Thursday, 7 July 2011

Making My Very Own Gin

When it comes to gin, I'm known for being fussy. The list of brands I’ve criticised is longer than many a long thing. And the number of times I’ve told friends, colleagues and unsuspecting barmen of my all-time favourite gin Beefeater 24 is embarrassing and impressive in equal measure. And they’re not even paying me.

For such an opinionated gin fiend, the opportunity to select my own botanicals and make my very own gin was an opportunity not to be missed out on.

It was Plymouth Gin - one of the brands I’m quite partial to, particularly in a martini – that offered the experience. Their historic distillery by the sea has a state-of-the-art visitor centre which allows guests to top off a journey through the history of the brand and the drink itself with the chance to distil their very own gin.

I met with a motley crew of pissheads drinks journalists spanning Drink Britain, The Cocktail Lovers and Yet Another Gin early on a Monday morning at Paddington station to embark on the voyage. After three and a bit hours of First Great Western and a cup of onboard coffee which tasted like a cross between toilet water and frankfurters, we were finally in Plymouth.

A fish & chip lunch lined the stomach for the inevitably sustained drinking which would follow. Plymouth Gin’s Master Distiller Sean Harrison then led us swiftly through the brand’s history, touching on the strong naval connection which has made the gin an international icon and the fascinating notion that Plymouth is to this day the only geographically protected gin in the world.

A blind tasting of five well-known gin brands followed – a potentially embarrassing test for a group of journos priding themselves on their ability to taste (and to drink). We thankfully fared OK, between us identifying and distinguishing floral Hendrick’s, juniper-heavy Gordon’s, zesty Beefeater and a less complex Bombay Sapphire alongside Plymouth.

By now a little lubricated, the gin making could begin. We had a selection of classic gin botanicals to choose from and could then add them to our neutral spirit and use the science-lab style mini stills to distil our creations.

Science lessons were never this fun.

I tried to hold back my initial impulse to overload the gin with all the botanicals under the sun, instead heeding Sean’s advice that less is often more. I plumped for lemon peel, angelica root, coriander seeds, a couple of cardamom pods and just a sliver of orange peel to accompany the obligatory juniper in a bid to create a light, zesty gin fit for summer drinking.

Exhilaration of the steaming, hissing distilling process over, I find that I may be a victim of my own cautiousness as the flavours of my gin are extremely subtle. Perhaps this is my comeuppance for being critical of other gin brands. All the same, I name my creation “Dust”, create its own label and cradle it lovingly in my arms as I head to the onsite bar for a Dirty Martini and a Red Snapper 'English Bloody Mary’, which is made with gin instead of vodka.

Dust is cracked open on the train home, and by the time Paddington is in site we’ve sampled each other’s wares, bought most of the trolley lady’s stock of Schweppes and become just a tad louder than any of the other travellers. It’s a great day out which I look forward to repeating, perhaps with a more bolshy botanical mix.

To have a go at making your own gin, book yourself onto a Master Distiller’s Private Tour, which  costs £40 and lasts around two and a half hours. Call 01752 665 292 or visit

Gin making: photo courtesy of Yet Another Gin 

No comments:

Post a Comment