The Science Behind Gin

Orkney is a great place to live, (and visit!) if you love festivals 😊

This month has seen the 32nd annual Orkney International Science Festival www.oisf.org.  When our children were younger, I used to take them to the science festival family day each year.  The year we launched our ‘Sea Glass Gin’ and ‘Into the Wild Vodka’ I remember going to the festival and having a fab time making up a molecule model of ethanol!  Sadly, I can’t find the original photo, so you’ll have to believe me when I tell you I made it 😉. http://www.orkney.com


I missed the science festival this year, but it did get me thinking about the science behind gin, distilling it, mixing it and tasting it!

So, to the distilling.  We are often asked how we got into making spirits. As you’ll probably know Stuart and I met at Uni and back then there were kits available to make your own spirits. Think Malibu and peach schnapps, but we probably weren’t sophisticated enough to add the cocktail umbrella and a fancy glass.  Add into the mix our science-based degrees, and twenty + years on we’re distilling in our own distillery, and we’re producing spirits that are definitely better than the kits!!

The Science Behind Gin

The first method of distilling in history was alembic or pot distilling. Alembic is the name given to the shape of the vessel in which the liquid is heated up.  Matilda is our copper alembic still (hand made in Portugal https://www.copper-alembic.com/en/) that we use to distil all our gins. As our still is a traditional one, Stuart the master distiller operates the entire distilling process by hand.  Once the botanicals for the gin that he is distilling has been in the grain neutral spirit (we use barley) for their allotted time they are removed. The remaining liquid in the still is then heated up, by a gas ring in our case and the ethanol evaporates.  The ethanol then travels down the swan neck into the condensing column where the cold water surrounding the copper pipe makes the vapour turn into a liquid – the distillate. The distillate is then collected, and this is our gin!

The distillate comes out of the still at a higher ABV percentage than the original liquid that was put into the alembic still.  The ABV percentage is then reduced by ‘cutting’ it with our beautiful clean Orcadian water.

The art of reverse osmosis filtration – how we purify our water, is a science lesson for another day 😊

Stuart loves to get his hands dirty, and distilling is no different! To avoid the loss of precious vapours a rye dough is made up by the distiller and placed around the body of the still head and base of the still, which then ‘cooks’ due to the heat process sealing the two together preventing the vapours releasing .  Stuart has even been known to experiment with adding fruit to his rye dough and eating it after 😊. Distiller’s treat !!!

I hope you’ve enjoyed your mini science lesson and please do check out the Orkney International Science Festival it’s as awesome as that G&T you’re drinking!

Until next time,

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