Anyone who knows me knows about my love of gin. So when my editor came to me with a challenge and told me he was sending me back to school for the afternoon at the Salcombe Gin Distillery there was no chance of me saying no.
Although not the easiest place to get to thanks to the maze of South Devon’s winding lanes, the picturesque journey is most certainly worth the effort. Top tip: use the park and ride service, especially during peak season, as parking can be difficult in one of the two busy car parks. Remember though, this is gin school. So the best way to enjoy this experience is to ditch the car altogether. Either stay nearby or get a friend to drive you there and visit the charming town and surrounding area once you’re let out at the end of the day.
On arrival we met the hosts, Mark & Graham, who invited us to sample the gin with its suggested garnish – a slice of grapefruit – before meeting with our group of 16 in total. Soft drinks are also provided for the designated drivers. Once the whole class had assembled, we were then invited into the distillation room for a brief introduction; firstly to gin, and then to the Salcombe Distillery which is housed in the ex-Island Cruising Club building where the two founders met at sail training school. We soon found out that it was their passion for sailing and gin which started the ball rolling and, after much hard work and countless recipe alterations, they finally decided on the award winning flavour that they produce today.
Next we were shown how the distillation process of the botanicals serves to create the finished product and even shown the waste botanicals and water afterwards. The plastic tub smelled more like Christmas than anything I’ve smelt for a long time and they are currently investigating ways to recycle it – any ideas do let them know!
Assembly over and demonstration complete, it was time to head to the classroom. The room is reminiscent of a chemistry lab but instead of Bunsen burners and periodic tables it was elegant miniature copper stills on the work benches – certainly my kind of lesson! The stills had been pre-filled with basic wheat spirit and it was explained to us that we would be able to choose our own flavour combination with some help from a crib sheet explaining what each ingredient actually tasted like, their potency and the effect they can have when mixed with other items.
Although I knew I wanted my gin to be more zesty than spicy, I wasn’t sure how to make it happen. Fortunately, Mark & Graham were on-hand to help throughout and advised us to choose between 12 – 15 different ingredients and helped with our selection in order to balance the sweetness at the end. Botanicals happily added to the still and ready to go, we were then able to give it a taste by catching a drip onto our finger – it is about 80% proof remember!
Any great gin is only as good as the name it’s given. This proved surprisingly tough! Once you’ve chosen your name you then get to have a label printed while your gin is distilling – whilst having another gin and tonic of course – before mixing with pure Dartmoor spring water to get the blend down to a more palatable 44% proof.
Bottles sealed, labelled and looking fit for its spot in the mini-bar at home, our final task was to take the small amount leftover to the bartender who used his expert knowledge to suggest a garnish and tonic to best compliment it once back at home.
The entire three hour experience costs £100 per person or £150 for two to share. It’s the perfect unique gift idea for any gin lover, young or old, or even as a treat for yourself – it really is well worth the money. The sheer presence of the stills give the whole place a unique, intriguing atmosphere and the in-depth lesson will leave you with a better understanding of what goes in your drink next time you find yourself sipping on your favourite G&T.
Words: Elsa Hutchings
Images: Russ Perkin
For more information and to book your place, visit www.salcombegin.com