Muddy goes back to school. Gin school!
Forget gin tasting, REAL lovers of gin are learning how to make their own. So naturally Muddy heads into the lab at Wessex Distillery in Surrey to get to the bottom of a bottle, I mean, all those botanicals.
Hands up who wants to learn how to make their own personalised bottle of gin? Oh, that’d be most of you then! Well, the good news is there’s a fabulous new experience at the Wessex Distillery near Godalming where you’ll learn everything you need to know, and all while sampling some of the Wessex gin goodies. And at the end you’ll have you’re own bottle of gin to take home.
The Wessex Distillery is at Coopers Place, a business park in the village Wormley, near Godalming. It’s a relatively young family-owned and run craft distillery, having been set up in only 2017 by the Clark family.
Gin-making, though, has been in the Clark family for a few more years than that – before Wessex, Jonathan Clark (the dad!) set up the City of London Distillery just off Fleet Street. He sold that in 2017 with the idea he might retire, but a within months got bored and started tinkering around in his kitchen again. And not long after that Wessex Distillery was born.
Four years later and Jonathan’s children Chris and Amy are now running the business although Jonathan is still quite involved – well, they do need a head taster. Tough job! Wessex makes eight different gins, including Jonathan’s favourite, the award-winning Wyvern’s Classic Dry Gin. Amy jokes that her dad designed a gin that was perfect for his own palate, and by fluke it just happened that everyone else loves it too. Again, tough job!
I love the idea that you can create your very own gin – perfected to your own personal tastes. But seriously, where do you start? Do you know how many different botanicals there are that can be added to gin. The gin Monkey 47 gives you some idea – it has 47 different botanicals – but there are hundreds more. And when I arrive for the Gin Lab Experience there are dozens and dozens of botanicals set out on the table. My head was spinning already, and I hadn’t even had a swig yet! (Although, that was soon rectified when teacher Chris delivered an Alfred the Great gin and tonic.)
I’m here along with four others – Shellie, Matt, Lisa and James – all there to celebrate James’ birthday, and all mahoosive gin fans. Shellie had already sampled every one of the eight Wessex gins – no, not that evening (although perhaps by the end of the night…?).
The experience is super relaxed and chatty. We all gathered around a big square table with the botanicals, our weighing scales and mixing bowls, and a clipboard with some info about the groups of botanicals and which go well together.
The two-litre copper pot stills in which we’ll be distilling our gin are on one side of us on high benches around the wall, and the 240-litre copper pot still where the small-batch Wessex gins are stands tall and elegant on the other.
Chris explains a few gin facts – like the core botanicals we should really include to create our gin (juniper, coriander seed and Angelia root). Botanicals are simply the ingredients used during distillation that give each gin its flavour. There are different categories like earthy, floral, warming spices, pungent spices and citrus, and as you’d expect some combinations work better than others. We spend some time sniffing, and in some cases tasting, the botanicals to figure out which ones we want to include in our gin. There are no rules here although pungent spices like cardamom and fennel seeds are likely to overshadow more mellow botanicals like rose petals and lavender.
We make our selections, weigh them out (between 0.2-.08 grams of each and then move over to the distilling station where we add our spices to the copper stills. And this is where the magic happens.
I went for a subtle spicy combination, adding cassia root, Indian cloves, orange peel and liquorice root powder to the juniper, coriander and Angelica root.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Yes, you do indeed get to quaff the goods. And for the 20 minutes or so while our gin is distilling, we taste some of the other Wessex gins that are available. It’s all part of the learning process, you know, it all helps us understand the profile of flavours.
More tasting is required as the distilling process reaches its end. The distilling process can be divided into three parts: the head, the heart and the tail. Put simply, you really only want the heart, so the first and last parts – the head and the tail – are discarded.
Distillation over, gin bottled, cork added and then dipped into a hot wax to seal, the customised label added and we’re all done. Now the only thing left is to sample our product!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Yes, I can confirm, the Muddy Stilettos Wessex gin is excellent. And the good news is, the Wessex distillery keep the recipe on file, so if you design a gin that you truly can’t live without, they can recreate it for you.
Good for: Well, gin lovers (obvs!). But like Shellie, Matt, James and Lisa, it’s a fab way to celebrate a special occasion birthday, also great for hen do, stag dos, girls’ nights out, or just you know, a night out where you can try something fun and different, while drinking gin! It’s not recommended you drive!
Not for: Teetotallers. And, yep, I’d leave the kids at home. This one’s for grow-ups!
The damage: The Gin Lab Experience costs £80 per person and includes a G&T on arrival, a tour of the distillery, gin sampling, the gin making masterclass and your own personalised bottle of gin.
Wessex Distillery, Unit 1, Coopers Place, Wormley, GU8 5SY.