There's more than one way to build a house
Like many others, ours is built from bricks and mortar. A couple of fields behind us, there's a great looking timber-kit build that's just reaching completion, and if you head just a couple of thousand miles north-westwards to Greenland, you'll find plenty of cosy houses built entirely out of ice and snow.
There are many ways to do many things, and making gin is no exception. The end result won't necessarily be the same, but no method is necessarily more or less effective than the other.Gin can be made via re-distillation, by adding flavour extracts or, most recently, by bottling the tears of a unicorn. Although the vast majority of gins on the market are produced via the process of distillation (or, rather, rectification), we prefer to do things a little differently.
McLean's Gin is proudly created using a very traditional method known as "Cold Compounding".
What is this?
In summary, a neutral spirit - and a very smooth one, at that - extracts the volatile compounds; esters and aromas from our juniper berries and range of other botanicals, without the application of heat. Alcohol - or, ethanol - has strong solvent properties, and within minutes of making contact will begin to extract colours and flavours from most botanical matter. The rate at which the extraction takes place differs from botanical to botanical; juniper has a tough outer skin that isn't as easy to penetrate as less dense botanicals like cardamom, rose petals or coriander seed, and so will typically macerate for longer before filtration and bottling.
There is documented evidence of the use of the Cold Compounding method stretching back to the 13th century; possibly beyond; and it's role in gin's history has played a very large part in keeping the spirit alive. Whilst principally simple, the biggest challenge with Cold Compounding is producing recipes that actually taste good. The start of our journey saw 9 months of trialling over 50 individual botanicals to see how their flavour is imparted in the spirit, gaining a true understanding of how these flavours portray themselves in liquid form; how they might (or might not) work in harmony together; how long to macerate and how much of each to use. It was a laborious process and we still have a few litres of the "error" part of "trial and error" to prove it. The tikka masala gin still comes out at dinner parties from time to time.
The Cold Compounding method differs from the process of distillation, whereby heat is applied to a neutral spirit with macerating botanicals in order to separate and bond the 3 main components; water, ethanol and esters (flavours) with the resulting spirit being completely clear. Some of the more volatile flavours will be more pronounced, and vice versa, some can be lost almost entirely. Whilst distillation is a more involved process from a chemistry point of view, in practice it isn't a great deal more involved or difficult than Cold Compounding once you understand the basic principles.
When we set out on our journey, there were somewhere in the region if 40-50 gin producers in Scotland alone. We didn't want to make "*just another gin"; we wanted to produce something unique; something that challenges perceptions; something colourful, quirky and flavoursome. And so Cold Compounding was the method that we chose to use.
The process has taken some flack over the years, with many bold and very questionable claims being made against it, but it's very rare that our gin isn't complimented by the taster, and many customer's biggest concern is which of our 6 expressions they most want to take home with them.
A real snobbery exists around distillation, and we're on a mission to change this, one mind at a time. There are many in the industry who see the merit of what we do. Ally Wilson of the genuinely fabulous Isle of Skye once told a room of people "I couldn't do what McLean's do; I wouldn't know where to start". But of course, there are some minds that will never be changed. We've had: "How cute, maybe one day they'll start distilling"
"I hear you've finally got yourselves a little still, now you can start making **real gin"
And - our favourite to date - (upon tasting our first ever distillation, which was at best questionable and certainly nowhere near as tasty as any of our other expressions which they choose not to stock in their retail outlet);
"If you start producing this, we'll stock it".
(Your loss, guys).
Thankfully, such snobbery is fairly rare amongst consumers. People want to drink a product that tastes good, and we're confident that all of our expressions tick that box. We're perfectionists, and wouldn't release a gin that we didn't love.
Do we have any plans to release a distilled gin?
Do we intend to ever stop producing our range of colourful, quirky and delightfully tasty Cold Compound gins?
Over and out.
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*Not a dig at any producers out there who have chosen to release a distilled gin - Scotland is churning out some seriously tasty gin at the moment and are truly leading the way on furthering the category, with an incredible range of flavour profiles.
**By legal definition, gin is "a neutral spirit predominantly flavoured with juniper". Distillation does not make gin any more or less "real".