Hot on the heels of one of the biggest disappointment in my life, (it seems so dramatic when I say it like that, but I’ll explain), I ran the Bugs Bunny trail run, hosted by My Road Less Traveled, yesterday. It was such a hard route. 3.5km of sheer climbing over technical slippery rocks and gravel. Of course, that’s just up my street because I’m so dumb! The harder the better. It’s just more fun for me when it’s impossibly hard. I wonder why that is. I guess life has been quite good for me. I’ve had a good life. Things have come easily to me and so I choose difficult things because then I feel like I’ve earned them or I get a real sense of accomplishment from the overcoming. I choose jobs that I have no idea about and stretch my mind and my abilities sometimes way beyond what I’m capable of, but I learn and I grow and it makes things exciting.
Hence my new hobby, making gin. I’m not really a drinker and I don’t really like gin. So who better to start up a gin making business than me? I really don’t do easy stuff! I started making rudimentary gin earlier this year with a bottle of vodka and a few herbs and flowers and spices. Nice. I love the creative process. I love the scientific process. And it turns out I have a bit of a hand for this. Everyone has been liking my gin. So EP and I discussed a few times and we figured that we would start a gin-making business. We discussed the market that we’d like to capture and we got the ball rolling. This is what running has taught me about making gin:
- In order to make gin, you need vodka. I’m not going to explain the whole process, but I decided to make my own vodka. I bought a still which is a machine which separates ethanol from water in a fermentation. Vodka is ethanol. Yes. Vodka is ethanol. Watered down ethanol. To make ethanol, you need fermented sugar water. No. Sorry to burst your bubble, but most vodka is not made of potatoes because the amount of fermentable sugar you get from potatoes is just not worth the effort. To make sugar water, you need water and sugar and a bucket and a spoon and you need to have run the Comrades Marathon. I know that might seem strange, but while I stood over the 20 litres of water with a six kilogram lump of sugar at the bottom, stirring continuously, it helped to be able to tell myself that I had run the Comrades Marathon and so I could finish this. 3 hours. I stirred that fucking bucket of sugar water for 3 hours. And if I had not been able to tell myself at least 8 times that I had finished the Comrades Marathon, I would not have been able to dissolve all that sugar.
- Once your sugar water is prepared, you add yeast and some other stuff to start the fermentation. The YouTube video said 20 degrees. The instructions on the packet said 28 degrees. I’ve made bread and I would argue it should be 34 degrees. I trusted the video because at the end of the video, the guy ended up with a lot of vodka which is where I wanted to be. The yeast I used is called Turbo Yeast and promised a 7-10 day turnaround. We were in the middle of a heatwave so I took the fermentation out of what had become the distillery and put it in a cupboard. Checked the temperature, 22 degrees. Perfect. And then I waited. 7 days. The fermentation was going bloop bloop bloop in the cupboard. Evidence that the fermentation was not complete and the yeast was still turning the sugar into alcohol. 10 days. Bloop bloop bloop. 12 days. Bloop bloop bloop. I’m not a patient person. But running has taught me to be patient. It took me two years to run the Comrades Marathon after I had fully anticipated I would run that race 8 months after I told Daniel I’d run it with him. Actually, that’s still so funny, knowing what I know. So two years to be ready to run Comrades had prepared me to engage with this bloop bloop with love and patience. At day 13, I went on a distilling course. And I found out things that I wish I didn’t know. I almost gave up. There are so many legal hoops to jump through, just to get a shot of vodka into your kitchen and that’s without making gin and without selling the stuff. I also found out that my yeast had been struggling along at 22 degrees when I should have been taking full advantage of the heatwave! I move the fermentation into the kitchen where there is adjustable underfloor heating and dialed the heating up to 30 degrees. I also realised that my fermentation had probably run out of oxygen so I whipped some air into the fermentation and continued the bloop bloop process. 15 days. Bloop bloop bloop. I’ve got this dog. He’s curious and clumsy. He investigated the bloop bloop and knocked the air lock out of the bucket. I could have killed him, but I fixed it and continued the bloop bloop process. 18 days. The bloop bloop appeared to have finished blooping. Finally! The fermentation was complete. Allegedly.
- We opened a company called CocoJade Distilleries and we opened a business bank account. All that stuff moved forward. Nothing moved as quickly as I had wanted. Exactly like my legs. Like EXACTLY like my legs. After the fermentation was over, I had to clarify the “wash”. It’s called a wash once the fermentation is complete. Then I had to degas it. It’s full of carbon dioxide after fermentation so you have to get rid of all of that gas. Picture a big 21 litre bucket of Coca-Cola needing to go flat. You can either stir until you need to remind yourself of your Comrades marathon or you can pour that bucket into another bucket, let it settle, pour the bucket back into the first bucket and let it settle and then do that over and over until the wash is flat. Less requirement for a Comrades reminder, but my back…..20 litre buckets full of fermented sugar are heavy, yo! I filtered it a few more times to get a very clear liquid to put into the still. Then on Saturday, I sat the entire afternoon distilling the wash into acetone, methanol and ethanol, leaving the water behind. It’s a process, I tell you. You have to watch it all the time and adjust your cold water flow to keep the condenser at the right temperature. And you need to be patient. Yesterday, I wanted to give up on the first hill at Bugs Bunny. What was I running this for? It was hot. I hadn’t trained. My back was sore. This was only going to carry on being hard. Just. Give. Up! Making vodka is hard. It takes so long. It takes so much time and sugar and water with no real guarantees. Just to make vodka requires a million forms. If I want to sell vodka, I need to navigate a thousand very expensive legal processes and get all sorts of permits. I won’t be able to do it from home because you can’t make gin in a residential area and our business model doesn’t really warrant a huge property and and and. Sometimes I just want to give up.
As it so happens, yesterday I didn’t give up. I didn’t die. I didn’t come last and I really enjoyed my run. My legs are a bit hungover today which is to be expected because I hadn’t really trained properly and I hadn’t been doing the necessary gym work. And that’s how running has taught me to make gin. Saturday’s distillation produced vodka that was less then perfect. I’m so hard on myself that I fully expected that it would come out perfectly. I was so disappointed. How could my vodka not be perfect? But if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t do everything perfectly in preparing the wash. Maybe all the sugar wasn’t dissolved when I put in the yeast. I should have fermented at 30 degrees for the whole time. I should have stirred it up properly in the beginning, feeding the yeast with oxygen. I should have kept the dog away from the bloop bloop. I should have checked if the fermentation was really over before clarifying. Ag! It got what I deserved. It wasn’t perfect vodka, but it was good enough for a first attempt. I didn’t win yesterday, but it was good enough. I never win, but I suppose it’s always good enough. Running and making gin are teaching me that sometimes you just have to do things that you love with love and the rest will follow. Keep going forward with commitment and focus and eventually, you’ll get over the big mountains and you’ll enjoy some of it and you’ll come to a point near the end where you see an impala leaping gracefully past you and you’ll remind yourself why you didn’t give up and you’ll be grateful that you didn’t give up.
Wish me luck with the gin. I have also decided that I will help someone else create a vodka making business and they can supply me with the vodka I need to make gin because making vodka sucks. I’m going to try one more batch of vodka and then I’ll hand that over to someone else who wants to make perfect vodka. I want to make gin and that’s what I need to focus on. Today I start the second part of the legal hurdles that I will have to navigate. It’s actually like Inchanga where you’re half way up and you can see the rest of it winding up and up and up in front of you. I seriously feel like giving up on this one, but I won’t. At least if I start, I can evaluate the merits of going forward.
I’ll be sure to take you on my gin journey. I might even get to like gin, kind of like I eventually got to love running!
Yours in the love of running and gin, I think.