|Burleigh’s Tom Collins|
I really don’t think I have been more excited about any invitation to a special bloggers event than when the lovely folk at 45 Gin School got in touch and invited me to attend class. The Leicestershire-based experience is the latest string in the bow of Burleigh’s Gin, a craft distillery who are only just over a year old but are already wowing crowds up and down the country with their excellent London Dry Gin. I reviewed their gins in a previous post, in case you missed it…
We popped over for the full 45 Gin School experience and we welcomed with a Burleigh’s Tom Collins, made with lemon juice and sugar. We were later to find out that these sort of classic cocktails, now enjoying a huge revival in popularity, were actually themselves popularised during prohibition, where strong, easily obtainable flavourings were added to bathtub gin to mask the poor quality of the alcohol! That was the thing I really liked about the Gin School – we learned so much, and everything was cleverly linked so what you were being told about was supplemented by the things you tasted, touched and smelled. I am a very multi-sensory person so I found this to be really enjoyable.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Burleigh’s Master Distiller, Jamie Baxter. Jamie is a amiable, self effacing man with a huge wealth of experience and a humorous touch in his presentation style. It was an unbelievable privilege to spend so long with somebody who was so clearly knowledgeable and passionate about their product and method. Jamie introduced us to the (short) history of Burleigh’s Gin and introduced to the idea of gin – what it is legally, and how both Burleigh’s and a range of other distillers create their product.
|Messy Bessy the Still|
I don’t want to dwell to long on the details of the information Jamie bestowed upon us, because you should really go and see for yourself. For people passionate about gin, this really is the experience to take your knowledge to the next level. I think anyone who brings up EU regulation No. 110/2008 as part of their introductory talk and doesn’t immediately send the entire audience to sleep must be congratulated to be honest! I admit, it probably does sound dull, but I was fascinated to hear about what legally constitutes gin – that due to the costs of production, pretty much all distillers buy in their 96% ABV base alcohol and so are not technically distillers at all!
|Having a VERY good time|
Once we were all sure what gin actually was (apart from ‘nice’, which seemed to be the general consensus) we were taken on a tour of the distillery itself. It is compact, but perfectly formed, with the star of the show being your friendly neighbourhood still, Messy Bessy. Bessy was handcrafted in Germany, where the metal working skills are still alive and well. She truly is a thing of beauty, with her machine hammered body and hand hammered hat glimmer in their coppery awesomeness. For somebody such as myself, so obsessed with touring wineries and understanding all of the kit they have on offer, this was a great experience, hearing each step of the gin-making process, from the adding of the botanicals, to the function of the steam heated jacket and its pros and cons versus an internal steam coil. The condensing tower, the currently unused, but potentially practical botanical vessel and the three taps with their holding chambers for the heads, hearts and tails of the distilled gin as it rolled off, I was in Booze-Obsessive heaven.
|Japan’s first Burleigh’s Gin|
Jamie explains things really simply, so even if you don’t really care that ethanol has a lower boiling point than methanol, I’m sure that you will still find the tour fascinating. I was certainly hanging on his every word, truly engrossed in the process. I can see that gin distilleries may well become a new obsession of mine. We saw the water purification kit, taking out all of the minerals and other bits and bobs which could precipitate in the gin and affect the flavour. The bottling machinery was explained and we were shown the capsule adder-onner (I don’t know what the technical term for that is, can you tell?) Jamie walked us through Burleigh’s growing export market and also patiently explained all of the differences between the method of production they have chosen in comparison to other gin makers, small and large, across the world. Truly a comprehensive experience.
Then it was on to the botanicals, and it was here that we were given an insight into what grounds Burleigh’s gin into its Leicestershire homeland, the dandelion root, burdock root and elderberries being just three of the eleven botanicals that they used which were directly inspired by walks in the local woodland as the recipe for their signature London Dry Gin was being developed. We passed around large tubs of each of the botanicals and gave them a good sniff, while being told how they were sourced and what character they added to the finished product.
With all of this new knowledge swirling around in our heads, we were finally ready to take our seats at our own mini stills and create a gin of our very own design. First we selected our botanicals, thinking about whether we wanted a gin that was traditional, floral, spicy or earthy and doing our best to make a selection that would produce the desired effect from the huge range of bits and bobs on offer. The choosing process was helped along by a delicious Burleigh’s gin and tonic, served with the now traditional pink grapefruit slice, which helped to keep the amiable atmosphere rolling.
|My botanicals mix|
My gin is called ‘Housewife’s Ruin’ (of course) and for those of you that are interested it contained juniper, coriander seed, orris root, angelica root, elderberries and elder flower, kola nut and finally some fresh orange peel. However, my gin is damn fine (tasting notes to follow on the blog in the days to come) so there is no way I’m telling you the quantities!
Once we had our botanicals, we added them to the 96% alcohol and water in our stills and set the burner going, waiting for the magic 80’C where our distilled gin would start to run out into the beaker. While we were waiting for this to happen, Jamie launched into another fascinating guide to the history of gin and distillation right from late third century BC China up to the present day, with the slow decline in gin consumption being set against the recent resurgence in popularity of ‘super premium’ gins (those priced about £30) because of the rise of the cocktail bar and bartenders choosing to tackle the complexity of gin as their white spirit base instead of taking the easy vodka route.
And then, my still, (which I had named Deliliah by this point) started to gently drip out her precious cargo. I was fascinated to monitor it, turning up the heat slightly through the process to keep the distillation at a steady rate and of course to have the opportunity to taste the heads, hearts and tails of my very own gin. After we reached the set point, we diluted our gins, decanted them in to bottles and then it was time to label and cap the bottles.
A genuinely wonderful evening awaits at 45 Gin School. The full experience costs £95 per person, and includes you taking your own, bespoke bottle of gin home at the end. This is definitely a unique experience and I cannot think of anything better as a special gift. I would happily go and do the whole thing over again because I enjoyed it so much. For an extra £15 you can take another guest along as a spectator so they will get all of the interesting tour experience, but they just don’t get their own gin to play with!
Great Food Club members (like me!) can also enjoy 10% off the price of the Gin School Experience!
A big shout out to all of the other bloggers I met last night as well, who made a really lovely group. I was especially pleased to finally meet Amanda, from The Ana Mum Diary who I have chatted to on Twitter for years but never met in the flesh before! Go check out her blog, it’s a real wealth of information, especially if you’re into your interiors.