One of my favorite things about summer is cold gin cocktails. So crisp and clean and aromatic and evocative of warm summer evenings — even in the depths of winter, it’s like a beach vacation!
Last summer, I came across Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog post about how to make gin at home–without a still. Morgenthaler, who writes about bartending and mixology from Portland, Ore. (where I once lived–yes, in the ‘90s), describes a method known as “cold compounding,” wherein you infuse 100-proof vodka with juniper, coriander, dried citrus, and all the other things that give gin the medicinal qualities it was known for back when it was invented in the 16th century.
The best part was the use of a Brita water filter to “distill” the concoction. We just happened to have an unused Brita pitcher hanging around that I was feeling guilty about not using for water – perfect! I got a faraway look in my eyes as I dreamt of all the Martinezes and Aviations I would make with my DIY gin.
I was able to get all the aromatics in a single trip to Kalustyans, but finding a lowly half-liter of 100-proof vodka among the Chopins and Belvederes required some exploration. After securing the last bottle of Smirnoff 100 at my local liquor store, I took the clerk’s recommendation and bought a fifth of White Nights for the 80-proof vodka that would be added at the end of the infusion. (I poured some out for Gregory Hines.)
With our array of aromatics and spices all measured out, it was into the mason jar with the vodka for a week-long stay in a cool, dark place. The jar required a daily shake, so thanks to our neighbors Ian and Alexa for feeding the cat and shaking our hooch while we were out of town.
Now, I knew from the start that my visions of a crystal clear spirit were unrealistic, but I admit to being more than a little disheartened by the dirty liquid we ended up with. I kept hoping that each pass through the Brita would filter out a bit more of the brown, but after 6 or 7, it didn’t really improve.
And maybe the appearance overwhelmed my sense of taste because when I finally sipped it, I didn’t taste gin. I tasted mostly cinnamon, which is not inherently a bad thing but in this case imparted too much warmth for the summery spirit I was looking for.
We tried a second batch, this time with only a sliver of cinnamon, and the results were a little better but still not very gin-like. As we considered the prospect of a third attempt–buying more vodka, ending up with another jar of something we didn’t want to drink–we understood that not everything deserves the DIY treatment. Hello, unopened bottle of Plymouth!
Still, this story has a happy ending. Later that summer, we went to a barbecue and brought along the jar. When we passed it around, everyone enjoyed the novelty. With ice, the fragrant and spicy concoction wasn’t half bad. And when the rest of the liquor ran out, our homemade hooch was there in a pinch.