Giniology class at Scratch Distillery Saturday night in Edmonds on April 17, 2016. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Giniology class at Scratch Distillery Saturday night in Edmonds on April 17, 2016. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The science and art behind making your own gin

EDMONDS — Kim Karrick’s fascination with gin started as a love story. Bryan Karrick, in an effort to catch her interest, handed her a gin and tonic on a hot day. It worked. Kim liked the drink and she liked Bryan. He is now her husband and together they own Scratch Distillery in Edmonds, where Kim is the head distiller.

Bryan cheekily describes Kim and the Scratch story like this: “A creative gin nerd with an amazing sense of smell and taste opens a distillery. The end.”

But it’s not really the end, it’s more like the beginning. Kim, Scratch’s head distiller, now passes on her love of gin by teaching others how to make their very own recipe in her Giniology class, one of Scratch’s most interesting and unusual offerings.

Over the course of an evening — with breaks for sampling cocktails, of course — Bryan and Kim walk aspiring gin makers through the history of gin and show them how gin is made — starting with the vodka that’s used as the base. (Kim distills her own vodka, rather than purchasing it, and uses that to make her gins. Hence the name of the distillery: Everything is made from scratch.)

After a history lesson from Bryan and the tour of the distillery, Kim explains the flavor profiles of different types of gin, sometimes passing around ingredients to help her explanations. She then sets the would-be gin makers free to taste. She has 30 gin distillates available to try – tiny straws make it easy to get a drip to sample.

Students then create their own recipe, based upon what they liked. Kim helps perfect recipes and suggests tweaks if necessary.

The recipe can be re-ordered or even tweaked later to further refine it.

Kim has an exceptional sense of smell and taste, a skill that comes in useful at Scratch.

She had worked in the wine business in the past, and had always been interested in starting her own business.

A class on gin-making in London sparked her imagination and creativity. She came home from that class inspired.

She went to Total Wine and grabbed a variety of gins to taste and analyze. She did more research, and took a weeklong course from the American Distilling Institute, along with other classes.

Then she got really nerdy and turned her formal dining room into her own little distillery. She wanted to try flavors that could be used in gin, but it’s illegal to distill alcohol at home, so she did it the nerdy and legal way. She bought post-market vodka and a tiny, one-liter botanical perfumery still.

She experimented with extracting flavors from anything she could imagine using for gin. She did each flavor individually and kept working on it for four or five months, sometimes doing as many as three flavors per day. By the time she was done, her dining room was covered by small jars of flavored spirits.

“I like that distilling is a science and an art, too,” she said.

She kept careful notes on what she liked and didn’t like, and then she started experimenting. She created her own gins and flavored vodkas. Her work at home was the basis of the recipes for the spirits at Scratch Distillery, which opened in the summer of 2015.

All of the different spirits used to craft the gin are distilled by Kim. She diverges from the original method of creating gin, which involves dumping all the ingredients together in a still. That means only hardy ingredients, such as dried juniper berries or dried roots, could be used. More delicate ingredients, such as fresh citrus, wouldn’t hold up to the abuse of prolonged soaking in hot alcohol.

Kim uses a basket to hold her ingredients. The vapors from the alcohol permeate the ingredients, picking up the flavors as they go. This allows her to use delicate ingredients, including fresh citrus and flowers, that can withstand vapors but not immersion in the alcohol.

Kim says the basket method allows her to create more nuance in her gin. For example, she uses lemon geranium and rosemary in some of her spirits (some of her ingredients are even grown right outside her front door, the definition of fresh). She couldn’t do that with the immersion method.

“You can’t soak very many florals and not have them come across weird,” she said.

That method gives her — and her students — a wide range of ingredients to play with. And Kim puts those ingredients to good use.

Kim’s desire to craft spirits wasn’t satisfiedwith gin. She also distills several varieties of vodka and is working on a whiskey and a barrel-finished gin. She has several more ideas distilling, so to speak, in her brain.

Kris Muhlstein of Bothell took Giniology earlier this year. He wasn’t much of a gin drinker before; Scotch was more his style.

“I was really interested in how they were approaching distilling and the business,” he said.

He said the class was informative and very fun.

“I was actually amazed there were so many different ingredients you could put into gin,” he said. “They converted me … I certainly have a greater level of appreciation for gin now.”

Jessi’s gin recipe No. 109

I tried out Giniology over the summer with a friend. Tasting all the ingredients was the best part of the night. It was fascinating. My friend Alyson and I gleefully tried little drops of nearly everything. In the end, we created quite different gins. Mine was heavy on the citrus, while hers made use of spicier ingredients and more florals.

My gin is Recipe No. 109 for Scratch. I’ve been savoring it. And perhaps hoarding it. Just a little. Not long after the Giniology class, I threw a big party for a friend who had just finished a master’s program. I hid my own precious gin, and left out our standard, store-bought gin. I wasn’t going to share my creation with people who were too busy socializing to appreciate what they were drinking.

Since then, though, I’ve shared it with many friends, while making sure they took the time to appreciate it. It’s been universally well-received.

I’d like to say that’s because of my good taste. But the credit clearly goes to Kim Karrick and her careful distilling and instruction. I’m nearing the bottom of my first bottle of Recipe No. 109. I’m looking forward to re-ordering another bottle, with a few changes. I think this time I may add some grains of paradise — an ingredient that added a pleasingly spicy note. It will go down nicely as the season starts to turn cooler.

— Jessi Loerch

About Giniology classes

Classes are offered a few times during the week. Check the website for details. The class is $150 per person, which includes cocktails and a bottle of your custom-made gin, which can be re-ordered for $50 a bottle. You can also tweak your recipe when you re-order, if you’d like to further refine the flavors.

Scratch is located at 190 Sunset Ave. S, Suite A, Edmonds; scratchdistillery.com.

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