I tried a gin and tonic once, hated it, and I’ve never ordered one again. I’ve had the occasional cocktail that’s been gin based since, but essentially, I was pretty much clueless.
Simon Clarke of Cellar Door in Four Oaks invited me to come along to a Gin Masterclass, that he would be hosting at The Bureau, to learn everything there is to know about gin, and to try lots of lovely artisan brands in the process. Excellent!
The Bureau, on Colmore Row, is beautiful! Built between 1902-1904, it was originally home to the Scottish Union and National Insurance Co. Inside, the original marble walls, floors and pillars now surround a small collection of bar tables and stools, and are dominated by a very large and well stocked bar.
My sister Alex had come with me, and we were led down a small, winding, marble staircase to another room with a small bar downstairs.
Simon greeted us with a Hibiscus and Rosehip Gin and Tonic. Wow. I know I’d come along to learn, and hopefully maybe start to enjoy gin, but I didn’t quite expect to love the first drink as much as this! It wasn’t at all how I remember that first G&T, many, many years ago – it didn’t have the horrible bitterness that I expected, and well just look at it, it was so pretty.
Phoebe Hardy Hall kicked off the evening with samples of an absolutely stunning gin that she was promoting, Portobello Road, before giving us a brief history of gin and where it originated.
She said how she could have talked about gin all night, and honestly, I could have quite happily have sat there and listened! Her passion and enthusiasm for the spirit was infectious, and she was hilarious! Here’s what I learned (though don’t quote me- there was a lot of drinking involved):
- Juniper, gin’s essential botanical, has been around FOREVER. It’s found growing on every continent, so is believed to have been around even when the Earth was supposedly one great land mass.
- Plague water, a ‘medicine’ made using juniper to help combat the effects of the plague, is believed to be one of the earliest forms of gin, and meant that ‘plague doctors’ were most likely drunk.
- Back in the 1580’s, the Dutch army were drinking ‘medicinal’ gin to give them fighting strength before a battle. The English caught on, named it ‘Dutch Courage’ and took up getting drunk before fighting too.
- The ‘Gimlet’ was born on English ships. Medicinal Gin, scurvy-fighting lime cordial and anti-malarial quinine (the key ingredient of tonic water) were all readily available on board ship.
- A gin can only be described as ‘London Dry’ if its main botanical is juniper.
- ‘Chewing’ gin is the best way to try and taste the botanicals, though not the most attractive!
I found it all fascinating! Alex, on the other hand, was looking a bit bored and wanted to know when the shots would start.
Simon took over from there and we proceeded to try another five gins:
- Burleigh’s London Dry, unique with flavours of Dandelion & Burdock.
- Langley’s Number 8, just lovely. Rounded, mellow, and according to Alex ‘perfect for your hip flask at a festival’.
- William’s Chase Elegant Crisp, which tastes exactly how you would expect from the name.
- William’s Chase Seville Orange, which was served alongside canapes of duck liver pate on crostini: a PERFECT match, and finally…
- Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, made using 47 different botanicals and comes in a beautiful vintage looking bottle, that wouldn’t look out of place in an old apothecary cabinet.
My absolute favourite of the night though was the Portobello Road Gin, made in London. It is stunning. Phoebe mentioned how you can visit The Ginstitute, a small room above a bar, where Ged, Jake and Paul first started their then small production. You have the chance to create your very own bottle of gin, using whatever botanicals you choose, which let’s be honest, sounds amazing! Alex and I are already planning our trip.
It was SUCH a great night, and Simon was a fabulous host, with the help of the lovely Phoebe. For details of any future events like this one, go to cellardoordrinks.co.uk or for a tasting in your own home, you can join Simon’s Gin Club at drinks-box.co.uk.
I was invited to attend this event by Simon, and tickets were complimentary. As ever, all opinions are my own (or Alex’s!)