From humble beginnings making gin at their dining room table, Manchester Gin founders Jen and Seb Heeley have come a long way.
They’ve spent the past few months planning an impressive new gin distillery, bar and restaurant in the city centre. And it’s a gin lovers dream.
We had a look round ahead of the official opening and suffice to say it’s something special.
Filling six old railway arches on Watson Street underneath Manchester Central, its design is a mixture of old and new, with clusters of drop lighting and a sleek marble bar offsetting rough and ready exposed brick walls.
Along the back wall of the main bar area is a stunning marble bar lined with plush mustard gold bar seats. The mirrored back bar glistens behind, well-stocked with a range of premium spirits and wines.
The drinks menu, inspired by the love story of Manchester Gin’s founders, explores the evolution of love in five sections – Lust, Rapture, Devotion, Eternity and Ultimatum. The last one is all about the dark and stormy drinks.
But it’s not all about the gin. Whilst they’ve been inspired by the botanicals that define their gins, there are drinks using other base spirits as well as low alcohol and alcohol-free options.
Next door, an open archway leads into the restaurant space which is dominated by a living wall of calatheas, spider plants and other colourful foliage. Running the length of the restaurant’s back wall, it’s a real focal point.
There’s room for 70 covers, with mixed height seating creating a split-level feel. Towards the back, high tables with purple velvet seats overlook tall booths upholstered in royal blue.
The menu, created by ex-Evelyn’s chef Jimmy Carr, uses locally sourced produce and is inspired by the botanicals that define the gins distilled on site, offering diners that perfect pairing experience.
Breakfast is served until 12pm, with options including a smoked haddock bowl with egg, cream, lemon, dill and sourdough or forest mushrooms on toast with thyme and garlic.
Brunch will run until 4pm, catering to a more insouciant crowd. From autumnal delights like pumpkin hash, to drop scone pancakes with nutmeg and caramel, there’s plenty to tempt you, although we’d probably take the croque madame.
Progressing into the evening, an extensive menu of small and large plates will have you spoilt for choice.
Jimmy has clearly brought some touches of Evelyn’s. His scallop ceviche with apple, citrus, jalapeno, radish and fennel (£8.50) sounds wonderful, as does the crispy duck leg with plum, beansprout, sesame and soy (£12.50).
The braised oxtail with polenta and pickled onion (£13) looks good, too. Oh, oh, and the pork belly with orange, grains of paradise, fennel and apple (£13.50). We can’t wait to get in and try them.
As stunning as it is, all this feels, for the moment at least, a supporting act to the main event – the gin distillery.
Situated at the other end of the bar is the gin school, where you can come and make your own bottle to take home.
Through a glass partition you can see Wonder Wend, the luminous new copper column still named after Jen’s mother.
It will soon be joined by three more – Emmeline (for Emmeline Pankhurst), Victoria (for Victoria Wood) and the original Wendy (after Jen’s mother).
A long table hosts 16 miniature copper pot stills. At the end, industrial-style shelving holds a range of 61 different botanicals.
These range from the wild and wacky (tomato flakes and tumeric gin, anyone?) to fruity and floral (raspberry, rhubarb root, chamomile flower, elderberry and acai fruit).
There’s plenty of herbal savoury options to choose from, too – think dill, lemon thyme, fennel, sage, kaffir lime and tarragon. But the biggest surprise? Frankincense. We have to say, the choice of botanicals here is impressively eclectic.
The gin school experience runs for two-and-a-half hours and includes a gin and tonic on arrival as well as the chance to try lots of different types of gin to get your palate going and get you feeling inspired.
Unlike other gin schools, where you’re often treated to an in-depth history on the evolution of gin, Manchester Gin will be focusing instead on the history of Manchester.
The area in which the new distillery is situated itself has a fascinating history. Apparently, underneath the Great Northern across the way are old air-raid shelters filled with relics from the war and, further along, an old bridge.
It will open on Monday 16th September – a fantastic addition to the city. Manchester can now boast not one but two city centre distilleries, with a third to come.