Meet the maker: Bullards Gin
We went to meet Peter Smith, head distiller at Bullards who talked us through the process of making its award-winning gin. Prepare to enter a world full of secrets, science
and a little bit of magic.
I’ve been distilling gin for Bullards since we launched back in December 2015. Before that I distilled gin for about three months.
As a student of History (and yes I did study a bit about the history of gin!) I used to home brew my own beer, wine and mead. I think I really got into alcohol though when I did my dissertation on pirates – it was all that talk about rum!
My favourite part of distilling gin is the experimentation with the botanicals to create unique flavours. At the moment I’m working on our third gin, which will hopefully be launched this winter. The first gin was the choice of the directors, and the Strawberry and Black Pepper Gin was Craig’s (Peter’s fellow distiller) choice, so this third gin is mine. I’m still experimenting at the moment, but I’m thinking along the lines of a spicy gin, which will complement the other two gins and will be perfect for winter.
I love experimenting with different flavours, it reminds me of my home brewing days, it’s such good fun.
Step 1: Select the botanicals
The majority of gins use the same botanicals, for example, all gins contain juniper, but it is the quantities used that determines the different tastes of gin. The quantities we use are a secret, in fact there is only one piece of paper that the recipe is written on and this is in a safe place!
For Bullards Norwich Dry Gin we use 10 botanicals which centre around the Tonka bean. This bean has a distinctive vanilla, marzipan, almond smell and taste, and we aim to make this prominent in our gin by working with other botanicals such as cardamom, lemon and orange peels, and coriander seed (which gives the gin its dryness) to highlight this flavour.
The idea for using the Tonka bean in our gin came from the directors who discovered its flavour when eating some fudge. How they got from fudge to gin is another story!
For our Strawberry and Black Pepper gin we use six different botanicals. To get the strawberry flavour we use whole strawberries to give a natural taste that is not too sweet. After the distilling process we then add more strawberries to the gin for another three days before this gin is bottled.
Step 2: Soak the botanicals in alcohol overnight
Once we have weighed out the botanicals we put them in the copper still and soak them in 120 litres of 50 per cent alcohol (basically vodka) overnight for 12 hours. This brings out the flavours of the botanicals.
After 12 hours we turn on the heat and bring the liquid up to the boiling point of ethanol. This evaporates the liquid and releases all the flavours from the botanicals.
Step 4: Creating the gin
Condensation travels up the column of the still, through the condenser, where the gin then drips through and is collected ready for the next stage.
Throughout this part of the process the nasty part of the alcohol (the part that many people call moonshine) is removed from the gin. This tends to come out of the still first. At the end of this process the last part of the gin is also disposed of, as by this time the still has got too hot resulting in an oily fluid that has a murky flavour and smells of soggy cardboard!
Step 5: Alcohol content
At the moment the gin is 82.5 per cent alcohol, in order to bring the alcohol content down for consumption we add heavily filtered water to bring the gin down to around 42.5 percent proof. We use a hydrometer to measure the amount of alcohol in the gin before bottling.
Step 6: Bottling and labelling
The distilling process takes 12 hours. For our Norwich Dry Gin, bottling can take place straight away. For our Strawberry and Black Pepper Gin we wait three days before bottling, as we add more whole strawberries to the gin after distilling in order to enhance the flavour.
Bottling and labelling are carried out by hand. The labels are even handwritten with the batch number and the distiller’s name.
The finished products
Bullards Norwich Dry Gin
Bullards Strawberry and Black Pepper Gin