In our A-Z of gin production, B is for… base spirit! Base spirits are at the heart of every gin you drink, but how much do you really know about them and how they are made?
For the majority of ‘western’ gins (made in the UK, USA, Europe etc.), the base spirit will be a grain neutral spirit (GNS). To make it, you mix your grain – for example barley, rye or wheat – with warm water to break down its starches into fermentable sugars. This mixture, know as a ‘mash’ or ‘wash’, is then fermented: it’s mixed with yeast and left for a few days, during which time the yeast consumes the sugars and produces alcohol, along with a couple of byproducts. Once fermented, the wash will be somewhere around 7-15% ABV; it now needs to be distilled to around 96% ABV (this strength is a legal requirement in the UK and EU) before being redistilled with botanicals to create gin.
Unlike in the whisky world, there are few (if any) regulations about the kind of base ingredient a gin distiller can use to make their spirit. It could be wheat, corn, rice, molasses, potatoes, grapes, or even apples. While some gin distillers prefer their base spirit to be as neutral as possible, to make the aromas and flavours of the gin’s botanical clearer, others intentionally bring a taste of the base ingredient to the forefront.