yet both have distinct tastes due to often different raw ingredients, namely the juniper in gin, as well as chemical differences and vastly differing histories. So although gin could technically be re-distilled from vodka with added juniper and herbal extracts, it would do gin a disservice to simply call it a flavoured vodka.
Where Can I Find Quality Craft Gins?
Simply put, right here! At Garden Street, we pride ourselves on being gin enthusiasts who source the finest boutique gins in Australia. Find out more about our monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly gin club membership options, and treat yourself or a loved one today.