Bathtub gin, Joe Maiellano says, is making a comeback.
And for $39.95, he and his business partners will show you how to turn a bottle of vodka into a bottle of gin.
Maiellano, 28, began selling gin-making kits from his Arlington condominium last November. By Christmas, he had sold 2,000 of them and had moved the company’s operations from his living room to a warehouse in Dulles.
“Honestly, we didn’t know what kind of market there would be,” Maiellano said. “We made 250 kits, thinking it’d take us six or seven months to sell those. But we sold out very quickly.”
To date, more than 5,000 kits have been sold. Maiellano says the company — called, simply, the HomeMade Gin Kit — is on track to rack up $500,000 in sales this year.
“We saw a huge spike at Christmastime, and again before Valentine’s Day,” he said. “We’re starting to see the same thing for Father’s Day.”
Maiellano and his friend, Jack Hubbard, had originally set out to open a gin distillery.
“But after a couple of days of researching and talking to attorneys, we realized it would take $100,000 and two years before we could get a bottle on the shelves,” said Maiellano, who works as director of development at the Armed Forces Foundation during the day. “We didn’t have that kind of money or time.”
Instead, the pair — and their wives — decided to model their product after popular beer-brewing kits. They pulled together $20,000, ordered glass bottles from Italy and got started.
This is how it works: Customers receive a package that includes a funnel, mesh strainer, juniper berries and spice mix. They then use the kit to infuse a bottle of unflavored vodka (not included) with juniper berries for 24 hours, then add in the spice mix, which includes herbs like rosemary and bay leaves. After an additional 12 hours, the alcohol is ready to strain and drink.
“When people first hear about it, their responses range from skepticism to excitement,” Maiellano said. “A lot of people will say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize making gin was so accessible.’”
It took weeks for Maiellano to get the spice blend just right. He kept an Excel spreadsheet with notes and recipes.
“It took me about 12 different tweaks,” he said. “It’d be like, ‘Let me add a little bit more citrus peel, take away some of the allspice.’ It really took a while.”
Maiellano says specialty drinks at local bars like Columbia Room and the Gibson got him interested in making cocktails. He began creating his own bitters and syrups a few years ago. After that, he started experimenting with gin.
“None of the gins I bought were the right match for my favorite small-batch tonic,” he said. “I thought, OK, maybe I’ll try this myself.”
Home-brewing and micro distilleries have become popular in recent years as customers look for more personalized experiences. Last year, New Columbia Distillers opened the first gin distillery in Washington since Prohibition.
HomeMade Gin Kits are currently sold on a handful of Web sites, including RedEnvelope.com and UncommonGoods.com. The company is in talks with national retailers who are interested in selling the items in stores, Maiellano said.
“We had no idea how many people would be interested in making their own gin at home,” Maiellano said. “It turns out a lot of people do.”