The gin revolution is well and truly upon us. Even the most modest of supermarket shelves or remote of pub bars groans under the weight of designer gins in a myriad of flavours, from traditional dry London to wild and wacky such as watercress or maple syrup.
So, what role does the humble load cell play in creating your next mother’s ruin with ice and a slice? If you value the consistency, quality and taste of your boutique gin, quite a lot actually!
Load cells and gin distillation
Load cells play a crucial role in ensuring the accuracy of weighed ingredients and final product weight consistency. Ingredients must be weighed for consistency and accuracy in the production of a consistent spirit throughout the the distilling process.
Rules around alcohol sales are strict. Bottled gin and other spirits must be sold in precise amounts, as below:
Type Volume by millilitre (ml)
Spirit drinks 100, 200, 350, 500, 700, 1000, 1500, 1750, 2000
Load cells give distillers precise weighing capabilities for the raw ingredients, the yeast required for fermentation, the weight of the base spirit (more on this later), the added botanicals and the finished product ready for sale.
What’s gin actually made of?
We thought this was a fairly straightforward question, as Wikipedia states that:
“Distilled gin is produced exclusively by redistilling ethanol of agricultural origin with an initial strength of 96% ABV (the azeotrope of water and ethanol).”
OK, but what’s “ethanol of agricultural origin”? This is alcohol produced by fermenting any number of grains and vegetables, including barley, malt and corn. You can also create it from potatoes, sugar cane and even carrots. Known as base spirit, this can then be legally redistilled and infused with flavours and botanicals to create all types of speciality gins.
Base spirit or grain to glass?
Many gin producers, however, do not make their own base spirit, as setting up a full distillery from scratch is very expensive and time-consuming. Instead, they buy in the base spirit and add flavourings. Those who do produce their own gin from start to finish, know variously as craft gin, are fighting back. As an article for the Gin Foundry says,
“There has been a strong move by many of these grain to glass distillers to recalibrate the conversation around the base spirit being an essential part of the taste of their gin, and not just a neutral canvas from which to work.”
A brief history of Neutral Grain Spirit
Until recently, there was a law stating that brewing and distilling had to be done separately to rectifying (the process of redistilling with flavours and/or botanicals). Even when that law changed, it costs a considerable amount to set up a full process distillery, and buying in grain spirit can be considerably cheaper than producing it yourself. Under UK law, the base alcohol needs to have been distilled to over 96% ABV to be classified as a Distilled Gin or a London Dry Gin.
Botanicals and secret ingredients
Botanicals are what creates the unique flavour notes of a gin, and each gin distillery will have their own secret recipe for the exact proportions of each. Precision weighing scales (with load cells) will be used in order to ensure that every batch of gin receives precisely the right botanicals, infused through varying methods. Commonly used botanicals include:
- citrus (peel not pith)
- angelica root
- juniper berries
Gin stills – why copper?
Many gin stills look like works of art, elegant copper globes with fancy tops and tubes to ensure the purity and flavour. Stills can be made from stainless steel, but as the Sipsmith website explains, copper is definitely the preferred option:
“Copper is exceptionally good at conducting heat… When heat is dispersed evenly over the surface of the still, the result is a more efficient distilling process…and better gin. Copper (also) reacts on a molecular level to produce a naturally clean and smooth spirit. Copper helps strip out volatile sulphuric compounds as the gin distils, a process which removes any unwanted flavours and aromas from the final product. Copper also has antimicrobial properties (which reduce any possibility of contamination), is highly malleable, and is resistant to corrosion.”
Copper is also a heavy materials, so if distiller want to weigh the contents of the still during the process, they will need robust and heat-resistant load cells in placed under the still to do the job.
Need more gin in your life?
Finding gins to try has never been easier. Work your way along the gin shelf at your local (not in one evening, of course!), check out gin tastings at local off licences, or book a ticket for your local gin festival. You could also join a gin club like the Craft Gin Club, who send you a bottle through the post every month. Once you’ve got your gin, of course, you need to choose the optimum tonic – but that’s a whole separate article!
For more details on our range of load cells for suitable brewing, distilling and the drinks industry in general, see our online load cell shop. Or call us with your specific requirements and challenges – we’re always happy to talk techie.