Design a gin to your taste. We take a look at spending the day at Nelson’s Distillery and School, Uttoxeter.
When it comes to gin we’ve all got our own tastes. “There’s a gin out there perfect for you,” said Dave, our gin guide for the day, “though sometimes you just have to design it for yourself.”
Gin has had a roller-coaster history. Taking “Dutch courage”, fighting alongside the Dutch versus the French in the 17th Century, English soldiers discovered gin and brought it back to Blighty.
As it was cheaper than beer, with lower duty, and far safer than water,mothers gave it to their kids – until the ale brewers paid for a campaign to discredit “Mother’s Ruin”.
Memorable artwork of London’s gin-sizzled streets, by William Hogarth, encouraged the Government to raise duties. Today Hogarth’s “fake news” is exhibited in Art Galleries.
Until recently gin was something of an unfashionable Sunday morning tipple at the Golf Club.
Once Sipsmith’s had successfully challenged the law banning small distilleries – long ago the government had imposed minimum annual production levels to make small scale smuggling illegal – the 21st Century gin explosion began.
66m bottles were sold in the U.K. in 2018 and any forecasts in excess of 80m for 2019 would be a good bet. It’s a sign of the times that The Archers, that barometer of British life, is running a gin distillery story-line.
Currently there are over 300 craft distilleries in the UK, “but nobody knows exactly how many,” advises Dave our gin guru. “Some weeks two will open and one will shut.”
These distilleries are creating a whole new range of flavours and distilling bespoke gins for pubs and restaurants. Nelson’s have great hopes for their deliciously but gently spicy Temur Gin, named after the high-altitude Nepalese village where the spice grows.
Incidentally, the Nelson’s name was prompted by Horacio Nelson who was so fond of gin that he founded a distillery on Menorca. Also, the distillery’s founder, Neal Harrison was honouring his maternal grandfather, another Nelson.
Arrive at Nelson’s Distillery and School, near Uttoxeter, around 10 am and by 3 pm you will have designed, distilled and tasted your very own gin. You will have waxed and sealed your bottle too, in a very Generation Game moment.
You can bring your own botanicals but Nelson’s have around 60 flavours for you to choose from.
“One visitor brought flowers and fruit all the way from Australia to create a gin that told the story of his hometown Down Under,” said Dave. That’s the charm of gin, so often it tells a story of places. There are gins where the botanicals are seaweed based, foraged from local villages. Nelson’s have Bladderwrack if you want to create a gin celebrating beach walk holidays.
Dave begins by shattering some myths. Freeze your glasses and forget the ice – it dilutes the gin. Good quality gin can be savoured without tonic. Our love of gin and tonic is a legacy of colonial rule in India. Taking anti-malarial quinine the colonials required gin in the tonic water to mask the bitter taste. Dave insists that tonic is purely an optional extra.
There’s an art to building and multi-layering the taste of your gin. Decide on that initial flavour. Perhaps something zesty like lemon or floral like elder-flower. The next stage is to build in some mid-taste body, perhaps with some fruit maybe bitter orange, cassia quills or plums. Or cacao for a chocolate flavour.
Never forget the need for a lingering aftertaste, you don’t want a taste that’s too “thin”. A gram of chilli will provide a warm afterglow though pink peppercorns do the job more subtlety. Finally, there’s the legally required juniper. If it ain’t got juniper it ain’t gin. A mere 12 grams makes it a gin, a whopping 26 grams brings it into that category of London Dry Gin where juniper is the dominant taste.
Once the botanical choices have been made and approved by Dave, something of a nervous Chemistry lesson moment there, it’s time to return to your own individual copper still and heat your botanicals and alcohol. For the record he merely suggested adding coconut to help blend the flavours.
It’s a working lunch at your science-lab style bench, keeping an eye on both temperature and drip-rate as your gin distillery.
As the first drips emerge Dave encourages me to taste a drop even though it is around 83% proof. My aim had been to produce a Christmas Gin. Nelson’s keep a record of your recipe and will produce bottles to order whenever required.
I can taste the Tonka Beans included to evoke Christmas Cake marzipan, cinnamon to suggest mulled wine and bitter orange to recall all those mince-pies of Christmas past. Finally, Dave adds half a bottle of reeds-filtered water to bring my distillation down to a respectable 42.3% proof.
The rest of the class sip my gin, proclaim it the very essence of Christmas, and declare it a success.
Long Bar at Raffles Hotel – Singapore
Sipping on a cherry-red Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel is perhaps the most iconic thing to do in Singapore. Though it won’t score you the cultural points of say a visit to the National Museum, you may not feel too upset about spending an hour or two forcing yourself to down the slightly sweet, easily drinkable cocktail in the name of historical tourism.
Reputed to have been invented at the turn of last century (that is, the early 1900’s) by Hainanese-Chinese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at the Long Bar, the drink was designed to be for women, who in those quaint days needed to be enticed to drink alcohol, so the cocktail was made pink.
These days the drink remains pink, but it’s now exceedingly expensive at S$27 for a standard Singapore Sling. On top of that, as is usual for upper-end Singapore establishments there’s the “plus plus” – an automatic 10% service charge and 7% taxes.
If the original doesn’t tickle you, various twists on the Sling are available at the same price.
The Long Bar you can visit today on Level 2 in the arcade area of Raffles is not the colonial bar where the likes of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling put away gin and tonics while penning stories about the jungles of Malaya.
The original Long Bar was located in the hotel lobby but moved to its current location during a major refurbishment in 1991.
The prices certainly don’t deter the crowds – we were lucky to get a table during our August 2014 visit. Unlike the other restaurants and bars in Raffles Hotel, the Long Bar does not have a formal dress code and you’ll be welcomed inside even if you’re wearing shorts or have the kids in tow.
The setting is unpretentious with wicker chairs, peanut shells littering the floor, and overhead fans shaped like leaves – perhaps to conjure images of overdressed British governors being fanned by their servants?
A standard cocktail (Manhattan, Cosmopolitan, apple martini, for instance) goes for $23; a Tiger draught beer is $18; a Shirley Temple will set you back $14.
A snack menu is available – think prawn and mango spring rolls for $18 or steak house fries for $12, but there’s complimentary free-flow crack-your-own-shell peanuts on the tables that are enough to nibble on while you have your Sling.
The peanuts alone are so moreish you might even be tempted to buy a second round (which nets you a Singapore Sling cocktail shaker); then again, a round for two would get you a bed in one of Singapore’s better hostels.
To conclude: Did we enjoy the drink? Sure. The Singapore Sling may be considered a classic tropical cocktail, but it also tastes a lot like spiked fruit punch.
Was the Singapore Sling worth the price? Not really. On our last visit, the service was obliging when we were able to snare some, but the place was packed and it was difficult to get a waiter’s attention. There are other uniquely Singaporean drinks or bars with better prices. But if you’ve got cash to flash and time to kill, then it’s hardly an arduous undertaking and you can always pretend you are there to immerse yourself in a bit of history.
The original Singapore Sling recipe:
Since it’s printed on the menu, we’re not spilling any trade secrets by sharing the Raffles recipe for the original Singapore Sling:
- 30 ml gin
- 15 ml cherry brandy
- 120 ml pineapple juice
- 15 ml lime juice
- 7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
- 7.5 ml Cointreau
- 10 ml grenadine
- A dash of Angostura bitters
- Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry
You can buy a pre-mix in the hotel gift shop if you’re keen on the drink but don’t want to rustle up all the ingredients.
5 gin cocktails you can make in minutes
Shake up your drinks repertoire by giving gin the star treatment. Our quick and easy cocktail recipes can be created in moments, giving you more time to party.
Short and fragrant. Big love to legendary bartender Dick Bradsell, the creator.
- 40 ml gin
- 20 ml sugar syrup
- 20 ml lemon juice
- 10 ml crème de mure
- Berries or lemon zest for garnish
Take a large measure of dry gin and shake together with the lemon and sugar syrup, pour over crushed ice and drizzle the crème de mure through the drink. Garnish with a lemon zest or some fresh seasonal berries. A true party-pleaser.
Party time! This one uses smaller amounts of spirits to allow the fizz flavour to flourish.
- 10 ml gin
- 10 ml orange liqueur
- 10 ml lemon
- 5 ml sugar
- Fizz of your choice
Mix the gin, orange liqueur and lemon juice in a flute and top with chilled bubbly. Continue to party like it’s 2099.
Fresh and fruity. If you’ve not made your own elderflower cordial, you can buy it from most big supermarkets now.
- 50 ml gin
- 20 ml lemon
- 10 ml sugar syrup
- 10 ml elderflower cordial
- Soda to finish
Shake up the gin with the lemon, sugar and a dash of elderflower cordial. Pour over rock ice and lengthen with sparkling water. Decorate with a sprig of your favourite herb. If you’re feeling like a true vagabond then top with sparkling wine to make an Elderflower Royale.
Martini – Stirred NOT shaken.
- 60 ml gin
- Vermouth to taste
- Your chosen garnish
A Martini all about personal preference. The key elements to success are ensuring your vermouth is fresh, gin is quality and the garnish is appetising. Stir your required amount of gin (here I’ve used 60 ml) with however much dry vermouth you like: the more you use the more herbal it will be. Stir to taste – it’s about finding the perfect dilution. Don’t be afraid to garnish your masterpiece with something that might seem peculiar either – personally I take two pickled onions. Ensure your glass is frozen and the liquid smooth. James Bond, who?
The headline act. A gin and tonic evolves into something far more complex with the right twists.
- Lots of ice
- A big copa glass (a large, balloon-shaped glass)
- Natural tonic water
- Your favourite garnishes
Celebrate this piece of heritage with a glorious serve, always using one part gin to two parts tonic.
(Article source: Various)