Article courtesy of Ashbourne News Telegraph, by Carolyn Bointon
For many the idea of going back to school would fill them with horror, but just one look at this rather bonkers laboratory will have their inner mad scientist reminiscing about the thrill of crazy chemistry classes.
But the best thing about this lab is you can sample everything you make here…because it’s gin.
And unlike school, you won’t be walking home, although having a designated driver is strongly recommended as classes start with a gin tasting session.
It’s the brainwave of businessman Neil Harrison, whose company, Nelson’s Gin, produces around 400 bottles of London Dry Gin a week, supplying local supermarkets, pubs and off-licences.
He came up with the idea of sharing his skills as a master distiller offering gin making classes with a unique twist.
Everyone on the course will leave with a one-off bottle of the popular spirit, blended with their own hand-picked mix of herbs and spices.
And what’s even more exciting is that every bottle will be individually numbered, the exact recipe stored at the distillery so it can be replicated at any time in the future and shipped to the customer.
It took the former chef close to three years, and more than £150,000, to get his business, based near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, off the ground as new distillery licences are notoriously tricky to obtain.
But once it was up and running, 47-year-old Neil saw another opportunity, to encourage others to share his passion for gin-making and has launched day-long courses at his bonded warehouse and distillery.
And that’s why he created the crazy-looking classroom in the company’s former boardroom.
Tucked away in the corner is an old-fashioned wooden box, a store cupboard with little drawers, each one hand labelled with the name of herbs, spices, berries and dried fruits.
These are the aromatics that give gin its distinctive aroma and taste.
There’s the essential juniper, found in every gin, but there are also some more exotic flavours such as coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, liquorice, fennel, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg and even kaffir lime leaves.
Typically a fine gin would contain six to ten of these botanicals.
Neil said that everyone gets very excited when they are told to choose their ingredients.
“In a class of six people you can guarantee each person will pick six very different mixes,” he said.
“We start with the traditional juniper berries that give the drink its traditional gin flavour and smell, but after that the sky is the limit.
“That’s the beauty of gin. You can get floral notes, citrus punches, earthy tones or even something as extreme as liquorice or blueberry favours.
“And we have around 30 different botanicals and flavours to chose from, so we encourage people to be adventurous.”
He uses his chef’s knowledge and experience to help people pick the right mix for their personal preferences, carefully weighing and noting each ingredient so the exact same bottle can be replicated in the future, should they wish to reorder.
The herbal mix is then added to pure alcohol and water, before being heated gently to allow the alcohol and essential oils, which give the gin its flavour and aroma, to vaporise and pass through the narrow pipes where it condenses back into liquid form.
It takes a couple of hours for the gin to distill and Neil uses the time to tell his pupils more about the history of the popular tipple and how his own brand, Nelson’s Gin No 7, is produced.
Finally the resulting alcoholic mix is bottled, pure distilled water is added to get the drink to around 40 proof and the gin is given a unique reference number.
The bottles are sealed in the factory with a cork, and wax glaze, and guests can take it home there and then, ready to drink the same evening.
Courses run twice a week and cost £95 per person.