25 Oct, 2016
Gin, the drink of first dates, seascapes, boozy lunches and bush sunsets is enjoying a wave of new found artisanal love. So goodbye Gordon and Schweppes, chin chin to Inverroche, Hope, Fever Tree and friends. Clearly as gin drinker, gin lover, sleuth of secret gin bars, the next natural step for me and friends was gin distiller. Besides some of us felt a calling for a second or third career and to combine a drinking habit with a vocation seemed like the perfect plan.
This is how we found ourselves at New Harbour Distillery in Woodstock for a half day course on the history of gin, the various styles and excitedly to make our own. Vacuum distilled, vapour infused, rotary evaporator, compounds, ratios and percentages; gin making is not a simple business so we were lucky to be in the capable hands of Nic Janeke, owner, chemical engineer and master gin distiller extraordinaire.
Gin it turns out has a rough and ruinous history. Invented by a Dutch physician in 1572, it was used to treat various abdominal ailments including the liver. Around 1638 it was discovered and enthusiastically adopted by the English troops while fighting the Spanish in the Eighty Years War. The soldiers noted that the spirit delivered a calming effect before battle … hence the moniker Dutch Courage. Gin’s calming and restorative effects continue to be much beloved today albeit usually post-battling in the trenches of corporates, courts, lecture halls and the like. The London gin craze dominated the 1700’s with gin’s accessibility and low price catalysing a wave of drinking establishments serving poor quality versions of the spirit. More women than men were flayed by this easy drinking tipple and one of gin’s pet names remains today, Mother’s Ruin.
Our hosts had prepared the various styles of gin for us to taste and carefully chose examples that illustrated the differences from London Dry Gin to Old Tom. Each gin was first tasted neat, then with one block of ice and finally a splash of tonic. Three tastes of four styles at eleven in the morning; they went down so well that “Mother’s Ruin” starting to strike a chord of camaraderie.
After lunch and a Pink Gin Cocktail, the heady business of conjuring our own gin recipes began (with the requisite tasting). All gins feature a high percentage of juniper and coriander with Angelica or Orris Root as a fixative. After that you can spin the botanicals in ratios that suit your taste with most blends containing between 8 to 12 aromatics. Dabbling among almond, cinnamon, grains of paradise, star anise, lemon and orange peel, we pipetted and dribbled our way to a final product. And pink-cheeked with pride, we proffered our new infused gins to our fellow ginsters and the proprietors for praise.
Tasting my own distillation, I detected a rather rugged note or two, so a bottle of New Harbour’s Spekboom gin went into the trolley along with a rain check on the career change.
New Harbour Distillery
Tours, tasting, shopping and “Make Your Own”.
Unit009, Mason’s Press
7 Ravenscraig Road
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