It was inevitable.
By hook or by crook (birthday, Christmas, throwing myself on the mercy of the Master Distiller) a visit to Manchester Three Rivers was always going to happen. Manchester’s newest gin distillery – slap bang in the middle of the Green Quarter – was too close for me not to at last find a way to pop my head through the door.
Or, as it ended up, make a little gin at their Gin School.
Manchester Three Rivers is now our fourth official gin (I’m not quite counting Thomas Dakin yet, as they have yet to find a city centre home), the second made within the city centre and the first to offer you and me the opportunity to make our own gin – yes you too can learn more about the gin, the process, the botanicals, ogle the still Angel and get your hands dirty in a little still of your own.
But before we head into the experience – let’s take a look at the gin itself.
Manchester Three Rivers gin is made using a rather beautiful Holstein still called Angel. Angel is named after Angel Meadows (but a stone’s throw away from the distillery), a place deeply associated with Manchester’s industrial heritage. Using a pure grain spirit, Master Distiller Dave Rigby (and his deputy, Ryan) distill a gin using 11 botanicals. Juniper, coriander, vanilla, black peppercorns, orris root, angelica, orange peel, cardamom, cinnamon, almonds and (in another nod to our city’s industrial heritage) oats.
The gin is deliciously layered. The juniper coriander and angelica (even though they only use a little) gives me a good ‘green’ hit, before we move into almost a green peppercorn note from the combined efforts of the cardamom and black peppercorns. The almonds and oats give it a creaminess, and the vanilla, cinnamon and pepper are your finishers, the former softening the spike of the latter two. It lingers gently – meaning that neat it’s a little bit moreish.
With tonic it opens out beautifully. The pepper is softened and you get more of the layers – enhanced as you’d expect by the garnish. Manchester Three Rivers suggests seasonal garnishes and so during our gin school visit we enjoyed rosemary and gin soaked dried apricots. Handily one of your five a day.
Our G&Ts came as part of the gin school package. Welcomed by Ryan, we were introduced to the Three Rivers ethos. ‘By Wisdom and Effort’ is the Manchester motto and it’s something the team at Three Rivers feel strongly about. Manchester’s history, soul and knowledge is something they are proud of, and they want to build on this foundation of industry by crafting something distinctive and has the city at it’s heart.
As many of you will know from all my previous gin blogs (feel free to skip this part if you know it!) – botanicals, your base spirit and water are added to the still (often left to macerate for a period of 12-24-48 hours), and heat is applied. The alcohol infused with the botanicals comes off the still at around 83% (some higher, some lower) passes through the column, is condensed and forms three parts – heads, hearts and tails. Heads are the high esters that aren’t palatable and are rather nasty. These are removed and at a certain point (the Master Distiller knows exactly when the change happens) these end and we move into the hearts. This is the gin – this is the bit we want to keep! During this part of the distillation different botanicals will release their oils and flavours at different points. So you may start with citrus notes, before moving through to the rich herbal botanicals, and then onto the spices.
Whether this is using something as large as Angel, or in our case a tiny little still on a hot plate, the theory is exactly the same. Ryan had helpfully pre measured the spirit, water, juniper and our ‘fixers’ – orris root and angelica, and our coriander. We could then select botanicals from the 50 on the back wall.
Imagine kids in a sweetshop.
Being an old hand (yeah OK, so I’ve only done this once before) and having previously creating a floral gin, I decided to go savoury. Wormwood, rosemary, lemon peel, mulberry leaf, lemongrass and caraway seed were all added to my scales until I had a balance of flavours.
Then comes the fun bit.
Spirit, water and botanicals all go into your little copper still, the top is replaced and screwed into place, so that the vapours can cool in the worm tub (the tubing makes it look like a tub of worms immersed in water)and out through the tubing. And on goes the hot plate.
And we wait.
While we wait, there are cocktails to make the time pass more swiftly. In truth, it doesn’t take long, but of course our gin levels were receding, and so a Negroni and a very well balanced Aviation made the time pass even quicker.
Before we knew it we had 400ml of our very own gin.
The gin is balanced with water until it, well, tastes right. You want to be able to taste the botanicals, without a harsh bite from the alcohol. The result should be balanced, tasty and is all yours.
All of us had created something very different. From a soft rounded gin, to something smoky and rich, to my own, green and herbal, it only goes to show just how flexible gin can be.
Which might be just why I love it so.
You too can sample Three Rivers for yourself by purchasing online, hitting one of the local bars it’s stocked in, or by treating yourself to a little Gin School visit – for under £100 you can both drink and make gin.
And you know…. Christmas is coming.