As far as spirits go, gin has always been a long-time favourite for both cocktail enthusiasts and mixologists alike. From G&Ts, Negronis,to Vespers;some of the most popular cocktails call for a splash of it.
Unlike many other spirits, gin isn’t meant to be enjoyed solo. Instead it’s often times the key ingredient to many staple cocktails because of the botanicals infused into it, which helps bring out the distinct flavours in these signature drinks.
Like all great products, the secret sauce to making any great gin is using premium ingredients. In the case of Spirit Of York, we’re proud to say we go a step further and source only the finest Ontario ingredients to help make a product that 100% Canadian. From the rye, straight to the water we use -- all our spirits begin with fresh ingredients taken right from our backyard.
So what does it take to make gin? From the farm to the bar and straight into your cocktail, here’s everything that goes into making this versatile spirit. But first, let’s dive into a little of its history:
Many believe that gin is predominantly English, given that it’s the nation’s national spirit. And while they’re known globally to make some of the world’s best gin, this spirit was actually discovered but the Dutch. The English uncovered it in the 17th century while they were fighting the Thirty Years’ War and noticed that the Dutch would shoot this mysterious drink before every fight to help boost morale. This left an impression on the English who later went home with intentions of making their own version but it would take them over a century to do so. But once they did, the rest was history and the world was hooked on gin!
Now that we know a bit of its origin story, let’s breakdown the ingredients that make this spirit so special. They include:
The one ingredient that all gins have in common is juniper, a signature botanical used to flavour this spirit. Since it’s a primary ingredient that defines gin, distillers use juniper berries in their mash which helps bring out the traditional notes of pine often found within it. While many distillers enjoy combining juniper with a variety of other spices to help bring out more complex and sophisticated flavours, juniper is the star of the show that anchors it all together.
Much like a chef, every distiller likes to flavour their gin differently. They all have their own recipe of botanicals and spices that they like to use to help bring their spirits to life. Depending on the flavour they’re trying to achieve, whether it’s more citrusy or floral, some of the most commonly used botanicals include coriander seeds, lemon and orange peel, almonds, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
For Spirit Of York Gin, 15 different botanicals are used in the making of our spirit including juniper, Cubeb pepper, angelic root, coriander and cinnamon to create a final product that’s crisp and refreshing. The savoury notes are balanced out with citrus undertones that make it perfect for mixing and sipping after a long day.
Besides juniper and other botanicals, the most integral part of the making of each batch of gin are the distillers themselves. They’re the masterchef when it comes to putting it all together. They’re the ones that have the final say on which botanicals go into each batch and help ensure that flavours stays consistent.
No batch is made equally, so it’s up to the distillers to test their samples throughout the process to ensure quality control. In the initial stages of making any gin, there is a lot of trial and error but once they get narrow it down to a recipe they like, the exact ingredients and proportions are typically under lock and key. Just like any chef, a distiller doesn’t like to reveal all their secrets. Needless to say, it’s a fun job and it takes a perfectionist to get it right, so next time you have a sip of your gin, give a small toast to the distillers who made them too!
Now that we know the key ingredients involved in making gin, how do we take that and transform it into a final product? It all comes down to the distillation process. Here’s how it works:
All good gins come from a good mash or cooking of the grains which will be used for the gin’s base. The base spirit can be derived by distilling a variety of agricultural products including rye, barley, wheat or corn. With that said, rye is most popularly used for gin spirits as it provides a strong blank canvas for all the great flavours that will be infused into it later.
The next step in the process is fermentation -- where Distillers Yeast is added into the mash. This is a specific yeast strain that helps metabolize sugar in the mash and produce alcohol (the good stuff!). To help take things to the next level, distillers will carefully adjust fermentation temperatures to ensure it all processes properly. This entire process can last anywhere between 1-2 weeks.
At Spirit Of York, distillation takes place in Copper Pot Stills which allows distillers to take away all the solids from the liquid and set it up for flavouring, arguably the best part! Solids are never left behind as they can greatly impact the final taste of the product.
Once the distillation process is done, we go to the fun part -- playing with botanicals. Believe it or not, gin is just vodka with flavour and this is the part of the process where they begin to differentiate themselves. At this point, the distiller will separate the vodka and let it soak overnight in a selection of expertly chosen botanicals. In order for this to work effectively, distillers need to use the right proportions to make sure flavours marry into each other instead of clash. Once they’re satisfied with the final product, they’re ready for bottling!
And that’s it, that’s how you make gin! While it sounds like a long and tedious process, the distillers that make them are passionate about their craft and sharing it with you. If you want to find out how it’s all done firsthand, come visit Spirit Of York in Toronto’s Distillery District. We offer daily tours and tastings so you can find out exactly how we make gin and test out the final product for yourself.
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