Few people have ever had proper bathtub gin and most would probably would not ever want to. Regular gin is a redistillation of neutral grain alcohol with certain botanicals such as juniper berries, citrus peepls, anis or orris root. Bathtub gin, created in the days of America's Prohibition of alcohol is a crude version of this recipe that was in private homes for consumption in hidden backrooms and speakeasies. Gin was chosen because, unlike whiskey, it didn't need to age for long so it could be ready to drink very quickly. But, despite the name, bathtub gin wasn't made in a bathtub. Instead it was made by steeping grain alcohol with juniper berries and water in a large jar too large to be filled in a sink, hence it was filled from the bathtub tap. However, because distilling was illegal during the Prohibition, denatured alcohol was used when grain alcohol wasn't available, which led to illness, blindness or death in many cases. Even with the botanical flavorings, bathtub gin was notoriously dry and had a foul taste. Many modern cocktails were designed to mask the taste of bathtub gin.
What is Bathtub Gin?
Making Crude Bathtub Gin
Today, the term is used loosely for any amateur distilled spirits, like moonshine. Still, making an authentic, but relatively safe, rendition of good old bathtub gin is not very difficult. In absolutely no circumstance should rubbing alcohol, mineral spirits or any other form of denatured alcohol be used. Instead, for a rustic flavor, combine equal parts water and strong grain alcohol in a sealable container. Add to this about 10 grams of dried juniper berries and two grams of orange or lemon peel per 750 mL of liquid. Cover the jar and store in a cool, dark place for two days to one week depending on how much flavor you want to infuse. Shake thoroughly once each day. When the mixture is uncovered, pass through a strainer for a sample of the iconic drink of the roaring twenties. You'll probably want to mix it with cranberry or some other juice to help it go down.
A Modern Twist
Grain alcohol, of course, is not exactly known for its refined taste. Bootleggers used it because they didn't have the time to properly distill alcohol and it was more risky and expensive for them to do so. You, on the other hand, have no reason to put yourself through that experience when you have the advantage of dozens of well-crafted vodkas you can work with. The best idea is to start with a bottle of your favorite vodka, preferable one that has a 100-proof variety. Follow a similar process as the recipe above, but don't hesitate to experiment with different botanicals--in addition to the juniper berries, why not try some cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or Thai basil? Another recommendation is to use a reliable water filter to get any residual cloudiness out of the concoction.