Last year I was lucky enough to win Runner-up Best Dressed at York Races – you can read all about that experience in ‘Fashion at the Races – How I (almost) won best dressed‘. The prize was an overnight stay at Hotel du Vin, Harrogate and a ‘Distill your own Gin‘ experience at the Spirit of Harrogate. Given we are living the expat life, we booked in the experience and night away months in advance once we knew my parents were coming to stay and that we would have a reliable babysitter.
So what does a ‘distill your own gin‘ experience entail? Since we had not booked the experience ourselves we had no idea what to expect. I had visited the Spirit of Harrogate shop front last year and we had a few tastings of the various Slingsby Gins that they create; however since then they have completely revamped the place and it looks fabulous. They started hosting their ‘gin experiences‘ with the public in November 2018 and I must say they have done an incredible job of fitting out the room – the attention to detail is excellent.
Our experience started at 3:30 (day drinking … always dangerous!) and upon arrival we headed downstairs and were immediately greeted with a Gin & Tonic (or whatever mixer you preferred). Then our head master, Alex, gave a little history of craft gin and the bottles you find them in. We were given the opportunity to taste 6 different gins – this was one from each flavor profile and the one that they believe best reflects that genre of gin. These were:
- Sample 1: Tanqueray. Flavor Profile: Citrus
- Sample 2: Bloom. Flavor Profile: Floral
- Sample 3: Manchester Raspberry. Flavor Profile: Fruit
- Sample 4: Gin Mare. Flavor Profile: Herbal
- Sample 5: Ophir. Flavor Profile: Spice
- Sample 6: Sipsmith VJOP. Flavor Profile: Juniper
We were told that the Gin Guild is working to have these different flavors recognized so that it is easy to distinguish between the flavor profiles of the many craft gins that are now available to purchase. It would be similar to choosing a bottle of wine and knowing whether your prefer a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc or pinot gris.
Once we had tasted each of the samples (either neat or with your preferred mixer) we were then asked to choose our favorite style of gin and given some ideas as so to how we could change the botanicals in the recipe to suit our specific tastes. I opted for the juniper flavor profile and added additional orange and a dash of cinnamon.
When we had finished tasting our samples we went upstairs to the purpose built distilling room and each person carefully measured and weighed the botanicals to create their perfect concoction. Each of us had our own mini copper stills which we used to distil our bespoke hand crafted gin. This is a fancy way of saying we poured everything into a bowl, heated it up and waited for it to evaporate out into our beakers. The liquid was distributed between 3 beakers – head, hearts and tails. We were required to taste the head and tails, decide which one we liked and then pour it into a cylinder to test the alcohol content – it felt like I was back in a high school science class! Mine was a crisp 41% alcohol content. To complete the process we labelled and boxed our unique personalized gins to take home to share with our family and friends. Throughout the experience we could continue to enjoy our gin cocktails whilst Alex provided tit bits of information and history surrounding gin. Once completed and bottled, we returned downstairs to cap our bottles and finish off our cocktails. The entire experience lasted for approximately 2 hours.
It was interesting to know that all of the alcohol that we used as our base is purchased off-site and then it is simply distilled to achieve the required flavor preference. Creating the alcohol can be a difficult process and it is cheaper and easier to buy it from those whom mass produce it. We also topped up our bottles with nothing other than water – it felt wrong to be adding water to our gorgeous gins!
This experience has to be one of the best things I have done in a long time and I would highly recommend it if you like gin – its worth the journey to this posh little Yorkshire town. Whilst the experience was informative it is not too over the top and it was also really social and good fun. It is clear that the staff at the Spirit of Harrogate are gin enthusiasts and want to ensure you create a wonderful gin but also appreciate the art and some of the history. You can book your own Gin Experience here – The Spirit of Harrogate, Master Distiller.
And a sign that I had a well and truly good time – later that evening I left our 2 bottles of beautifully hand crafted bespoke gin in a bar after too many gin cocktails and porn star martinis. So unfortunately I will never know what my perfect gin actually tasted like, but drunk tales are the best kind. If you like drunken stories, I think you will also enjoy ‘What Happens in Vegas‘. Shell x