Staycation Fodder: UK Gin Tours
Recently, we gave you some far flung suggestions as to where you could go to satisfy your gin cravings on holiday in 2018, but there are some close-to-home distilleries offering fantastic tours that could see you becoming something of an expert within a day.
From London to Scotland and everywhere in between, there are countless producers turning their brilliantly creative minds to gin, so wherever you are based, there’s a good chance someone nearby is making some juniper juice you’d be proud to call your local. Needless to say, where there is gin, there are gin tours, so let’s delve in…
London Gin Tour
London is the home of gin – it’s written in so much marketing material that it must be true. Sure, we’re not quite at the levels we were at in the 1700s (yet), when there was a distillery in every street, but there are enough producers around to make a daily travel card a worthwhile investment for a day in the city. Buckingham Palace is nice and all, but if you’re touring the capital, this is what we suggest…
Sipsmith: If you know much about gin, you’ll know that Sipsmith were part of the brigade that helped steer the way for Craft Gin to become the thing. When it flung open the doors in 2009, it was the first new copper still’ed distillery to open in London for 189 years. Since then, it has only gone from strength to strength, making some fantastic gins (hello V.J.O.P.) and engaging geeky consumers in all the right ways with its subscription Sipping Service.
The distillery offers two visitor options. There’s the basic (G&T, distillery tour, history of gin lesson) for £25 or the Sipsmith Sipper Club option (tour, tutored tasting of the range, three course dinner and a half bottle Sipsmith Dry Gin) for £85.
Beefeater: With roots that can be traced back as far as 1863 and with an international presence so widespread that it can comfortably be named as one of, if not the, biggest gins ever, the Beefeater Distillery in Kennington is a must-visit for those keen to see Gin history in action.
Beefeater also has two tour options. There’s the standard at £12, which is a one hour whistle-stop tour through the history of gin (with a tasty G&T thrown in, of course), or there’s the VIP tour for £40, which includes all of the above, as well as a six gin flight, a chance to meet the distillers and the opportunity to get hands on with botanicals. If you’re short on time, go for the former which is easy and simple, but for anyone whose really into to gin, you really want to be on the latter.
City of London Distillery: The COLD still sits – albeit behind glass – in the corner of the on-site bar, a cozy basement drinking hole located right beneath the hustle and bustle of the city’s financial district. It is a rare day indeed when you can go to that bar and not witness a tour group ogling the beautiful copper still, such is the popularity of their visitor centre.
The experiences range from a basic distillery tour (£15, 45 minutes) to a tasting tour (£25) to the much more hands on make your own gin experience (£125). All of the tour options include some anecdotes and insights on the history of gin, so it’s a good chance to scrub up on facts for your gin club…
East London Liquor Company: We’ve got a real soft spot for this distillery. Since its birth in 2012, the producer has fully embraced craft, creating delicious little experimental runs, collaborating with international distilleries to make madcap gins and building a core range that is not only brilliant but entirely affordable.
The distillery bar, just outside Victoria Park, embraces East London cool, with exposed brick, distressed tables and a collection of gins and tinctures behind the bar that is genuinely staggering. The distillery offers a “Spirit of Gin Tour and Tasting” for £45. You’ll drink gin, hear the brutal truth about the spirit’s dark history and see all the machinery at work.
Scotland Gin Trail
Government backed Gin tourism is the name of the game north of the border, with distillery visits top of the agenda for the travel industry. There are some fantastic distilleries to choose from, too, and some in close enough proximity that you could do two in a day.
Edinburgh duo of Pickering’s + Edinburgh Gin: Start at the Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh, where for £10 you’ll be presented with a G&T at The Royal Dick bar, see how the gin is made and sample all three in the range. It only takes around 45 minutes, so you can mosey straight over to the home of Edinburgh Gin to get as hands on as you can handle. There’s the basic Gin Discovery Tour for £10, which includes history, production and botanicals, the Connoisseur tour for £25, which has all of the above as well as a tutored tasting session or the Gin Making Experience for £100, which lets you loose on some mini stills to make your very own interpretation of the spirit.
Caorunn: Caorunn is another open door distillery that is all too keen to bring visitors in to watch it all unfold. For £10 a head, you’ll be taken on a tiny, in-depth and intimate walk behind the scenes, where you’ll hear all about production and botanicals. You’ll be treated to a deconstructed tasting and nosing session that will allow you a better chance to dissect the local botanicals, before finishing up with a signature serve G&T. This is an utter bargain, so next time you find yourself in the Highlands, arrange a visit!
If you want to find out more, check out WSTA’s Scotland Gin Trail Map to plan your own adventures.
A Few City Based Gin Distilleries
With more distilleries in this country than you can shake a juniper bush at, chances are you’re always near one, so whether you’re away on business of visiting friends for the weekend, try to squeeze in a visit to the local gin maker.
Manchester: Stop by Three River’s Distillery and head straight into the classroom with their Gin Experience. You’ll tour the distillery, taste the gin and learn all about the spirit’s intriguing history before being set free to create your very own gin on their mini stills. All for £95 a head.
Glasgow: The Glasgow Distillery, home to the Makar Gin range, has teamed up with Tennent’s to offer a distillery/brewery tour package, including travel between the two locations. You’ll begin with the lager producer before moving onto the distillery, where you’ll get a guided tasting tour. It’s £38 for the set.
Plymouth: The Plymouth Distillery has a great deal of history rattling around in it. In fact, Plymouth Gin was and is still considered by some a sub-category all in itself, with geographical protection making it a fairly unique affair. The distillery itself is as old as the hills, having first cracked open its door in 1793.
The distillery has a handful of tour options, from the 40 minute-long Plymouth Gin Distillery Tour (£7, with the opportunity to see the stills in action, learn about the botanicals and take home a mini), the £20 Connoisseurs Tour (with a blind tasting of five gins) or the £40 Master Distiller’s tour, which is all of the above with the chance to make your own gin thrown in for good measure.
A Few Gin Destinations In The Countryside
If you’re making a weekend break to the countryside, you should take the opportunity to visit some of the most picturesque distilleries in the UK.
The Lakes: We weren’t exaggerating when we said countryside! The Lakes Distillery is set so far in the realm of bucolic shrubbery that, as well as a Distillery Tour (£12.50) and a Distiller for a Day tour (£295), you can head out on an Alpaca Tour (£9) to meet the furry creatures roaming the distillery estate. The Distiller for a Day option isn’t all fun and games – you’ll have a helping hand in the day’s whisky production, milling barley, operating the mash tun and filling a cask by your very own hand. Fascinating stuff!
Cotswolds: The Cotswolds Distillery is an (often beautifully sun-drenched) moment of escapism, set amongst the rambling forests of the south. The tours, which take place daily, cost £10 and almost always sell out, so be sure to book this one in advance. You’ll be able to see the distillery in action, from gin to whisky production, and you’ll be taken to a tasting room to sample all of the goods. The onsite shop is a beautiful little spot of merchandising genius, with all sorts of strange things to take away as well as some exclusive bottlings that are almost impossible to get hold of anywhere else.
A Few Gin Distilleries That Go “From Scratch”
If you love brewing as well as distilling and want to see entire process, from wheat, to vodka and then finally into gin performed from scratch, you’ll love paying a visit to these grain to glass distilleries.
Ramsbury: Set on an estate that stretches much, much farther into the horizon than your eyes can truly see, Ramsbury Brewing and Distilling is an enormous venture producing spirits from scratch. A personal tour of the distillery costs £12, including the chance to sample the spirits and take home a small gift. There’s also a restaurant on site, so it’s worth planning a visit around feeding time.
Copper Rivet: The Copper Rivet Distillery in Chatham, Kent, is a fantastic space, like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (though, ultimately, less deadly). Huge, beautiful pieces of machinery fill the room, and the tours – run, quite often by the founding family themselves – are a wonderful adventure into enthusiasm. You’ll see how the spirit is made, you’ll learn about the botanicals involved and you’ll taste the gin, which was a favourite for the Gin Foundry team in 2017. All for £12 (which seems to be a theme for distillery visits…).
Chase: Based in Hereford, the Chase Distillery is a potato-to-glass operation that produces a great deal of tasty spirits. The £25 tour includes a stomp around the farm, along with a quick lesson in fermenting and distilling. You’ll learn all about how the gin and vodka is made as you take part in a tutored tasting, and if you happen to fall in love with their spirit range, you can redeem £10 from your tour ticket when spending £20 in the shop.
TOAD: The Oxford Artisanal Distillery is a new (well, newly opened, but this has been in the works for five years) distillery with a jaw-droppingly beautiful still and a joyfully friendly team behind it. There are two tours on offer at the moment: a standard tour and tasting for £20, or a Founder Tour for £50, where you’ll be shown around by one of the three creators of this venture. It’s a brilliant space with huge amounts of experimentation going on, so keep your eyes out for a good amount of strangeness to occur.
A Few Noteworthy Others
45 Distillery Gin School: Nestled in the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, a “45 Gin School Experience” includes a tour of the working distillery, offering you an fascinating insight into the world of a master distiller. As part of the Gin School experience you get to meet a Burleigh’s Gin distiller and find out what it takes to produce craft distilled Gin on their beautiful 450 litre copper pot still, Messy Bessy – before trying your hand on the small 1.5 litre versions in the lab.
Ginstitute at The Distillery: The Ginstitute began its life as London’s smallest museum above the world renowned bar, the Portobello Star. Outgrowing its diminutive home, in 2016 they upped sticks and moved a few doors down London’s most famous street to No.186, in the basement of The Distillery (home to the Portobello Gin team, two gin bars, a working still and even… a small hotel). The Ginstitute experience begins with an in-depth journey through the gin’s colourful and checkered past. Once sufficiently briefed, a “Ginstructor” guides you through to a blending room to nose your way through a range of botanical distillates, where you get to choose your favourites and create your own bespoke blend of gin. You’ll be lubricated by a multitude of delicious gin cocktails along the way before leaving the session with a bottle of your own personal blend to take home and enjoy. Brilliant fun!
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