It¡¯s almost hard to imagine a time before the current gin renaissance, isn¡¯t it? These days, every London postcode seems to have its own gin, and even Hebridean islands have got in on the act. There¡¯s even a gin made with ants (not by ants, that would be weird but not entirely unsurprising, such is the extent that gin has seeped into every nook and cranny of our drinking culture). But if you want to extend your knowledge of gin beyond the bottle or two in your cabinet, here’s where to head. You will see lots of copper piping, learn the art of mashing, inhale lots of botanicals and be guaranteed a cold G&T or two.
Chase Distillery, Herefordshire
Founded in 2008, and a major player in pushing the new wave of UK gins, this is a brilliant example of the sheer modern alchemy that happens in the countryside when someone gets a good idea. William Chase¡¯s story is like a Hogarthian parable in reverse: he started making crisps, moved to potatoes, realised he could squeeze vodka from them, and as we all know, where there¡¯s vodka there¡¯s always gin. The classic is the GB Gin, an extra-dry that swings to the sweet side with botanicals such as bitter almond, lemon peel and ginger; but of course there are many more varieties, with Rhubarb & Bramley and Raspberry & Basil one of the latest to join the ever-swelling ranks of fruit-forward gins on the market. After an overview of the mashing, fermenting and distilling process, guests will have a tutored tasting with a pink grapefruit G&T. Set a few miles outside Hereford on a farm in picturesque countryside, this distillery is a rare example of field-to-glass gin-making, with a backstory to savour.
Address: Chase Distillery, Rosemaund Farm, Hereford HR1 3PG
To book: chasedistillery.co.uk;
¡ê20 per person
Bombay Sapphire, Hampshire
At Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Mill distillery in Hampshire, a foaming river of gin and tonic flows under bridges sculpted from ice; all you have to do is lean over and dunk your glass in, then pluck a low-lying lemon from a tree overhead and slice a piece off while whistling the song ‘Pure Imagination’ from ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Well, not quite. But the reality is almost as incredible. The site, a former Victorian paper mill that once made banknotes for the Bank of England, was discovered when Bacardi’s John Burke, on the hunt for a suitable site, jumped over a wall and explored the warren of derelict redbrick buildings. Over the past years, it’s been reimagined by bright-spark architect Thomas Heatherwick, who conjured the Olympic Cauldron for London 2012, the new Routemaster bus, and the V&A Waterfront museum in Cape Town.
The centrepiece is undoubtedly Heatherwick’s incredible pair of glasshouses – handmade from 793 unique pieces – which flow out of the side of the redbrick like glittering squids and contain the botanicals used to make Bombay Sapphire gin – juniper, lemon, liquorice, etc. One is labelled ‘Mediterranean’, the other ‘Tropical’, and both are warmed with recycled heat from the distilling process. ‘Britain has a history of big glass structures, like Chatsworth, Crystal Palace and Kew,’ says Heatherwick, ‘and we seem to have lost the joy in their original structures.’ But a big part of his achievement lies in what you don’t see: the removal of 23 structures in order to untangle the building and reveal the River Fleet, which runs through the property. ‘It was built up like barnacles into this cacophony of structures,’ says Heatherwick. ‘You could barely see the river and there was no sense of the English countryside.’
Laverstoke Mill feels quintessentially English, mixing handsome industrial redbrick with graceful glass and chuckling water, and has all the presence and poise of a pre-Raphaelite beauty – albeit a slightly sozzled one. On arrival visitors are given a microchipped guide, which unlocks information points around the site. Many will doubtless want to head straight to the Empire or Mill bar for a snifter, but visit the Botanical Dry Room first, a flavour lab where all the botanicals are laid out in their raw form and in smelling jars where you can clear your nostrils with ‘Bitter Almonds with Nutty Character’ or ‘Bitter Almonds with Buttery Character’. If you need a bed to flop into after one too many Aviations, the Heckfield Place is not far away.
Address: Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Whitchurch, Wiltshire RG28 7NR
To book: bombaysapphire.com; ¡ê17.50 per person (gin-blending masterclass, ¡ê100)
Cotswold Distillery, Cotswolds
The Cotswold Distillery is set in a pretty, honey-stoned farmhouse in Stourton. It’s more modest in scale and ambition than Laverstoke, but worth a visit for a fascinating, behind-the-scenes glimpse of artisanal gin-making. American-born whisky aficionado Daniel Szor saw fields of barley in the Cotswolds and realised no one was distilling there. He and the team, which includes head distiller Alex Davies, formerly at the Chase Distillery, experimented with 50 recipes before finding the right mix for their gin, which contains organic lavender, bay leaf, grapefruit and black pepper. ‘I feel incredibly spoilt being able to work here,’ says Szor: ‘No motorways, no traffic, just the odd herd of cattle being moved from one field to the next that causes any kind if congestion. We even had a herd of Cotswold cattle in our neighbouring field fattening up on our spent barley.’ If you need somewhere to stay afterwards, head to the Red Lion at nearby Long Compton (redlion-longcompton.co.uk; doubles from ¡ê110).
Address: The Cotswolds Distillery, Stourton, Shipston-on-Stour
To book: cotswoldsdistillery.com; ¡ê20 per person
ELSEWHERE IN THE UK & LONDON
The juniper flag is being planted in more and more places around the UK, and those wishing to take a tipsy tour of Britain can now stop off on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite in Cumbria, where the Lakes Distillery (lakesdistillery.com), in a former Victorian model farm, makes gin using locally foraged bilberry, meadowsweet, hawthorn and heather; and Southwold in Suffolk, where you can make your own gin at the Adnams Copper House Distillery (tours.adnams.co.uk). There’s the venerable Plymouth Distillery of course (plymouthgin.com; tour ¡ê11), while in London, the Beefeater Gin Museum in Kennington has mock 19th-century streets and secret speakeasies (beefeaterdistillery.com; tour ¡ê16).
Also in London, there’s the Sipsmiths distillery in Chiswick (sipsmith.com; tours from ¡ê15) whose copper stills are named Constance and her sisters Prudence and Patience. The city’s East London Liquor Company (eastlondonliquorcompany.com), is set in a former glue factory on Bow Wharf. You can join a tour (visit eastlondonliquorcompany.com), but the best way to appreciate its two gleaming copper stills is from the bar, sipping a classic gimlet or a Darjeeling Sour, made specially to highlight the tea botanical of its London Dry gin.
GIN EVENTS IN LONDON
No.3 Gin Epicurean Experience at The Pem, Conrad London St James: 11-13 November 2021
You tend to think of gin as a drink to be paired with tonic and a slice of lemon or shaken and served with an olive, rather than one that can be enjoyed with food. So here¡¯s a rare chance to see how gin cocktails can be matched to an inventive dinner menu ¨C it¡¯s also an opportunity to experience one of London¡¯s newest restaurants, The Pem. Sally Ab¨¦ has created a special, three-course menu that uses the best seasonal ingredients, from ceps to venison, and complements the juniper, citrus and spice of No.3 Gin. In charge of the cocktail shaker is No.3 Gin Brand Ambassador Ross Bryant, who has developed three special cocktails to match each dish.
Address: Conrad London St. James, 22-28 Broadway, London SW1H 0BH