Anyone want to try my bathtub gin?July 10, 2012
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve become quite fond of gin these days. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone on a gin kick, but I certainly have a deeper appreciation for it now than when I was stocking my freezer with Gilbey’s. And it’s no secret that a number of small batch US distilleries have been focusing on making a mark on the world of Gin. But gin is a spirit with a polarizing history; simultaneously representing the classic and refined Old World liquors while being synonymous with a wave of American renegades unwilling to give in to the absurdity of Prohibition. Something tells me Mr. Gilbey would not have been thrilled to have been served “bathtub gin”.
When the 18th amendment was passed and the bars and liquor shops were shuttered, fun-loving folks like all of us were forced to be a little creative. Even the most fanatic whiskey drinkers knew that in those times, for storage and consumption sake, an aging process wasn’t exactly ideal. In addition, even un-aged clear liquors such as vodka and gin typically went through a distillation process when in actual production. This process further purifies grain alcohol producing the neutral spirits we are still familiar with today. But considering it wasn’t legal to purchase and consume booze, you can’t imagine many folks were rushing to build stills in their bathrooms. Plus, why would you when you have the bathtub right there.
Bathtub gin is a bit of a misnomer or at least it’s a bit misleading. That same grain alcohol that would typically run through the distillation process, technically doesn’t have to. Despite being harsh and packed with impurities, Prohibition party planners quickly realized that when watered down and flavored with herbs, spices and fruits, grain alcohol made a decent party punch. Juniper berries were often used because of their strong aroma and flavor helping to mask the intensity of the spirit. These spirit filled glass jars topped off with water from the bathtub faucet (made for the most convenient filling station) became a huge hit, despite causing, in some cases some unintended consequences. As I mentioned in my post on home-distillation, the impurities in grain spirits may not taste great, but most likely won’t kill you. But the use of wood based spirits and de-natured alcohols out of confusion or stupidity led to a few Prohibition party fouls.
But luckily for us, we aren’t stuck sneaking in grain alcohol; not since 1933. High proof vodka is the best spirit to choose if you are interested in making your own “bathtub gin” and relying on the very same principles of flavor extracting, making your own delicious “gin-like” spirit is pretty straightforward. You may be wondering, “isn’t this type of bathtub gin pretty much just flavored vodka?”. Actually yes, that’s 100% true. Which is why some of those same passionate small batch distilleries like NY Distilling Co. make a point to emphasize their production style differing from a simple post distillation “flavoring”. But for you at home, looking to mess around with different herbs and different fruits for example, this method is your best bet; particularly if you have a now-booming herb garden in full effect!
Which considering I do, I’m getting to work on some late summer “bathtub gins” to be served at the very first Nobler mixer. Yes, that’s right, I said mixer! And considering I used to “pregame” in the shower through college, making a “bathtub gin” only seems appropriate…