Some food, some drink.
The Botanical Mystery Tour: A Review of The Homemade Gin Kit.
I have a pretty extensive background in the sciences; and that's probably because I'm one of those people that really want to know how something works. I also love me some gin. So you can imagine my delight upon opening up The Homemade Gin Kit on Christmas. Here is a gift that puts you in control of your neutral grain spirit destiny: You pick a vodka, you add the botanicals, you steep the hooch, and you filter and bottle. Sound like fun? Yeah I thought so too; and that's why I've taken down my impressions of The Homemade Gin Kit for your review!
One of my favorite presents I received this last Christmas was The Homemade Gin Kit. It's a cool concept really: We all know that gin is essentially Vodka with a blend of botanicals added; but it's really those botanicals that differentiate one brand of gin from another. So, with that in mind, wouldn't it be great if you could add your own botanicals, and make a bottle of gin truly your own? Yeah you pick up what I'm putting down here. The overall instructions are really quite simple, and everything you need short of the steeping hooch itself are provided in the kit. However, Being a dude of science (and only having one kit at my disposal), I sure as heck wasn't gonna just cookbook thru this coveted Christmas treasure, oh no; I went over my Homemade Gin Kit with a fine-tooth comb so as to really understand what exactly I was doing with my fifth of vodka, and see if it was all worth repeating.
- The kit itself comes with everything needed to transform 750 ml of vodka into two bottles of bootlegger's delight. In the box, you get a large and a small flip-cap bottle, a couple wire mesh strainers, a funnel, a tin of juniper berries, and a tin of blended botanicals including coriander, rosemary, lavender (just the flowers I think), rose hips, allspice, fennel, lemon peel, Tellicherry black pepper, bay, and green cardamom pods. Basically, all you gotta do is steep the juniper in the vodka for a day, add in the rest of the botanicals, steep for another twelve hours, filter, bottle, and imbibe (told ya it was simple).
- The instructions tell you not to sweat the vodka selection much. Buy something mid-grade that you don't have a problem mixing with. It just so happens that my favorite Kansas-made vodka also makes Gin, and so I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to do some apples to apples testing. Besides, when you're only letting go of a Jackson to pick up a handle of great vodka (regardless of your state loyalties), Most Wanted becomes a solid, sensible choice for an infusion.
So we've got a whole mess of botanicals that are listed, but no real amounts are given in that listing. Without being ridiculous and getting out the tweezers, I took a stab separating most of what was in the tin of miscellaneous herbage and spices so as to better understand what I'd be tasting. By my bootstrapping, here's my best guess:
- Juniper - About 1/3 oz
- Whole Coriander - Heaping 1/4 tsp
- Rosemary - Heaping 1/4 tsp
- Lavender Flowers - Heaping 1/4 tsp
- Rose Hips - 2
- Allspice Berries -2
- Fennel Seed - 1/8 tsp
- Pulverized Dried Lemon Peel - 1/8 tsp
- Tellicehrry Black Peppercorns - 2
- Bay Leaf - 1
- Green Cardamom Pods - 3
- I think I've mentioned this before when discussing infusions; but if you're looking to get value it seriously pays to buy in bulk if you've already got a clean bottle laying around that you can dump your contents into. Incidentally, if you're cleaning a bottle, I'd stay away from soap do like the brewers do: Non-chlorinated cleaner like OxiClean and three good rinses will ensure that those off-tastes from soap an chlorine won't make it into your finished product.
- So why in the hell does my finished product look like pee whereas normal off the shelf gin does not? It's simple really; The gin you get from the package store ain't made like this. This here home science expermient is what we call a "compound gin," meaning that the botanicals are steeped right into a finished spirit. The gin that we all more commonly know and love has the botanicals steeping in spirits that have often only gone thru the still once. After being infused with all that plant-based goodness, the proto-gin is distilled again at least once and that leaves behind the impurities, while bringing all those characteristic flavor compounds along for the ride. While scouring the series of tubes, I found a couple of decent explanations here and here if you don't mind having 15 minutes of your life stolen by the interwebs.
- On another note regarding clarity of the finished product, I took the extra precaution of laying down a couple of layers of cheesecloth in my strainer before pouring into the funnels. That ground lemon zest is looks like it's gonna fall right through the sieve, and I figured it better to err on the side of caution.
I'm not very good and quantifying experiences when it comes to food and drink, but as I tried to take a very critical view of this tasting and channel my inner gin snob I'm gonna give it a go:
Value - 7/10
At $40 for a complete kit and $10 for a refill on the botanicals, The Homemade Gin Kit isn't exactly inexpensive by cheapskate rural Kansas standards, but it's a totally appropriately-priced gift, and the bottles are pretty cool.
Fun - 8/10
You can't deny the novelty of this idea. I'm all about getting my mad scientist on in the kitchen and if you've got an imbibing tinkerer-type on your gift list, then this is a unique and fun gift. On the downside, you really can't call this gin kit an experiment as there really are no options to speak of, save seeing how close to the bottom of the barrel you wanna go with your vodka selection. I really would have like to have seen this kit ship with a variety of botanicals and a few different recipes that would allow the user to tailor the gin to their specific tastes (i.e. London Dry, New Western, etc.).
Taste - 7/10
When it comes down to it, as fun as it might be to throw a bunch of seeds and stems in a bottle, the whole thing's all for naught if your hooch tastes like something that should be employed with a mop and bucket. The two litmus tests for every gin that goes in my liquor cabinet are the gin and tonic and a martini. I'll just get right to it; this is not a gin and tonic gin. The lavender and fennel overpower everything else in the drink, even with a strong squeeze of lime. A proper g&t should be refreshing, and the floral overtones of this gin are a bit much. In a martini on the other hand, this is a fine spirit. The botanicals in the vermouth actually compliment the gin appropriately, and each sip is complex, with no one overpowering flavors (not even juniper).
It's probably also important to not here that there is a little settling that occurs and it's this taster's humble option that the overall taste of your gin will improve after the particulate settles out. At any rate, it's all an experiment, so you'll probably want to taste each way and see if you don't agree.
Overall - 22/30
While Tanqueray and Beefeater aren't going to be run out of town anytime soon by The Homemade Gin Kit, I do think that it makes an excellent gift for folks who enjoy mixology and want to understand which infusions do what to the overall flavor profile of a spirit. Having The Homemade Gin Kit at home has really taken my Gin snobbery to the next level, and has also made me appreciate the intricacies of what distillers must consider as botanicals are selected for gin making. I'd love to see The Homemade Gin Kit folks come out with different styles or flavor profiles of refill botanicals as it'd really enhance what gamers call the "replayability" of a great concept. After all, what fun would Zelda be the second time around if all the dungeons were the same?
(In case you missed it at the top, here's where you can score your own Homemade Gin Kit.)
It bears mentioning that although I scored The Homemade Gin Kit as a gift, it wasn't from the company; i.e. I haven't been compensated for this review and my opinions are my own.