Updated: Sep 19, 2018
Gin is slowly making its way back into the mainstream thanks to the expansion of the craft spirits industry. However, we have found that most of the consumers (at least in Orange County, CA) are still unaware that gin is essentially flavored vodka. In order to add some clarity to the subject let's dive into what our process at Surf City Still Works looks like, along with a diagram of our still that indicates the vapor path during the process of distillation.
Step 1: Start with Shorebreak Vodka
Our California Gin begins with our Shorebreak Vodka, which gets diluted with reverse osmosis water to 30% ABV and dumped into the pot still.
Step 2: Prepare Botanicals
Legally, the only botanical a distillery needs to use in order to call a spirit "gin" is juniper berries. Gin would not taste pleasant at all if juniper was the only botanical used, so most distilleries use a combination of additional botanicals (from 4 to more than 30). This is what makes gin fun & unique because every gin you try will be different from the next, and we like to compare it to how craft beer IPA's all have unique flavor profiles.
Because we are located in sunny Orange County, California we wanted to go with a floral & citrus forward profile, so we downplayed our use of juniper and increased the citrus peel, cardamom & licorice root. It took 25 batches of gin before we landed on our final recipe for California Gin, and we now understand why everyone keeps their recipe under lock & key!
Step 3: Add Botanicals to the Still
We separate the juniper berries from the rest of our botanical mix because the berries are placed directly into the pot still and are allowed to soak overnight in the vodka (the term for this is maceration). The rest of the botanicals are placed into our Carter Head column where they are ready for the vapor infusion distillation method.
Step 4: Distill - Vapor Infusion
As the vodka boils in the pot still, vapors are directed to the Cater Head column and enter below the mix of botanicals. The vapors are forced to travel up through the botanicals, where the flavor profiles are picked up, and finally get condensed back into liquid with the aid of the cooled condenser column.
Step 5: Proof Down & Wait
Whenever spirits are distilled, they exit the still at a very high proof and therefore require dilution with reverse osmosis water. The final proof for California Gin is typically higher than vodka because we need to make sure the botanical oils remain dissolved. Once the gin is proofed down, we wait 5 weeks for the favors to fully "marry" together before we bottle. Our California Gin is bottled at 42% ABV or higher.