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Gin Distillation

Gin is made at the Langley Distillery situated near Birmingham.  The distillery is in the early 19th Century Crosswells Road brewery buildings and sited over ancient underground water sources.

Gin has been distilled at Langley since 1920. However, some of the traditional copper pot and rectifying stills are over 100 years old. Gin is still produced by traditional methods using top quality alcohol and botanicals to recipes passed down from master distillers of another age.

Continuous improvement over the years has resulted in a facility that can produce award winning Gins of the finest quality and to the exacting standards expected by modern consumers. 

Barrel end Goods lift One of our stills, Jenny Sack of juniper berries

Gin distilling started in London about the end of the sixteenth century.  Broadly speaking there are two main methods of distillation – the British and the Dutch.  In Holland the mash usually has the flavourings added to it.  This creates a courser-flavoured drink.  True London Dry Gin is a much more refined product crafted with great care by experienced distillers.  It uses the highest quality fermentation alcohol with botanicals, dominated by Juniper.  English customs law requires that the original alcohol is distilled on different premises to those where the Gin distillation takes place.

The secret of London Dry Gin lies in the purity of the alcohol and the proportion of botanicals used in each distillation. The alcohol used in our Gin is either from fermented molasses or grain with a purity of at least 96%.  The botanicals used in traditional pot still Distilled London Dry Gin includes the following: - 

Juniper berries from The Balkans
Coriander seeds from Eastern Europe
Cut and dried Angelica root from France/Belgium
Dried Sweet Lemon peels from Spain
Dried Sweet Orange peels from Spain
Cassia bark from China
Liquorice root powder from The Mediterranean
Ground Nutmeg from the West Indies
Cinnamon bark from Madagascar
Orrisroot powder from Italy (Florentine Iris)

The source of botanicals can change from time to time depending upon the quality of the local harvest.  All botanicals are carefully selected by our expert staff and in the case of Juniper berries, rigorously batch tested by our own laboratories before acceptance.  As with all natural products, quality and yields of the essential constituents can vary from season to season.  Quality monitoring of ingredients is an important part of our distilling process.

The recipes remain the secret of the Master Distiller.  The rest of us must guess the combination, proportions and methodology. Our Master Distiller has been involved in making Gin for over 30 years and our tasting panel regularly judge at international spirits competitions.

The Process of Making Gin

The botanicals contain essential oils immediately below the skin of the seed, berry, peel or bark and it is the extraction of this in the presence of alcohol that gives gin its unique flavour.

The method used is “batch distillation” in a pot still. This is a complete operation like malt whisky rather than continuous running of the stills as in the production of grain whisky. One of the main stills used is over 100 years old and going strong.  All our stills are traditional copper construction and our largest is over 10,000 litres.

The alcohol is charged into the pot of the still and reduced with water before the botanicals are added in carefully controlled amounts.  The still lid is then shut and locked.  (The alcohol has to be reduced in strength, as pure spirit would harden the skins of the botanicals and make the extraction of the oils more difficult).

Juniper berries Cassia bark Orris root powder Orange peel

Depending upon the individual recipe, a delicate pre-heating process is sometimes undertaken and the complete charge is left for some hours, often overnight, to macerate.  At the correct time, the distillation starts with heat applied to the charge – in the case of our Gins, through a steam jacket encasing the bottom of the still. Initially the stillman will apply enough steam to make the alcohol boil.  As soon as the vaporised spirit starts to come over the top of the still, the pressure must be reduced, the valve perhaps being only just cracked; otherwise there is danger of entrainment – that is, the whole distillation coming over too soon.

The vapours pass through the swan neck at the top of the still to a water-cooled condenser (using water from our own underground springs and stream). The initial part of the distillate, the “heads”, are impure and are run off into the feints vats until the gin is of the standard and quality required. The spirit passes through a spirit safe where the quality is monitored before going into holding vats. The “nose” of the distiller is critical at this stage of the process.

The pure gin will come over at varying levels to give a final strength of about 80%. When the strength coming over falls to below about 60% the impurities, turpenes and camphenes will start to come through so these “tails” are switched to the feints vats. The steam pressure is then raised again so that the whole distillate comes over, leaving just water and spent botanicals in the still.  The feints are re-distilled in a rectifying still that has a tall neck containing scrubbing plates, which remove the impurities so that the recovered pure alcohol can be used again to make gin.

At this stage the distillate does not taste or have the subtle aromas of our beloved final product.

The resulting concentrate cannot be used to make gin without a very important and skilful process of blending with alcohol to produce a high strength gin at over 90% that in turn is reduced in strength prior to bottling.  The blending process takes skill and time to carefully consummate the marriage between the crafted concentrate and alcohol to yield a gin of distinction.

Quality materials, skilled distillers and great attention to detail are all unseen factors that help deliver that famous aroma and taste.

The result is a top quality fully distilled London Dry Gin worthy of carrying your brand.  Our Gins used for customers own brands regularly win prizes in independent world recognised competitions.

Find out more: Langley Distillery