THE DISTILLATION PROCESS

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE TASTE

Distillation is basically a purification technique; a means of collecting the component parts you do want and discarding the component parts you do not want. The art (read witchcraft) is in the removal of the parts you do want!

Distillation has been fundamental to our civilisation as we know it. As far back as 384–322BC, Aristotle mentioned that pure water is made by the evaporation of seawater. This is distillation at its simplest.

Fundamentally, our distillation process is not any different (after all, science is science). However, like any process – depending on what you put in at the start – timing and variants such as temperature can emphatically change the end product.

RE-WRITING THE RULE BOOK...

We work differently to compose our product... At the distillery we are able to produce our own base alcohol spirit, starting with a relatively low 20% alcohol ferment which is then distilled to 96% +. Our ferment contains loads of alcohol, but also a myriad of other compounds, some we want and some we definitely do not. These substances have different boiling points - some less than alcohol or Ethanol which boils at 78.37 °C and some with higher boiling points. The different compounds can be loosely grouped into three zones:

HEADS – these are fiery in nature, give you a real kick, and are even potentially toxic to us;

HEARTS – this is the part we want to extract;

TAILS – these can be oily, bitter, and even rancid in flavour at the extreme end.

You might think that this would be, or even should be, fairly simple but we can assure that it is not! Triple distilled is common place in our industry and is a result of not being able to exact the point at which to discard the heads, collect the hearts, and then stop the tails coming off. 

There isn’t a piece of equipment or apparatus available to be exacting on this one - it is down to judgement, experience, taste and craftsmanship. There is no substitute here and we believe that our Master Distiller, Dr J, is a wizard when it comes to judgement, timing and taste.

CLOSELY GUARDED SECRETS...

We have always been a great believer that you only get out what you put in so we produce only the purest of base spirit. There are actually only a handful of small batch distilleries that do this, most small batch distilleries buy their base in from industrial distillers – which is by the very nature of industrial production, not small batch.

Our equipment is one of the elements in the process that does set us apart. We use a 4.5m (17ft) tall water-cooled refraction column packed full of copper rings (a bit like a honeycomb centre) allowing the alcohol to rise up the column 17,000 times in one distillation. This forces anything other than pure alcohol to be deposited on the honeycomb surface and only the purest of alcohol reaches the top. So at the end of a single distillation, we are producing the most phenomenal base spirit at around 96% +.

Remember, if you have to distil anything more than once it means you got it wrong the first time. Triple distillation is lazy distilling – but marketed very cleverly.

Ok, so we now have our wonderful base spirit, “the canvas”, on which we now need to paint the masterpiece. There are different methods of gin production:

BATH TUB – soak your botanicals in alcohol and leach out the flavours;

COMPOUND – add flavours to vodka (even artificial flavours sometimes).

DISTILLED GIN – we use this method...

Taking our base spirit, we dilute this with distilled water to a very specific % alcohol. This is a very important detail and closely guarded – this means no one can copy our Gin. This is carefully decanted into one of the 200L alembic stills.  

Next to be added in the process are the botanicals, not over dried, not oxidised, just exactly what they are and not false. Each botanical is chopped or split or bruised – creating not too much surface area but also not too little, depending on the specific botanical. Then we add our chosen botanicals at different stages directly to the pot (rather than in a basket above as the basket method gives an extractive bias towards alcohol soluble flavours over water soluble ones). They need to be added at different stages due to their ferocity of flavour and miscibility.

Typically, our Gin comes off at circa 79% alcohol – the extreme end of London Dry Gin. London Dry Gin is a definition in gin terms.

To call it London Dry Gin, it must be a distilled gin and come off the final still, at over 70% alcohol but less than 81% and it must be colourless. Worsley Gin is a London Dry Gin – we believe the best type of gin and perfect for the science.

THE HOME STRAIGHT...

Next in the process, and quite crucially, is to dilute our creation to allow the botanical profile to be best presented; above 45% we found the citrus note to be overpowering, below 45% we found the flavour profile of the juniper and coriander did not work. It still amazes us how the %ABV of gin can bring about such vastly different flavour journeys despite everything else in the process being exactly the same!

The final and most important thing to note is that personal choice and one’s own taste is always exactly that – personal. We have just tried, and believe we have succeeded in, giving Worsley Gin the best possible chance at being our discerning customers’ favoured choice.