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Gin and more at Shakespeare Distillery, Stratford.
*Stop Press – Thanks to Covid-19 the Shakespeare Distillery Tours are currently closed and they are crowdfunding to keep business going. Find out more and do consider helping them out by drinking more gin!*
Perhaps the best way to learn about artisan food and drink is to meet the maker – visit them where they work and find out what inspires them. In the case of the Shakespeare Distillery, just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, there’s also the opportunity to enjoy gin tasting in the form of a cocktail masterclass or a gin school where you make your own unique gin. And, in the summer months, my idea of heaven in the form of gin cruises along the River Avon. What a great way to learn more about gin and have an afternoon out at the same time.
Simon Picken, the founder of the Shakespeare Distillery was a project manager before he moved into the artisan drinks world. He started making gin with a 2ltr copper still, carefully researching the recipe for his perfect dry gin. The Shakespeare Distillery was founded in 2015 and moved to its current premises, with the bespoke Gin School in January 2019.
The cocktail masterclass which I joined, starts with an introduction to the history of Gin and with more information about what makes a London Dry gin. I hadn’t realised how pivotal one particular brand was in this battle. In 2009, Sipsmith Gin won a two year legal battle with HMRC for the right to produce gin in small quantities. And that win paved the way for others to follow. Last year’s HMRC stats show that that there are a total of 441 distilleries in the UK and that number has more than doubled in the last five years. In England, where Gin rather than Whisky dominates, the number of distilleries has gone up tenfold, from 23 distilleries to a total of 228 in 2019.
At the Shakespeare Distillery, they have two commercial stills, aptly named Portia and Ophelia, both a modern design. Simon explained that the little copper coils you can see at the top of each tank are a filter to remove the ‘eggy’ taste from the gin. They start with a 96% proof neutral spirit which is watered down to 40%. Some of the botanicals are added like a teabag so that when the alcohol reaches boiling at 78.4C, the vapour picks up the essential oils. Others, orange peel, rose petal and lemon peel are added in the pipe.
We learnt that the difference between craft gin and mass-produced gin is in something called alcohol burn, which will hit your palate if you try sipping a mass-produced gin neat. Craft gin should have a smoothness. It comes in part from removing the heads – the methanol which is first distilled and the tails – the alcohol rich part of the gin which is distilled at the end. The heart, the middle distillation, will change in flavour as it is produced, picking up different botanicals at different stages.
Once the gin is produced, it is stored in stainless steel vats to let the flavours meld and taken down to 45% alcohol by adding water (the commercial brands tend to dilute further to 37.5%). The water they use is filtered using reverse osmosis so it’s as pure as possible.
When the gin has rested, it’s bottled into the Shakespeare Distillery’s distinctive bottles.
Making cocktails with the gin is, of course, the fun part and takes part in the Gin School next door. If I’d had a little more time, I would have loved to try making my own gin – that experience takes around 3 hours and you use one of the copper stills in the school to literally cook up your own recipe. You also get to taste the Shakespeare Distillery range and to try a few different versions of a gin and tonic. Next time!
After the gin experience, everyone gets a voucher to buy from the shop where, amongst other things, you’ll find chocolates from Henley Chocolates. The Shakespeare Distillery works closely with Henley Chocolates and provides high alcohol level spirits which are needed for making some of the Henley Chocolate range of truffles.
Shakespeare Distillery Gin Experiences can be booked online.
Distillery tours are £15 for adults and £7.50 for children
The Gin Tasting Cruise is for adults only and is £22.50
The wonderful Gin School Experience where you make your own gin is £95 for one person or £115 for a couple sharing one still
A cocktail masterclass with Distillery Tour is £35.
Unit A, Drayton Manor Drive
Stratford upon Avon
I visited the Shakespeare Distillery as part of a trip to Mallory Court Hotel and Spa who offer weekend gin tasting packages.