We meet some of the UK gin distillers giving enthusiasts the chance to craft their own spirit.
For those of us who love gin more than your average Joe, the opportunity to make our own gets our bodies and taste buds tingling with excitement. As awareness of and education around gin has grown in the UK, many distilleries have started offering visitors a chance to go behind closed doors, to see their production processes from start to finish, learn more about botanicals and distillation, and craft their own spirit in their own little still (with, of course, a few G&Ts along the way).
While such events have been interrupted by Covid-19 and the UK lockdown, some are starting to reopen their doors to visitors with extra safety precautions in place. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should give you a taste of the gin-making experiences out there to try:
NAME: Adnams Make Your Own Gin Sessions
LOCATION: Southwold and Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk), Norwich (Norfolk)
TIME: Approx. 2.5 hours
PRICE: £95 per person
Nestled on the Suffolk coast, brewer and distiller Adnams began running tours soon after its distillery was installed in 2010. They were led by head distiller John McCarthy, who went on to lead Adnams’ first ‘make your own gin’ sessions. “It involved having lunch with him back then,” says Julie Fitzgerald of Adnams. “He had been using the mini still to trial some of our first gins and it looked like it would be fun for customers to have a go.”
Adnams now runs these experiences at its headquarters in Southwold and at its shops in Norwich and Bury St Edmunds, hosting up to six, four and seven people per session respectively (although there is capacity to host up to 16 people at the Southwold site by special request).
Guests get to choose from a selection of dry botanicals to distil their gin on small alembic stills, using Adnams’ Longshore Vodka – also the base spirit for its First Rate Gin. They can take their 70cl bottle home in a goody bag together with a bottle of tonic and an Adnams gin glass. Experiences at the Southwold site include a distillery tour, and all finish off with a full Adnams tasting.
“The experience is very hands-on. You are coached, but the team let you do it yourself,” says Julie. “My favourite part is reading the names people come up with, as I love a good gin pun!”
As with many gin-making experiences, Adnams keeps guests’ recipes on file so their gins can be remade. Julie explains, “We sometimes have couples visit prior to weddings and they order a batch for their bar, tables or as favours.”
What makes Adnams’ sessions a first-rate experience? “First and foremost, I think it is the team and their passion for the product and the sector,” Julie says. “Southwold session leaders are all tour guides as well. Some also work in the distillery, others work or have worked in our stores and they all volunteer to represent Adnams at events. They just love talking to people about Adnams, spirits and, of course, gin.”
She adds, “We are also lucky enough to be based in a beautiful seaside town; customers can come and make gin, stay in our hotels and pubs and make a weekend of it.”
After a shutdown due to Covid-19, Adnams restarted its ‘make your own gin’ sessions on 25 July with reduced group sizes to help with social distancing. The company has plans to expand its guest experience offering with tutored tastings and whisky blending, so watch this space.
NAME: Cotswold Distillery Gin Blending Masterclass
LOCATION: Stourton (Warwickshire), Broadway (Worcestershire)
TIME: 2 hours
PRICE: £100 per person
For an intimate experience of gin-making in the rolling British countryside, there’s the Cotswolds Distillery tour and gin-blending masterclass. The distillery, which also produces whisky and liqueurs, is perched on the edge of the Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Deborah Carter, the distillery’s head of marketing, says, “Our Cotswolds Distillery masterclasses started last summer, just after we opened our new visitor centre. We wanted to give visitors an enhanced experience and an opportunity for gin lovers to understand how we develop our range of gins and then make their own bespoke gin. The classes have been incredibly popular and sold out very quickly.”
The masterclasses begin with a cloudy Cotswold G&T on arrival as hosts talk their guests through the history of gin and its production. There is then a tour of the distillery and its research and development lab, where guests can get up close to the distillery’s Holstein still, Valerie, and are talked through the development of Cotswold Dry Gin.
Guests are able to nose and taste a variety of botanicals and distillates before blending their gin, which is conducted with assistance from the host. Once the spirits are ready, guests are shown how to make a Martini cocktail with their own gin – the rest is bottled up to be taken home in a presentation box, along with a 20cl bottle of Cotswold Dry Gin. There’s also a chance to peruse the distillery shop.
Cotswold Distillery also offers a gin-blending masterclass at its shop in the picturesque village of Broadway, in which a host gives guests a brief gin history lesson, guides them through blending their own gin and helps them make a Martini with their finished spirit. These intimate masterclasses take a maximum of six people.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cotswold Distillery has suspended its gin-making experiences until 2021, but tours and tastings resumed on 3 August.
SALCOMBE DISTILLING CO.
NAME: Salcombe Distilling Co. Gin School
LOCATION: Salcombe (Devon)
TIME: 3 hours
PRICE: £110 for one person, £160 for two people
Salcombe Distilling Co. set up its Gin School in March 2017, less than a year after the distillery itself launched in summer 2016. “At the time we were finalising the build of our waterside distillery and bar on Island Street, Salcombe which was always going to be home to our Gin School – our distilling laboratory for adults,” says Andrea Lugsdin, the distillery’s marketing manager. “We felt that we could lift the veil on the magic of creating gin whilst imparting knowledge and sharing our story with those that came to enjoy our Gin School experience.”
Since opening, the Gin School has welcomed more than 7,000 visitors who have made some 5,000 bespoke bottles of gin. As well as direct bookings, the distillery operates a popular voucher scheme for its Gin School.
The experience starts with a Salcombe Gin and Tonic in the waterside distillery bar before guests gather in front of Provident, the distillery’s 450-litre copper still, to meet the distilling team (who guide the tours) and hear a bit of the brand’s history. Once at the Gin School, guests take charge of a mini copper pot still to develop and distil their own 70cl bottle of gin. They’re given a range of fresh and dry botanicals to choose from for their recipe – including some more off-the-wall ingredients such as gorse flowers and seaweed – and advice on how to combine them to make a cracking gin.
Andrea says, “We think it is important that guests learn how to best enjoy their gin at home and so with an extra measure of gin in hand (in addition to their full bottle), they head back to our bar at The Boathouse to experiment with their gin with a range of garnishes and tonics to complement their recipe.”
The Gin School also serves as a research and development lab for Salcombe; lucky guests may get a sneak peek and taste of products being developed for future release.
As well as taking home their bespoke gin in a presentation box, guests get a Gin School discount in Salcombe Distilling’s retail shop The Victuallers and ‘pennant hour’ cocktail prices at its bar during their stay in Salcombe.
Andrea says the Gin School serves as an integral part of the distillery – with the building literally having been designed with a consumer experience in mind. “Our Gin School provides an amazing opportunity to immerse visitors in our brand, but also offers the ability to deliver training to our trade customers, and a great experience for private bookings and corporate events.
“In addition, it gives Salcombe town a fantastic tourist attraction and for every Gin School booking, we estimate that a further £500 is spent in the town and local area on accommodation, dining out and shopping.”
The Gin School experiences are back up and running after a suspension during lockdown, but the team hasn’t been complacent in the meantime. It launched digital gin home-schooling services including a virtual Gin School experience and hosted live interactive distillations on social media – including a crowdsourced gin, Nightingale, the profits from which were donated to NHS charities.
SPIRIT OF HARROGATE
NAME: Spirit of Harrogate Spirit of Gin Experience, Master Distiller Experience or Virtual Gin Experience
LOCATION: Harrogate (North Yorkshire)
TIME: 1.5 hours (Virtual), 2 hours (Spirit of Gin/Master Distiller)
PRICE: Virtual – £30 per person; Spirit of Gin – £45 per person; Master Distiller – £85 per person
The Spirit of Harrogate distillery – maker of Slingsby Gin – launched its Spirit of Gin experience in 2015 and the more advanced Master Distiller experience in December 2018. Alex Hanson, head mixologist and experience host, describes them respectively as an ‘adult history lesson’ and an ‘adult science lesson’.
The Spirit of Gin experience gives a potted history of the spirit from the 18th century Gin Craze to the present day, while the Master Distiller experience gives a deeper insight into gin creation and the flavour profiles in gin, such as herbal, floral or spicy.
“It is to try and take the guess work out of drinking gin,” Alex explains. “It is not just about them drinking a lot of Slingsby, but giving guests an understanding of gin and gin flavours. Obviously, it is good product research for us to see what people like.”
In both experiences, guests are set up with a 2.5-litre alembic copper pot still to make their gin. Alex says, “Everyone starts with the same four basic ingredients: GNS [grain neutral spirit], the same GNS we make Slingsby with, and the holy trinity of juniper, coriander and angelica root. We have a rough recipe for each flavour profile, but that is just a backbone. People can take stuff out and add stuff in. We have about 100 botanicals so there is a lot of versatility.”
While their gins distil, guests are taught more about the science of spirit distillation and rectification. The finished spirits are mixed with Harrogate spring water and tested for alcoholic strength before the bottles are sealed.
Alex says, “We put it in a box with a recipe card, so if they really like the recipe they can send it back to us and we can remake it for them. We have some people who only drink their own gin now, which is really cool.”
In response to the Covid-19 lockdown, Spirit of Harrogate has also introduced a virtual gin experience. The sessions for up to seven people take place over Zoom and participants are sent a branded highball glass and four Slingsby gin and tonics to enjoy during the experience, which covers the history of gin and the story Harrogate and Slingsby.
Spirit of Gin experiences restarted on 7 August after a brief shutdown, but the Master Distiller experience will remain closed for the time being.