How to ...
We talked with our founder Maarit about some of the initial questions that arise when you start to think about gin – either drinking it or thinking about how to make it.
How is gin made?
Gin is made through a distilling process, where neutral spirit is flavoured with special botanicals and then distilled into some of the most magical drinks.
Some botanicals are very common in gin. By definition, gin has to contain a juniper flavour, but often there is also coriander or orris root.
What is gin made from?
The key ingredient is juniper berry, but I have tasted a gin with only 3 botanicals and one with more than 40 botanicals. Our first gin contains ten different botanicals.
These days most gin producers use a neutral base spirit from one of the bigger spirit manufacturers, and then distil it further with their selection of botanicals.
What grain is used to make gin?
The base alcohol for making gin can be made of several grains – like wheat, barley or rye. In some countries corn, potatoes and even sugar beet are in active use.
For our Ösel Dry Gin we use rye as it has deep historical roots in the food culture of the island and it gives the gin its crisp and fresh taste.
Can you make gin from vodka?
You can use vodka to make gin. In theory, a gin producer could have a supply agreement with a vodka producer. Gin producers use base spirit, which is a vodka-like spirit product.
To make your personal “gin” the easiest option is to use vodka – just mash and soak juniper berries and other botanicals whose taste you think you might like in your gin, in the vodka and voila, you have a gin-like drink. It’s not a distilled gin and can easily become unpleasant (believe me, I have tried).
It is easier to take a gin you like and make your own flavoured version of it. This is the most common technique that is used to make sloe gins. You can turn any regular gin into a sloe gin by just adding sloe berries and sugar.
Sugar? But most gins are called dry. Even Lahhentagge’s first product is called Ösel Dry Gin. What makes gin dry?
Similar to wines, gin can be dry or sweetened. Both compound and distilled gin can be labelled as Dry Gin or London Dry Gin if they do not contain sugar or any other sweetening agents.
How do you make a gin distillery?
A gin distillery can be set up like any other distillery. In principle, all you need to have is the necessary equipment and proper licenses.
Explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen was born in our village in 1778, in the distillery of Lahhentagge Manor. He wrote himself into the history books when he discovered the last continent to be found: Antarctica. We re-founded Lahhentagge Distillery 238 years later and are following in Bellingshausen's footsteps to take on the world.
In the beginning, there is always a woman. In the winter of 2016, Maarit came home with the clear idea to turn her passion for herbs and flavours into a gin – the first artisan gin in Estonia.
Most of 2016 was spent building on this idea. Partly finding the right herbs from the meadows of Saaremaa; but first and foremost, on finding the right people –friends who were passionate about gin and who were ready to drop everything they had been doing to make some amazing drinks together.
To create something special, Maarit (and the rest of us) spent weeks in nature, looking for something that could give the product a distinctive taste. Something totally local, but which could travel afar. When barmen in different countries are saying, “This is unique,” as their first comment, we are clearly onto something.
The uniqueness of the gin clearly gives an extra kick to some of the most classic cocktails. For example, Lahhentagge has been turned into a stunning Dry Martini in Moscow and an amazing Negroni in Helsinki.
Now in December 2017, we have moved on from the beginning – we have been on the market in Estonia for a few months. We are working on our next products, opening new markets, investments… our hands are full!
We could not do it without enjoying the ride though :)
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