If you love your juniper tipple, you’ll love this school! Learn all things gin at this Uttoxeter-based experience – Living went along to check it out
Going back to school when you are ‘adulting’ is no easy feat, but there’s a school in Staffordshire that pretty much everyone is loving.
The Gin School, which has been created by the team behind relatively new, boutique brand Nelson’s Distillery, based in Uttoxeter, teaches about the history and social impact of gin through the ages and how to create and make your own still.
This isn’t just a gimmick, it’s the real deal. On entering the distillery premises, you are met with benches, stools, books, pens and notepads. Each of us having our very own copper still and a selection of equipment and beakers to get acquainted with. There’s a fancy bar at one end and jars of botanicals line shelves at the other.
Gin teacher David Hunter greets his pupils with warmth and enthusiasm briefly explaining the order of the day and getting us settled at our desks. And I instantly get the feeling I’m going to learn something new today. Great, I thought, this is the school for me. We don’t have to line up, there’s no register and free tea, coffee (and gin, incidentally) and biscuits are available all day!
The school experience covers everything from the history of gin to its biology, including a lesson on the most vital ingredient to the potion – juniper; there’s social studies in there too, but the best bit is the chemistry, when you get to mix and make it yourself.
Mixing and matching
Before we’re let loose on blending, we’re taken behind the scenes of Nelson’s Distillery to see how the gin is created.
We’re shown the huge copper still where ethanol (or neutral alcohol) mixes with water, botanicals are thrown in, and then it’s heated – the whole process of maturing the gin, right through to bottling takes only about 6 hours. In comparison a whiskey takes three years.
Back at our desks, we each have a mini-still prepped with ethanol and water. We’ll be mixing a blend of 12 botanicals in total, eight of which we can choose, one of which has to be a pepper, and one of which has to be the vital ingredient juniper. You can leave out the juniper and make a vodka blend also.
There are a whopping 60 botanicals to choose from and they are all things that you would find in your kitchen or garden – everything from heather, dandelion, coconut, chilli, cumin and marigold to blood orange mint, sage and rosemary. And the rest.
Under the guidance of David, who you can tell is passionate about blending, you are given tips to choosing and mixing your botanicals. We went for ginger, galangal, vanilla, rosehips, heather, kaffir lime leaves and pink grapefruit peel. We also added pink peppercorns and enough juniper to produce a medium-dry gin.
The botanicals are added to the mini-still and then heated. The gin drips out in stages before finally leaving you with a 70cl bottle to take home.
Having to leave the class early, we are yet to taste our finished product, but I am told that the mix had the big thumbs up from the rest of the class.
What can Nelson’s Gin Distillery teach us about gin?
Well, the brand was founded by master chef, Neil Harrison in 2012 and since then has gone on to win award after award. Its world-first Timur gin most recently picking up three international awards. So, they must be doing something right.
The first Nelson’s Gin was produced in 2015 – a smooth and invigorating London Dry Gin that’s a blend of an impressive 27 botanicals. “Some of the big brands only have four…” David explains to me.
You get to try this gin during the school and it’s definitely got something special about it, so much so you won’t want to add tonic to it.
It is Harrison’s passion for finding a master blend, driven probably by his foodie background, that fuelled the idea for a school in the first place, giving him a chance to share his experiences with others.
The distillery is now turning over around 3500 bottles of gin a week. It has four signature gins, two rums and a vodka.
The school runs from 10am to 3pm on Wednesdays through Saturdays. The distillery is now licensed for Off-Sale: Mon-Sat, 9am till 3pm. To find out more, visit: nelsonsdistillery.co.uk.
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