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“I am an alcohol enthusiast,” Joe Maiellano says. “I guess that’s the polite way of putting it.”
The 28-year-old political fundraiser from Arlington and his business partner, 28-year-old Jack Hubbard, a nonprofit fundraiser who lives in Georgetown, are definitely serious about their spirits. So serious that they wanted to start a gin distillery in the D.C. area. Instead, they’ve created the HomeMade Gin Kit, which allows anyone to make their own gin by infusing botanicals into vodka—no distilling required.
The idea was born while they were looking into the logistics of opening a distillery. “The amount of capital required and the number of regulations is just unbelievable,” says Maiellano. “We figured it would take one to three years and over $100,000 to get a bottle on the shelves.”
As they were thinking of ways around those roadblocks, Maiellano and Hubbard worked on a gin recipe that involved infusing vodka with botanicals. Through trial, error, and 10 test batches, the pair fine-tuned the gin’s flavor profile, which was inspired by Hendrick’s Gin and Bombay Sapphire.
“You say, ‘Let’s try a bunch of allspice in this one,’” says Maiellano. “Then you cringe at the final product, because it tastes like Christmas.”
Ultimately, the D.I.Y. duo composed a proprietary mix of 11 botanicals: juniper berries, coriander, rosemary, French blue lavender, rose hips, allspice, fennel seed, lemon peel, green cardamom, Tellicherry black peppercorn, and bay leaf.
While they were working things out, they did some drinking around town. Because that’s what you do when you’re thinking about getting into the booze biz.
“I’m a disciple of Todd Thrasher and Derek Brown,” says Maiellano. “I love the craft cocktail movement. The idea for the kit was influenced by the fact that these guys make everything from scratch—their own bitters, syrups and tinctures.”
So, Maiellano and Hubbard abandoned the idea of opening a distillery—-for now—-and the Homemade Gin Kit was born. The $39.95 package comes with botanicals, two flip top glass bottles, a funnel, and a sieve. (Spice refills are $10.) Though they are working to get it stocked at some stores in the District in the coming months, it is currently only available through their website.
Around Thanksgiving of last year, they made 250 kits in their home kitchens. “We thought that if we could sell them by Father’s Day of this year, we’d be very happy,” says Maiellano.
So far, they’ve sold 2,700. They’ve moved their operations out of their houses and into a warehouse and a commercial kitchen space, so they can produce and stockpile the kits on a larger scale.
I found the kit incredibly easy to use. It doesn’t come with vodka, so you will need to buy a 750 ml bottle. I used Absolut, though the kit was tested on Stoli and Smirnoff. Gin is usually made by infusing a neutral grain spirit with juniper berries and other botanicals during the distillation process. On the other hand, this kit requires no distilling and only takes 36 hours.
First, you pour in the juniper berries, shake everything up, and let the bottle sit in a cool, dry location to allow the oils and flavors of the berries infuse into the vodka. Twenty-four hours later, you add the rest of the botanicals, shake again, and let the mixture rest for an additional 12 hours to infuse further flavors. At the end, you strain out all the particulate as you bottle it. (A trace amount will linger, but it will sink to the bottom and is easy to avoid.) The liquid has a citrine hue and a heady, complex, juniper-prominent aroma—perfect for a classic gin and tonic.
Photo courtesy Homemade Gin Kit