I admit it, I’m a bit of a gin geek. In the same way some people might get excited about a new beer, or a whisky distillery, I get just as excited about a new gin or gin still.
So when the opportunity came to visit to Manchester Three Rivers Gin School arose, I was like a a clever school kid with an answer in class. Hand in the air, reaching for the sky with the words ‘me me me me’ on my lips.
In case it’s passed you by, the last few years have seen a huge rise in the popularity of gin. Fuelled by the emergence of new spirits, new styles, and a new generation of drinkers, over 70 new distilleries opened last year, and we have our own in Manchester. One of them is Manchester Three Rivers.
Named after the three rivers that dissect the city – the Medlock, the Irwell and the Irk – the distillery in the Green Quarter not only houses their still, Angel, but is also home to a selection of mini-stills. They’re part of their gin school, and you and I can use them to make our own gin.
Yes, you read that right. You can book into the gin school, and ably assisted by a gin and tonic or two – and maybe a cocktail – you can select your own botanicals and make something all your own.
So if you’ve ever fancied playing distiller, now’s your chance.
The school has proved so popular it’s one of the top five attractions in the city and has won international awards. So it was with not a little excitement that I went along for my own gin experience.
We begin at the beginning with a little gin history. It’s a potted one, with tales of drunkenness, Dutch courage and almost literally throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Then – possibly my favourite bit – we are introduced to Angel the still. Given we’re on the doorstep of Angel Meadow, and given the nod to Manchester’s industrial past, it was only right to give her a fitting name. And she lives up to it well – a towering 450 litre still in shimmery shiny copper.
The excitement in the room grows as it’s time to return upstairs and settle in front of our own mini-stills. They hold around 1 litre – just enough to create a single bottle each.
Experimentation is encouraged, and the back shelf of the room is full of over 50 different botanicals for you to choose from. Whilst juniper is what makes gin gin, there’s a world of other options for you add. There’s something for every palate, from cinnamon to lemon peel, coffee beans to wormwood.
Once you’ve selected your flavours and weighed them carefully, your pure grain spirit and water are added to your still.
And then you turn on the hot plate, sip your cocktail, and wait.
It’s surprising how fast it happens. One minute you’re talking about which botanicals you chose and why. The next minute, you watch the gentle drop into a beaker turn into a steady trickle. As the spirit flows, different smells float around the room, along with the heady notes of alcohol. One minute heady citrus, the next something distinctly more herbal emerges.
Admittedly at this point it’s extremely alcoholic – around 80% ABV, so you need to add distilled water to reduce it to a somewhat gentler strength. Gin is gin at 37.5% and above, and must be labelled at the correct strength. It’s your gin so you get to choose when it’s right for you – with a little guidance.
Once you’ve bottled, labelled, and named your new gin, you can log the recipe. They will keep it on file for you so that if you ever want to recreate it, you can order it from them.
And then the best bit. You get to try it out. Grab a G&T at the bar with your brand new gin, or take it home for personal use later.
For a gin lover or a gin geek, this is possibly one of the best treats out there. It’s not only an opportunity to get to know Three Rivers Gin really well, but also to have a go. To learn about what a distiller does, and just how easy gin is to make – though making a ‘good’ and award winning gin is a whole new ball game.
You never know, it might just make a distiller of you.