Friday, August 29, 2014
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We tried it: The Homemade Gin Kit

When the clock struck midnight on January 16, 1920, Americans began our short-lived stint under the Eighteenth Amendment, and, in an instant, became a nation of teetotalers. Sort of.

We tried it: The Homemade Gin Kit

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When the clock struck midnight on January 16, 1920, Americans began our short-lived stint under the Eighteenth Amendment, and, in an instant, became a nation of teetotalers. Sort of. 

As Prohibition tends to go, those willing to flout the law for profit rose to prominence. Dubbed “bootleggers,” they’d siphon off oceans of industrial alcohol, masking the denatured swill with extracts and colorings, depending on your preference for brown or clear liquor.

Legend has it that those bootleggers would work in such large quantities that they’d need a large vessel in which to mix their flavorings. Something, perhaps, the size of a bathtub—hence “bathtub gin.” But while there is little evidence that any gin was ever made in a bathtub, the name more likely serving as a comment on the dirty, murky flavor of illegal liquor, the meme stuck. 

Prohibition, however, did not. And though we can buy any variety of gin we want today thanks to its demise, some still choose to do it the old fashioned way—with herbs, juniper berries, and a little bit of time.

This is the crowd to which the Homemade Gin Kit speaks.

Invented by Philly natives Joe and Sarah Maiellano, it promises to help you “transform a simple bottle of vodka into an outstanding bottle of delicious homemade gin” in as little as 36 hours. With a description like that, we just had to try—after all, as journalists, we’re familiar with raising the ol’ elbow now and again. 

At around $50, the Homemade Gin Kit comes with two small glass bottles for your hooch, a stainless steel strainer, a tin of juniper berries, and a choice blend of botanicals for a custom, unique gin flavor (in original or “Smoky”). Essentially, all you have to supply is a bottle of vodka—a “mid-level, unflavored” one will do, as per the kit’s instructions. We went with Penn 1681 because it is a locally produced, rye-distilled vodka, a grain usually reserved for gin.

Now, of course, you could just head down the state store and purchase a bottle of gin, sure—it’d be easier, and no doubt cheaper. But the Homemade Gin Kit is a gift for budding mixologists interested in learning the basics about infused liquors and wanting to break into the game. As education goes, you’ve got to pay—just think of it as a science experiment.

As far as making gin with the kit, know this: If you can bake a cake, you can make your own gin. It’s just five steps, beginning with adding juniper berries and steeping for 24 hours. Following that, you pop in the 10-ingredient botanical pack, wait 12 hours (for 36 total), and strain out the particulate. From there, you’re ready to drink. We did all our gin making in the Philly.com newsroom, so you don’t need a large amount of space or any special tools—just a tabletop and a dark space to let the botanicals and juniper berries infuse into the vodka.

Upon straining our gin, we noted a huge change in color from transparent to a translucent yellow, a classic sign of what’s called a “compound gin,” or a gin that hasn’t been distilled again after being infused with flavorings. The color is even darker for the Homemade Gin Kit’s “Smoky Blend,” which adds Lapsang tea for a punchy smoke flavor. So, please, don’t freak out when you end up with yellow liquor. 

But while making it was easy enough, the true test of value in the Homemade Gin Kit is the quality of its final product—one that we were worried about as unfiltered gin newbies. So, we decided on making up a few Gin and Tonics and Gin Bucks (gin and ginger ale) for the Entertainment and Lifestyle team and went to town. A couple drinks in of the regular and smoky varieties, and we had our verdict. 

Now, we’re not gin snobs so take this with a grain of salt: the Homemade Gin Kit produces pretty good gin. It’s not going to replace Hendrick’s in your heart, or topple the reign Beefeater has been on for years, but it won’t be something you’re embarrassed to pull out at parties, either. 

We preferred the regular gin style, but drank more of the smoked variety—probably because none of us quite knew what to do with the addition of a smoke flavor to the usual crisp, clean sensation gin provides. It was, in effect, a sensory freak out, but, still, it goes pretty good in ginger ale. 

Other reviews of the kit say that the final form is very much not and gin to mix with tonic, but we have to disagree. It’s a different sort of flavor, with black pepper and fennel jumping out most immediately, but not at all off-putting. The smoky variety, however, is thick and overpowering, so stick to soft drink mixers with that one. 

The bottom line with the Homemade Gin Kit, for us, is that it’s a great educational gift for the gin-loving adult, even if it doesn’t produce an “outstanding bottle” for its final product. You might not make an award-winning gin, but you will learn a whole lot about the process along the way and have something to show for it at the end.

In that sense, it’s perfect for drinking enthusiast who wants to further their gin-making knowledge—no bathtub required.

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