Bathtub Gin, Compound Gin, and cold Compounded Gin all refer to the same thing: A Gin flavored with botanicals macerated in a neutral spirit or by adding essences and extracts. Generally, this is seen as inferior to distilled Gins, but why?
Well, that has to do with the origin of this type of Gin and the conditions under which the first Bathtub Gins were made.
The term Bathtub Gin is tightly linked to the prohibition era and first came up in the 1920s as a synonym for Gin of poor quality made under amateur conditions.
At this time, Gin was the most important type of spirit and key to countless mixed drinks and cocktails. During prohibition, many people tried to supply others with homemade spirits. Naturally, these often were of inferior quality, and their harsh bite and unpleasant flavors needed to be masked.
- A pretty famous cocktail was invented due to this: The Bee's Knees was made with Bathtub Gin in its early days. Honey syrup in the classic template of a sour cocktail helped cover up the low quality of the base spirit.
You can read more about this in Tom Sandham's book "World's Best Cocktails: 500 Signature Drinks from the World's Best Bars and Bartenders" (p. 72).
Why is it called Bathtub Gin?
The answer to this question is very straightforward. To produce Bathtub Gin in a sellable quantity, people needed a large amount of neutral spirit and then macerated botanicals in it or added essences and extracts.
At this time, the typical materials of bathtubs were either ceramic or metal. Both of them were ideal for the task described above. So people used bathtubs to produce comparably large batches of their homemade Gin.
In modern days, this kind of macerated Gin is often called compound or cold compounded. Until today, this style is seen as inferior and most popular for DIY Gin sets, allowing you to produce your own Gin at home.
Bathtub Gin often has a yellowish color due to the maceration of botanicals in it. Infusions happening during distillation will lead to a clear and transparent spirit.
How to avoid it?
An easy way to avoid these cheaply produced Gins is by looking at the label. If it says something like distilled Gin, Dry Gin, or London Dry Gin, it cannot be a compound Gin.
Also, most brands producing compound Gin do not hide their production method. So by looking at the label, you will find the desired information 99% of the time.
The key difference to other Gin types
Many Gin brands add ingredients, extracts, and essences only after distillation if legal regulations for the Gin type allow such practices. The thing with Bathtub Gin is that you make it exclusively this way.
If a Gin is infused with at least one botanical during distillation (e.g., juniper), it will not be considered compound but distilled Gin.
Some interesting compound Gins on the market
Even though generally, Bathtub Gins are regarded as low standard, there are some exceptions in the Gin market where the producers really make an effort. Here are some of the better Bathtub Gins you can give a try:
Bathtub Gin Pedro Ximénez Cask Aged Gin
Currently, that is my favorite Bathtub Gin. It's also much more than an ordinary compound Gin. The producers, That Boutique-y Gin Company, age their cold compounded Gin in ex-Sherry casks to create a richer taste.
The Sherry cask adds a nice little touch to the flavor profile, full of distinctive notes like toffee, cinnamon, ginger, and raisins. Not uncommon in spirits in general, but certainly unexpected in a Gin.
Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Bathtub Old Tom Gin
This take on a compound combines Old Tom Gin and Bathtub Gin. Both are scarcely regulated Gin types, thus, it's somehow surprising that this Gin is so good.
It tastes relatively sweet, as you would expect from an Old Tom Gin, but overall the flavor profile is quite traditional. Juniper, lemon, and cardamom dominate the nose and palate.
Last but not least, this product is solely named after the category. It's again produced by Ableforth Spirits, who did a beautiful good job with this compound Gin.
The ingredients and flavors come together nicely, and if it wouldn't say so prominently that this is a Bathtub Gin, you probably would not notice. The flavor profile is again rather traditional, with classic botanicals like juniper, cardamom, coriander, orange, and cloves.
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