By Lynsey Sizer and Leigh Jolliffe
Where: Salcombe Distilling Co, South Devon
The course: Gin School Experience (2-5pm), £150 including drinks and 70cl bottle of your own gin to take home
The Salcombe Story
Angus and Howard (The Founders) have been friends for years, and used to sail together in Salcombe. At the end of each day they’d grab a G&T at the local yacht club and that’s where the seed of the idea behind Salcombe Gin was planted.
What’s it like?
The beautiful harbour town of Salcombe is just the type of spot for taking in the view with a G&T in hand – you really do feel like you’re on holiday, even when home is just a few minutes away! The Salcombe Distilling Co is housed in a former boat repair workshop on the historical Island Street and our course kicks off with a signature Salcombe G&T which we sipped leisurely throughout the lesson.
Mark was quite possibly the best host we could have had! His passion for the distillery shone through and the little anecdotes that he gave us, really brought the tour to life. We start with an introduction to the distilling process and meet perhaps the most important member of the team – “Provident”. It is a 450-litre copper still that can deliver 600 bottles of citrus-tinged Salcombe Gin in a batch and named after a boat one of the founders used to sail on as a child. Now whilst Mark with shared us the ingredients of Salcombe Gin – he, under no circumstances would share the exact measurements and rightly so!
We learn there is so much more to Gin that meets the eye – starting with heads, hearts and tails of all things!
The first thing that comes out of the still is the ‘heads’, which can contain impurities, or flavours you don’t want, so are discarded. The next lot is called ‘hearts’ and this is what Mark tells us we want – it’s what goes into our bottles. The strength will be about 81% at this point – it can knock you for a moment! The ‘tails’, which come out last, have a bit more of a deeper, darker, more earthy flavour. It’s still quite nice, but not what we want to go in our bottles, Mark advises. So we take the ‘hearts’ and we blend it with Dartmoor water till we get to our bottling strength in the school next door, which is around 44%.
Get to the front of the class!
Provident’s little brothers and sisters are next door in the school lab which is where we head next – 10 mini stills and condensers lined up on high benches, with measuring jugs, scales and heaters at the ready. It looks as though a super-swanky chemistry lesson is about to get under way – all we need is some goggles!
The brilliance of this experience is being master of your own mini copper still – nerve wracking at first, but Mark is super relaxed and you soon feel confident. The classroom is lined with shelves of botanicals, from juniper (an essential) and coriander seeds to rhubarb root and fresh fruit, oooh and chocolate. We were let loose to sniff and select our own bespoke blend, we took ages as it is so difficult to choose. Thankfully, Mark was on hand to advise us on combinations and quantities to ensure well-balanced gins all round, that still felt like our very own, unique, blend.
We choose a fruity blend and a citrus blend both with a chocolate finish!
After heating for 10-15 minutes the still begins to drip. Light, notes come through first (the heads), before the body of the gin (the hearts) starts flowing through. When less palatable notes emerge in ‘the tails’, it’s time to stop. Blended with that gorgeous Dartmoor water and tested for strength, by Mark’s expert pallet – it is time for our gins to be bottled and labelled. It takes a while for us all to come up with our own names and when our individual names come off the printer, there is a big sense of pride around the room! Our neighbouring students made an Autumnal blend and a 46th Birthday blend – we were all encouraged to taste each other’s straight from the still…we did feel like real connoisseur by the end of the session.
Excitingly, we all also receive an extra measure to enjoy in the bar over ice. Mark expertly garnishes our individual gins to make sure we get the best possible taste – he got it perfectly right for all of us.
The opportunity to create your own bespoke gin is a must for G&T lovers and you couldn’t pick a better spot or team than here at Salcombe Gin. The atmosphere is really relaxed and all members of staff were so helpful and smiling at all times. We’ll definitely be back! A+