I’m often asked what is the best base spirit for gin distilling, and where to get it from. The alcohol used to make gin is typically ‘neutral’ this means it has no or very little flavour; essentially a blank canvass.
Below are my three recommendations for sourcing a quality neutral spirit for your gin making. This spirit can also be used for a variety of other botanical spirits and liqueurs such as limoncello, amaro and flavoured vodkas.
1. make your own base spirit for gin distilling
If you plan to make a lot of gin/botanical spirits it may will be worth making your own base spirit using a column still like the Copperhead Reflux Column. Your time and the cost of the still will soon be recuperated in the excise and other taxes you save*. A Copperhead can also be used as a gin still with the addition of a botanical basket and alembic/pot attachment.
2. buy neural spirit from us for gin distilling
If that’s not for you, dstilproject.nz can supply you with 70%abv alcohol in 700ml bottles. This should be diluted to 40-45%abv to use in stills with an external heat source, like the alembic stills used at Gin School.
IMPORTANT: Stills with built-in elements (like the Copperhead or T500) should only be filled with 40%abv or below for safety.
3. use store bought vodka for gin distilling
Vodka is fine to use too. Mass produced product can be sourced at reasonable prices. It’s practically neutral and usually available at 37.5%-40%abv. This abv is your ‘charge strength’ — the abv of the alcohol in the pot at the start of the distillation.
Your charge strength affects how quickly your still heats up — the higher the abv, the lower the temp it will start to evaporate at (the liquid-vapour equilibrium).
At Gin School we use a charge strength of 45%, this allows the still to start quickly, and the distillate to be produced at a reasonably high abv despite a reasonably fast distillation speed.
At home you’ll be able to run your still slower to achieve a high abv distillate even if your charge strength is a bit lower — look for 2-3 drips/sec when using a small 2.5lt column still.
*Fortunately New Zealanders can ferment and distill alcohol for personal use (not for resale); it’s illegal in many other countries to make your own.