Monday, December 28, 2009

Homemade gin

People tend to get the wrong idea when I say that, to me, gin smells like childhood. My backyard growing up was lousy with juniper bushes and I loved the smell of the berries. I used to fill my pockets with them and crush them between my fingers, anointing myself like some woodland fairy queen.

Then I grew up and learned that you can drink juniper. Even though I knew that my beloved gin was essentially just clear alcohol steeped with juniper berries and I really love trying to make things that are cheap and easy to buy (marshmallows, soap, paper...), it had never occurred to me to try making my own at home until I saw this. And the idea of homemade gin kind of cracked me up. It makes me think of Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, shaking her head sadly and saying, "The ring of the bathtub was still on that gin."

An aside: far too few people have seen this movie, which is almost impossibly zany. Check it out:

Anyway, I live in the sort of neighborhood where it's very easy to find extremely cheap vodka, the kind that is basically just grain alcohol. For my first time out, I didn't want to bother with a full bottle in case it turned out badly, so I used this 200 ml bottle of Leed's vodka. I already had all of the spices, thanks to Sahadi's, so the full cost of the experiment was $2.25, including tax. And maybe the little tiny bit of my pride that I had to relinquish when I asked for "a smallish bottle of really cheap vodka" at one of my many neighborhood liquor stores.
Leed's vodka, the pride of Edison, NJ, and juniper berries. And the weirdly yellow light that is my kitchen at night.

The first night, I added a tablespoon of juniper berries to the vodka.

The second night, I added, from the bottom, a bay leaf, rosemary (pinch), cardamom (1), coriander (4 or 5), allspice (3), cloves (2), peppercorns (2 pink ones). I was looking for a winter gin, with some warmer flavors under the juniper.
Then I let it sit for a couple days, turning the bottle occasionally to mix things up, idly wondering why one clove sank and the other floated.
(Aren't my nails just the prettiest shade of Hypothermia Victim?)

I used it a couple of weekends ago to make a round of gin and tonics for some friends and it was good, though not entirely gin-like. I think the juniper was overwhelmed by the other spices (especially those cloves!), even though I had tried to avoid that. I suspect that using a full bottle of vodka, triple the juniper, a few slivers of citrus peel and roughly the same amount of other spices that I did here would produce a gin that is pretty much ideal. We shall see...

[originally posted on my old food blog 2.24.2009]

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