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Mocked Gin

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Our December issue contains a bunch of DIY edible presents offered up by F&W staffers. The gift list runs from savory to sweet and every excellent recipe was given from the heart (aww…)

Except one, perhaps: my own. My original idea was to create a recipe for ersatz aquavit  (mockuavit?), a vodkalike spirit flavored with caraway and favored by my Scandinavian kindred. But the affably stubborn Emily Kaiser convinced me to create homemade gin instead, in part because “gin is so hot right now” (though I’d argue that aquavit is staging a comeback) and it could also be paired with Marcia Kiesel’s own cocktail onions for that much-needed holiday Gibson.

Fair enough. So I read up on infusion methods (since it’s illegal—and dangerous!—to distill spirits without a permit, and I’d never do anything illegal or dangerous) and consulted a few guys who make booze for a living. I decided on a method that involves making a concentrated, gin-flavored infusion (“essence”), then cutting it with the most neutral spirit I could find: vodka. Dozens of experiments and hooch-filled Mason jars later, I had made a “gin” decent enough to win a martini and G&T taste-off against some popular brands. (Though tasted on its own, my gin—with its light amber hue and astringent edge, two things that (illegal!) distillation would fix—was easily fingered in the lineup).

Then two things happened to make me second-guess my homemade gin: I saw this post on my favorite cocktail blog (a Brita filter! Of course!) and I was paid a visit by Sean Harrison, Plymouth Gin’s master distiller. Emily joined us and, though I begged her to not mention my booze-in-progress, a few minutes into the meeting Harrison’s senses were being assaulted by batches of my moonshine. He was polite and gentle with his criticism (I believe “oof” was how he summed it up).

By the time the issue was printed, I had dumped out all of my failures and most of my successes. I kept a couple of bottles, but I doubt I’ll be tying on a ribbon shipping it out to any friends or relatives. That’s illegal, right?

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.