Manchester Three Rivers
For those of us that dwell in the South of this pretty little rock, Manchester is synonymous with Corrie, football, Emmeline Pankhurst, Morrissey and the brothers Gallagher. It’s a city of rebels and renegades, one whose residents aren’t afraid to tell you what they think, when they think it. Understandably, when Manchester Three Rivers Gin was released in July 2016, we couldn’t help but wonder if it was going to bounce onto the scene in a pair of tracky bottoms threatening to tear it up…
The distillery, named for the three rivers that Manchester grew from – the Irk, the Irwell and the Medlock – was co-founded by film teacher turned bar owner turned master distiller Dave Rigby, along with his friends Greg Hull, Louise Rivers and Michael Hughes. Rigby had become quite obsessed with the idea of creating a gin after opening up a café bar in Prestwich, wherein he gained something of a collection of spirits. In 2013 he began visiting distilleries and talking the ears off industry folk, before assembling his team and getting to work.
“Dave has a love of many products, especially wine, but with his background in film and creative writing he was enthralled by the interesting narratives he was seeing in the new craft and premium world of Gin, from all over the world,” Hull explains. “In addition, the vast array of modern flavour profiles and vision hugely appealed and he felt he could create something special in his home city of Manchester.”
It took three years in total to go from conception to bottle; the distillery had to be licensed and built, the Arnold Holstein still commissioned and the recipe created, tweaked and perfected.
The first hurdle was that ever-present buzz killer; bureaucracy. The distillery was the first to open in the city centre itself, so there were a great deal of precedents to set, precedents that were largely council and application based. Still, every hurdle they faced was a friendly one, with the city keen to help them bring the project to life.
The second obstacle was money. Manchester Three Rivers was self-funded from the start, so one of the biggest challenges the team faced were costs. With limited financial resources to hand, Rigby (and his dad) got hands on, building the distillery space themselves.
The all-important gin recipe was perhaps the easiest part of the project to get going. Hull explains: “Dave had a very clear vision on what he wanted for the recipe. He is not a fan of heavy citrus led gins, so he knew he wanted to focus more on mid palate sweetness. He also has a level of expertise in wine, and he wanted to create a gin with a palpably smooth and creamy mouth feel, like one you’d get with a great white Burgundy.”
Rigby considered the botanicals he could add to the gin that would give it not just provenance, but narrative and history as well. After much research, he settled on oats, which pay homage to the workers of Victorian slum Angel Meadow, based just down the road. It was a key worker area during the Industrial Revolution and the labourers there, too poor to eat properly, survived on a diet of gruel and oats. (Angel Meadow, incidentally, was so grim that the only real escape its residents had were trips to the on site gin palaces. Or death).
The rest of the botanicals forming the line-up are juniper, orris, coriander, almonds, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, orange peel and black pepper. Each bottle of gin is made by Rigby and his assistant distiller Mike Hughes in City of Manchester Distillery’s 450l still, Angel. Around 500 – 550 bottles are created in each 12-hour run.
Manchester Three Rivers gin to taste…
Manchester Three Rivers Gin has a hugely appealing nose; oats and vanilla conspire to bring a milky, buttery-sweet smell that’s lifted just a touch by cardamom, whilst orange zings into the senses with a dose of fresh, lively fruit. Not to over-egg the music analogy here, but if it were an opening chord to a tune, it would have you reaching for the volume dial to turn it up as it’s catchy as hell.
The milky sweetness of the nose comes through on the tongue, with vanilla bringing an icing sugar dusting before cardamom steps in – blowtorch in hand – to light a fire and change it up. Cardamom in particular is clear in the mid palate and brings with it a curried feel, before black pepper emerges towards the end and lingers on the finish. There is a real flavour journey within this gin, which takes you from fresh baked sugar to pine to spice in one brisk movement. It’s very similar to Bertha’s Revenge in its flavour direction so if that’s your cup of tea, this is a gin for you – although in our opinion Three Rivers is much mellower and more nuanced (read “much less cardamom”), allowing for a more progressive flavour journey.
With tonic, the gin takes on a much more savoury profile. Coriander seed and juniper provide a rich, dry herbal base while the sweeter botanicals, vanilla and oats, dance in and out of vision. It’s undoubtedly a modern gin, but its also one that pays attention to the unwritten laws that surround the spirit with a healthy dose of pine and a great combination of citrus and spice.
One of Rigby’s goals when creating building the recipe for Manchester Three Rivers gin was that it would need no garnish when added to a G&T. While this works undoubtedly, the team were wise enough to know that garnishes are another way to engage audiences and as such they’ve created two perfect serves: Winter with a gin soaked dried apricot and a spring of rosemary, and Summer with two fresh cherries. We’re into both serves in a big way – the fruity element of the gin is the most subtle, but with a little help it’ll change the direction entirely.
Manchester Three Rivers Gin is packaged in a clear glass bottle with a dark blue label upon which the name and logo has been foiled. Foiling is always an expensive endeavour, but it helps to create a more premium feel and when you’re charging upwards of £35 for a bottle, it needs to be a slick one.
A big part of the brand’s ethos is sharing experiences. The distillery was custom built to house a well-stocked bar and has followed the precedent of the likes of 45 West, COLD and others in having a Gin Experience, one in which guests are treated to a perfect serve G&T, followed by an immersive lesson on the history of gin, a tour of the distillery and, finally, a chance to make their own. Working from City of Manchester Distillery’s library of over 50 botanicals, visitors are let loose on the mini stills and given guidance to create their own 70cl bottle of Manchester branded gin.
The Gin Experience is a smart move. By inviting hoards of gin geeks into its home, City of Manchester Distillery is creating an army of passionate ambassadors, proud Mancunians who’ll spout the gin’s virtues to all and sundry. It helps the team to communicate their passion for gin and for Manchester, and encourages guests to buy into it.
Rigby and the team, understandably, are drinking their Tripadvisor comments in greedily. “The fantastic reviews for the Gin Experience have allowed us to see that what we have created is special to people who experience it, and something the city can be very proud of,” said Hull.
In a world of mad gins, Manchester Three Rivers Gin tows the line better than most but in our opinion that’s all for the better – gin doesn’t need to constantly add weirder and more progressive flavour profiles to the roster. It just needs to be very good quality. So while the team behind the distillery may not be the rebels we anticipated, they carry the passion and drive that their fellow Mancunians are so famed for and they’ve given the city something else to sing about – something truly delicious.
For more information about Manchester Three Rivers visit the website: manchesterthreerivers.com
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