Yes, another distillery.
I can’t help it. It’s like an urge (don’t be rude) – I want to see the stills that create the spirits I drink, the tanks that hold them, where appropriate the barrels that age them. Maybe it’s a geek thing, maybe it’s a provenance thing, but I find it fascinating.
And when it comes to Pickerings, there was another reason for the visit. A childish, immature, giggling-like-a-six-year-old-over-the-word-bum one.
Yes, Summerhall Distillery is house in the Royal Dick.
I know, I’m disappointed in me too, but I still can’t help it.
Now, I know I don’t have to go through the distillation process, or even the history of Pickerings, having reviewed the whole range (bar the Navy Strength gin which I added to Gin Pokemon on this tour) here.
This post is more about the space, the visit and sipping gin in the Royal Dick.
I’ll start by explaining about the Royal Dick – Summerhall was purpose built for The University of Edinburgh Veterinary College (between 1913-1925). The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (founded by William Dick in 1823) was based there from 1916 until 2011, when it was relocated to a new campus, at Easter Bush (7 miles south of Edinburgh). That left the question what to do with Summerhall. It was acquired by the McDowell family and became the arts and creative hub it is today.
Pickerings is housed at the site, and the two gents behind it Marcus Pickering and Matthew Gammell, before picking up the mantle of gin distillers, worked in construction – actually working on the Summerhall site while Pickerings Gin was but an idea.
As you’d expect, the site is filled with nods to it’s past. Anatomical models, skulls, bones and skeletons feature on the walls of the bar, and in the distillery itself, old dog kennels are used to securely house the batched gins ready for sale. As with any academic space, it’s a maze of buildings, corridors and rooms.
Entering the distillery, as ever, it’s surprising how little space you need to distil. Pickerings have two stills, Emily and Gertrude (named after the founders’ grandmothers) Gertrude has been producing gin for some time, whereas Emily is new and still yet to be fired up properly. Our tour guide took us through a little history before getting to, for me the best bit, the distillation. As with many others, Pickerings only re distil grain spirit that they buy in. Spirit, water and the botanicals are added to the still, before being left to macerate for 24 hours. This allows the cell walls of the botanicals to begin to break down and release their oils and flavours.
We could also see the barrels they have used to age their gin to such good effect too.
For me, one of the most interesting elements of the space was the creativity in reclamation. Explosion proof lights were sourced from an old brewery, the collection point was a modified hot water tank, even the labelling machine (recently replaced with a bigger version that can label thousands of bottles a day) was created by a small company on site using a battery charger, plywood and electronics.
Ingenuity and creativity abound.
They’re incredibly proud of their space, it’s history, and what it has become. Summerhall is a beautiful site, and I only wish we’d had chance to linger a little longer – I’m pretty sure Mr GFB fancied a visit to the brewery on site too. This, and the fact that we also have Edinburgh Gin Distillery to visit too, only cements our wish to revisit Edinburgh soon.
Towards the end of the tour, we were invited to try some of the gins that are created at Pickerings and, of course, purchase from the shop – and new decorations for my Christmas tree were on the list.
Yes, they are baubles, yes they are filled with gin.
After all, this is called Gin Fuelled for a reason.
The tour and the baubles were purchased by ourselves.