Article courtesy of Ashbourne News Telegraph, by Carolyn Bointon
For many, the idea of going back to school would fill them with horror. But a quick glance at this bonkers laboratory will have their inner mad scientist reminiscing about the crazy thrill of chemistry classes.
The best thing about this lab is that you can sample everything you make – because it’s gin.
And unlike school, you won’t be walking home. Instead, you will have to designate a driver amongst you because classes start with a gin tasting session.
It is the brainwave of businessman Neil Harrison, whose company – Nelson’s Distillery & School Ltd., produces around 400 bottles of London Dry Gin a week, supplying local supermarkets, pubs, and off-licenses.
He came up with the idea of sharing his skills as a master distiller, offering gin-making classes with a unique twist.
Everyone on the course will leave with a bottle of the popular spirit, blended with their own hand-picked mix of herbs and spices.
And what’s even more exciting is that every bottle will be individually numbered – the exact recipe stored at the distillery so it can be replicated at any time in the future and shipped to customers.
The business, based near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, took nearly three years and more than £150,000 to launch, as new distillery licenses are notoriously tricky to obtain.
Once the business was up and running, 47-year-old Neil saw another opportunity to encourage others to share his passion for gin-making. He turned the company’s former board room into a crazy-looking classroom where he launched day-long courses.
Tucked away in the corner is an old-fashioned wooden box, a store cupboard with little drawers, each one hand labelled with the name of herbs, spices, berries and dried fruits. These are the aromatics that give gin its distinctive aroma and unique taste. There’s the essential and exotic juniper, found in every gin, but there are also a variety of rare flavours such as coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, liquorice, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and even kaffir lime leaves. Typically, to concoct a fine gin, it will have to contain six to ten types of these botanicals.
Neil said that everyone gets very excited when they are told to choose their ingredients.
“In a class of six people you can guarantee each person will pick six very different mixes,” he said.
“We start with the traditional juniper berries that give the drink its traditional gin flavour and smell, but after that, the sky is the limit.”
“That is the beauty of gin. You can get floral notes, citrus punches, earthy tones, or even something as extreme as liquorice or blueberry favours.”
“And we have around 30 different botanicals and flavours to choose from, so we encourage people to be adventurous.”
He uses his chef’s knowledge and expertise to help people pick the right mix for their personal preferences; carefully weighing and noting each ingredient so the exact same bottle can be replicated in the future, should they wish to reorder.
The herbal mix is then added to pure alcohol and water, before being heated gently to allow the alcohol and essential oils – which give the gin its flavour and aroma, to vaporise and pass through the narrow pipes where it condenses back into liquid form.
It takes a couple of hours for the gin to distil, so Neil uses the time to tell his pupils more about the history of the popular tipple and how his own brand – Nelson’s Gin No 7 – is produced.
Finally, the resulting alcoholic mix is bottled, pure distilled water is added to get the drink to around 40 proof, and the gin is given a unique reference number. The bottles are sealed in the factory with a cork and then wax glazed so the guests can take it home there and then, ready to drink that same evening.
Courses run 4 times a week and cost £115 per person per still.