I bought a beautiful handcrafted copper alembic still last year with the idea of being able to make hydrosols like rose water and lavender water and of course to be able to make my own gin. The still I bought was the smallest possible at 3 litres in size. Whilst you can distill spirits and essential oils using this still, the quantities you get (approx 300ml and 3ml respectively) mean that it is really not worth your while. It is more intended as a small batch flavouring still which is perfect for making hydrosols or making gin (starting with a neutral spirit like vodka).
Before my still arrived I attended a Distillation Workshop where I learned the basics of distilling, covering making Eau de Vie spirit from red wine, hydrosols and essential oil distillation. I also attended a Gin Immersion Workshop where I learnt all about key aspects of gin making, including understanding the key botanicals that can be used, how to go about creating a blend of the botanicals, and the base alcohol or neutral spirit to use as the starting material.
After making a few different hydrosols and a couple of batches of gin, I decided that I would have a go to see if I could make gin at home completely from scratch. I had a mass of feijoas so started by making a batch of feijoa wine, then distilling the wine to create a spirit (3 batches through the still) and then further distilling that using gin botanicals to create my very own gin (from scratch). It certainly was a labour of love: each distilling run took over 4 hours and I had to supervise carefully as I wasn’t sure of times or quantities. It was a great sense of achievement to prove that I could do it but I don’t think I will be repeating the exercise.
Step 1: Make Feijoa Wine
3kg of feijoas: scoop out the flesh, freeze, thaw then squash. Put in a large bucket (with a lid) with 5 litres of boiling water. When cooled, add 1 tsp of 10% potassium metabisulphite (helps to kill bacteria and kill any wild yeasts) and 5g of pectolase (breaks down cell walls).
Put the lid on and leave for three days, stirring morning and evening.
Then strain into another bucket (lid fitted with an airlock if possible – thanks Vicky for helping me make the right sized hole). Add one sachet of wine yeast and 2 teaspoons of yeast nutrients (both from home brewing stores), plus 2kg of sugar and another 2 litres of water. Leave until it stops bubbling… (mine took 3 weeks).
Step 2: Distill Spirit from the Wine
Siphon off the wine out of the bucket into bottles or other containers. I had about 6.5L. I tried to measure the Alcohol By Volume (ABV) content but got a negative reading – which I understand was due to the high level of impurities in the wine.
I distilled the wine in 3 batches, carefully following my notes for Eau de Vie distillation from the Distillation Workshop. The first fractions to come off are acetone and methanol – neither of which you want so I discarded the first 30ml (referred to as the heads – and are good for cleaning equipment). Then I captured the next 300ml in 100ml fractions, and the following cuts in 50ml fractions so that I could test for the arrival of any off-flavours that would indicate that I should stop the distillation. From my combined distillations I got 1.4L of alcohol at 50% ABV.
Step 3: Distill Gin from the Spirit
I prepared my gin botanicals in a pouch and put them in the neck of the still, then added the 1.4L of spirit that I had distilled.
Out of interest I measured the alcohol content of each of the 100ml fractions. The first 400ml were between 80-85% ABV; next 200ml were heading down to 75% ABV (citrus aromas were appearing); the next 100ml was down to 50% ABV with strong spicy aromas and the last 100ml dropped to 0% ABV but still with spicy aromas. As no off flavours had yet appeared and the spicy aromas were still very evident I continued to collect another 100ml -but used this as part of the water dilution to bring the total ABV back down to 40%.
I had a total of 0.8L at 65% ABV. Using an alcohol distilling calculator (many available online) I then added 0.5L of water (including my extra 100ml of distillate) to give 1.3L of gin at 40% ABV.