by Kristina Hansen, Co-Founder and General Manager of Bimini Gin
What do absinthe, ouzo, and gin have in common? All three spirits are flavored with botanicals: wormwood, anise, and juniper, respectively. Despite this commonality, why are absinthe and ouzo known for becoming cloudy when you add water - the “louche” - but gin is traditionally known for its clarity? If gin is traditionally know for its clarity, why does Bimini Gin get cloudy?
Before we answer, let’s get some technical stuff out of the way. The process of making a botanical spirit takes advantage of the bond between alcohol and the essential oil extracted from the botanicals. The oil bonds with the alcohol, creating a uniform mixture at room temperature and high proof (ABV). In fact, the molecules bond so well there is no visible evidence the oils are there at all.
So what happens when the proof of the mixture is lowered by adding more water? The oils have a dilemma: they desperately want to get away from the water molecules, but they can’t let go of their attraction to the alcohol. Meanwhile, the water mixes freely with the alcohol, weakening the bond between the alcohol and oil. Colder temperatures also weaken this bond as the chilled oil becomes denser. The oils begin to coalesce into tiny droplets that get stuck in the spaces between water and alcohol molecules. Now that they’re out in open, the botanical oils begin to reflect light creating a cloudy, milky appearance, and here we have the “louche” or the “ouzo effect.”
OK, so getting back to the original question, if all botanical spirits have oil content and gin is a botanical spirit, why does traditional gin make a clear Martini while a Bimini Martini gets cloudy? As mentioned above, when oil gets cold it gets more viscous, weakening its bond with alcohol. This means if you make gin really, really cold and then pump it through a very, very fine filter, a lot of the oils will be trapped and removed from the gin. This process is called “chill-filtering” and it’s used throughout the spirits industry to ensure clarity. In some cases, it’s even called “polishing.”
Here’s the problem: the very same oils that cause this “unpolished” cloudiness also create aroma and flavor, so stripping them out results in a less aromatic and flavorful spirit. That’s why we decided to not chill-filter Bimini Gin even though we knew some people would wonder why their Martini was cloudy. Honestly, we put so much effort into getting the flavors of our botanicals into Bimini Gin, it seemed crazy to strip them out just for looks.