Chances are you’ve noticed that gin is very much the booze à la mode. From gin tastings and gin cocktail classes to gin-inspired coffee drinks, gin is undeniably popular right now.
“Everyone is making different gins,” says Lee Egbert, owner of Dashfire Bitters. “Gin is a growing category because of the craft cocktail movement.”
At liquor stores and restaurants today, gins can be found in a variety of different forms—everything from juniper-heavy London Dry varieties to citrusy new Americans to barrel-aged versions. With a little time, ingenuity, and vodka, you can join in on this trend and make your own gin from the comfort of your kitchen.
To help get you started, let’s take a look at how Prohibition-era Bathtub Gin has given rise to cocktail aficionados’ desire to create a spirit that perfectly suits their tastes.
What is Bathtub Gin?
During Prohibition, moonshiners began distilling their own grain alcohol. The taste was so potent, however, that botanicals needed to be added to make it palatable. “Moonshine and Prohibition gins were made from any number of things,” Egbert says. “Anything and everything could be used.”
Contrary to its name, Bathtub Gin was not actually made in a bathtub. The name refers to the process of watering down the strong homemade spirit to make it more drinkable. Since bottles were too tall to fit under the spigot in a kitchen sink, at-home moonshiners used the bathtub instead.
Even though the term “Bathtub Gin” has a stigma of bad taste and poor quality, the process of steeping botanicals directly in the spirit allows you to create a product more commonly known as compound gin—which is a great opportunity to try out different infusions.
Despite Egbert having professional distilling equipment, he still enjoys making compound gin because it’s an opportunity for him to test out new formulas for production. “Sometimes when I’m formulating and I want to get an idea of what something will taste like through distillation,” he explains, “I will make a compound version to see the direction of the overall flavor.” Restaurants can leverage the technique as well. If a mixologist wants to fine-tune a cocktail, they can infuse and blend compound gins to get the exact-right flavor.
And of course, you can’t forget about the nostalgia factor. Volstead House, a Prohibition-themed restaurant in Eagan, has been making its own Bathtub Gin for the past three years for an annual event. “We tried to make it as close to the experience that you would have had in that era,” says Ralena Young, beverage director at Volstead House. “The opportunity to make it was super fun for us.”
Volstead House even has a Prohibition-era bathtub, but alas, it is for display purposes only.
Making your own gin
Making compound gin requires vodka, a few mason jars, and your botanicals of choice. “It’s not actually as hard as you would think,” Young says. “It’s just a matter of accessing the botanicals and the flavor notes that you want for it.”
The first step is to find the right vodka. Egbert and Young both recommend using one with a high proof but still something that you like on its own.
“If you use an Everclear or something, it’s going to end up tasting like rubbing alcohol,” Egbert says. “You want to use something that you like drinking on its own since that will be the skeleton for the whole batch.”
Next, you need to decide on the botanicals. The most important ingredient, of course, is juniper berries but beyond that, the sky’s the limit. “If you wanted to follow the rules and make it taste like a gin, you are going to want to follow the strict [recipes] because that will help you get there,” Egbert says. “But part of the fun is being able to omit certain flavors while adding others.”
Popular botanicals for compound gin include cardamom, peppercorns, fruit peels, cinnamon, and coriander.
Both Egbert and Young recommend using separate mason jars for each botanical infusion, then blending the infusions together. The juniper berries should sit for about a day, while the other botanicals can sit anywhere between one to three days. It’s important to sample each batch daily until the right flavor is achieved.
“It’s important to be gentle with the botanicals,” Egbert says. “The idea is to just have a hint of these flavors, because you don’t want to be slapped in the face with them.”
Finally, it’s time to remove the solids and blend your liquids together. The ratios you use will depend on what you like. One thing to note is that it won’t look like commercial gin when it’s finished. Since gin becomes clear during the distillation process, compound gin will have a slight color to it. A clearer gin can be achieved by running it through a water filter, but this could also remove some of the flavor.
Better Bathtub Gin
1 liter high-proof vodka
2 tablespoons juniper berries
¼ teaspoon fennel seed
¼ teaspoon coriander seed
4 cardamom pods
2 white peppercorns
Other botanicals can be incorporated into Bathtub Gin depending on what flavors you like. A few to consider:
- Grapefruit, lemon, lime, or orange peels
- Orris root
- Cassia bark
- Star anise
- Oak chips
Add each botanical to separate mason jars and cover with vodka. Seal tightly.
Steep the juniper for about 1 day, and the other ingredients for 1–3 days, sampling every day until the desired flavor is achieved (it should be subtle, not a slap in the face).
Strain out the botanical solids, and blend the infusions together based on your desired flavor profile. Add additional vodka if the flavor is too strong.