Those of you who follow us on Twitter will know the team’s general feelings about home gin making kits. On the whole, we feel many are overpriced and for consumers in the UK, a little redundant given all the ingredients can be found locally, in any one of 3 high-street supermarkets for cheaper. Our main objection isn’t over the cost of a kit per-say, but the value it offers. We don’t yet feel that any have offered much in form of education about what gin is or what the botanicals are bringing to the mix. Merely, they have conveniently put ingredients in a box with an empty bottle or two, possibly a sieve, and all without the booze!
We absolutely love the idea of a DIY Gin kit, but believe that if you sell DIY, you should also sell empowerment and education – not simply some berries and an empty bottle. In its widest form any DIY kit, be it for gin or for a model airplane, is an experience and the “product” ought to include the journey consumers go on – not just the end outcome. It should be as much about the process of making and anticipating what you have created than just being able to make your own gin or a reproduction submarine from circa 1920…
Many others feel the same – it’s not merely just us. In spirits – consider for a minute how obsessive people get about making their own Sloe Gin and how quasi-ritualistic the process becomes to them. When it comes to home brewing it’s one of those times the old saying of “it’s the taking part that counts” is high on the agenda.
So it was with great pleasure that we stumbled upon Ginbrew. At $30 their offering is around 40% cheaper than their competitors and from looking at their website, it seems as if they are also the first to offer up a little more than a simple bottle and jar of botanicals.
For those of you completely lost about what they are – Ginbrew is a do-it-yourself kit containing all the botanicals and tools you need to create three unique bottles of homemade gin. The kit arrives in a jar where you choose one of the three bags of botanicals, you add vodka (any off the shelf will do but it’s not included in the pack). After a week of infusion, you’ll have your own bottle of compound gin, which you simply filter out from the botanicals and enjoy!
Attempting to master the alchemy of stripping botanicals of their specific flavours while avoiding leeching out others is an area that we spend of lot of time working on here at Gin Foundry. We macerate, distil and blend all the time. We are far from masters at it with a lot to learn, but where botanicals come from and what they do is an area we are passionate about. We even launched an entire section on the website just to cover the history of individual botanicals and co-produced a project to allow consumers to taste the influence of one botanical over another by adding individual distillates to a base (the Botanical Journey Advent Calendar). We were also the spark that lead to the Origin Gin series being produced – exploring the effects of terroir on juniper berries. Yes, we are massive geeks. Yes, one of us wears massive glasses too.
Using the Ginbrew kit you can create 3 different gins. Because the botanicals are simply steeped, the type of gin created is known as a Compound Gin and the result is an amber coloured liquid. Distilled gins are clear because they go through a final distillation process after the botanicals have been infused into the spirit, which strips away any colour. Compounding might seem quite a rudimentary technique, but it is a very old method that’s been used for as long as gin has been around. The shady practices of prohibition-era bathtub gin producers once gave compound gin a bad name. The reality is compound gins can be as delicious and complex as distilled gins, it’s just hard to do so. In its own right, creating a perfectly poised compound gin is as much a masterpiece as creating a beautiful distilled gin.
For those interested – part of the reason for it being more difficult is that there are less tools to play with to achieve the desired result. For example if a distiller wanted to create an overly citric gin from an already balanced recipe, they can choose to increase the amount of reflux in the still and change their cut points to favour the more volatile congeners and achieve a more citrusy gin. With a compound gin, the maker only has the recipe and the maceration time to play with and not all of the intricacies of the distillation process to alter flavour at a later time.
Anyway, back to Ginbrew. They have three recipes to try. They suggest adding vodka that is around 40% ABV for 1 week to achieve the desired result. Having tried all three, our personal choice would be to use a gin for the base instead as none of the three recipes are that “ginny”. For those of you looking for a comparative, Junípero, Tanqueray, Sipsmith are all very juniper heavy gins. The Ginbrew recipes result in spirits more on the Dà Mhìle, Aviation, and Geranium Gin scale of juniper dominance – tasty in their own right but not classic as such.
That said, we do realise that doing so is not really playing along with the idea behind the kit and akin to painting replica airplane neon blue because it looks cooler.
We infused our kits in vodka for the one week timeline for the purpose of this review but won’t give specific tasting notes on each of the recipes, as maceration conditions (heat and overall temperature) and which base vodka will make a difference and therefore a nose / heart / finish tasting description redundant.
Ginbrew’s flagship blend is called Liberty 13, named in honour of the powerful Liberty engines (originally built for military airplanes) that many bootleggers installed on their boats to outrun Coast Guard patrols. With thirteen botanicals in the mix, the gin is a pleasant balance of herbal, citrus and spice notes, with a floral nose and a zesty finish.
Their second recipe is called Blue Ruin. Its name harks back to a nickname for gin used by anti-spirits crusaders during the “Gin Craze” that swept London in the 1700’s. However, unlike the original Blue Ruin that so frightened those 18th-century moralists, there’s no turpentine in this recipe. Out of the three, this is the most juniper-forward blend with a herbal bouquet of sage and rosemary notes combined with coriander and juniper.
The final blend is named Jenevieve. This is a softer mix of botanicals, with a big floral bouquet and an understated juniper note. Rose hips, lavender, hibiscus petals, elderflower and chamomile are all in the mix – so too is that violet musky scent of orris root as well as a certain ‘jammyness’ from dried raspberry drupes. Bay leaf and Tellicherry pepper counterbalance the fruit and floral notes.
In our opinion and ironically given the name is an old French word for juniper, this wasn’t really gin. It’s possibly the most interesting of the three mixes as the delicate floral notes provide an intriguing, perfumed spirit. However, in our books – there needs to be much more noticeable juniper. Gin is, by law and not solely an EU guideline, a spirit predominantly flavoured with juniper. This wasn’t so clear cut. It takes a lot of concentration to discern any form of piney, resinous, or green juniper in this recipe even if the bay leaf does add more eucalyptic flavours to the blend. No doubt juniper plays a part in balancing the overall ensemble, but so does juniper in some absinthes. That’s called absinthe, not gin. Again, not to detract from the flavour that has been created, it is an interesting, tasty recipe and could work well in certain cocktails.
Overall, Ginbrew should be credited for delivering more than their competitors at a cheaper price point, this alone makes them the go-to in the DIY Gin category. Whether you like the flavour of a particular blend or not is always going to be subjective – in our case we found all three agreeable if a little underwhelming. However, they haven’t resolved our primary issues with all of the “Make Your Own Gin” kits that exist and could improve dramatically with some simple and incredibly cheap developments.
We found it frustrating to see so little other information about the compounding process and the contents included in the kit. It would be easy to include a little more about the botanicals (or at least the core ones such as juniper, coriander seed and citrus) so that people could understand what they contribute to the overall flavour. For example, a list of what is in each recipe would be helpful so people could search for information should they want to discover more (although not in ours, reading their website, this might now be the case as it seems to be listed on the items included in each kit). The 4 bullet points about gin fail to really capture the imagination about the complex history of the spirit, but it’s a clear sign that they have also thought about additional information and have started making an effort to add in more informative content about the wider context. In this light it’s a great start and a sign of what’s to come as they grow.
What makes Ginbrew a fun idea is the fact that you get to make your own – it’s a project. However, much like the early experiences of DIY for many – there is usually an educator of sorts, be it a parent, a friend, a guide book, instruction manual, a recipe to follow etc…
To us, DIY kits are experiences and the “product’ needs to include the journey consumers go on, not just the final outcome. In this case there is little other than “bung it the jar, add booze and wait a week”, making the project experience side of things relatively limited. A little more work around the edges, bringing that rich history of American compounding, Gin or even botanicals to life would add so much perceived value it would feel like an amazing gift that keeps on giving. Even if it was all on their website it would be great if there was something to get into and for those keen to be steeped in the world of compounding and home brewing.
The information about the Martini too is a good start as to what can be created and included in the kit but as with their cocktail section – which is very nicely put together on the website and gives you some ideas as to how to imbibe your creation – we feel too much is focused on the end outcome and too little on the journey.
Most importantly, doing so would change a Ginbrew kit from being a novelty one-off purchase to being a genuinely captivating proposal that inspires people to find out more about gin or even compounding. In empowering people it would also get them talking more about the original kit too!
It’s early days for the team having launched 2 months ago and all of these things are no doubt going to evolve in good time. Be it online or in jar, things will continue to develop. There’s a charm to Ginbrew and to the look and feel of their product, even if we feel it’s got someway to go before geeks such as ourselves can point towards it as a good starting point for those looking to get into making gin.
On a personal note, at the time of writing the latest entry on their blog mentions that they didn’t think that anyone necessarily dreams of being an entrepreneur when they are a little kid. We did, all of the time. More specifically, we dreamed of being able to create products that entertain for an afternoon, but then go on to inspire people to go and create something of their own. To us, there is nothing more inspirational than being able to create something with one purpose but also build in the opportunity to allow for individuals to build on it thereafter, much in the same way we were hacking Lego into impossible contraptions long after the intended use was reconfigured to become the next castle-come-giant-robot. To a large extent, creating that opportunity for the start of a journey is what we now do professionally and we are fiercely proud of being able to create such commodities.
With this in mind – we’ve judged this kit with the context of being a site whose mission is to empower, educate and inspire others to go on their own gin journey, a mission that is unfair to project onto others with different intentions. Perhaps in doing so, this means our critique misses the point of Ginbrew, an easy to use convenient way to change vodka into something far tastier.
It’s a much more alluring concept than existing competitors and for $30, all our comments for bolt-ons and are ideal “added value” to improve an already decent product, rather than real issues with the existing creation. We’d recommend people discover it for themselves and make their own judgement. Once you have – let us know how you got on as we’d love to hear more from those taking their first steps into making their own gin!
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