*I was invited along to review the City of Manchester Distillery Gin Experience FOC, however, all opinions are my own as always
My regular readers already know that I’m a big fan of gin. I first discovered the unadulterated joy of a simple G&T circa 2004 (yes I’m old) and am glad to see that 14 years later, the rest of the planet seem to have gotten on board with all things juniper-based.
Not only is gin is my go-to tipple, but it’s also something that I like to give others as a gift. Luckily for me, the market is awash with an absolute plethora of different gins – from London Dry to novelty flavoured gin liqueurs and beyond – so I can usually find one for every kind of recipient.
Manchester Three Rivers Gin isn’t one that was on my radar before last month, however, this summer, I got to interview another distiller, along with the fabulous Charlie from Gin Fuelled Bluestocking, for a project I’m working on in my day job and have since become rather fascinated with the whole process. When I discussed this in the office, my boss mentioned that once you’ve seen one copper still, you’ve seen them all – he had a point.
When I was invited along to the City of Manchester Distillery Gin Experience (home of Three Rivers Gin) a few weeks ago, I smugly assumed that I already knew everything there is to know about gin and the distilling process. It turns out that I – and my boss – were wrong. Advertised as ‘a truly unique three-hour immersive and interactive experience’, it did not disappoint.
Housed in a humble railway arch just a few minutes from Manchester Arena, we were greeted with a classic G&T upon arrival. We then watched a short video and Joe, our guide for the evening, talked about the history of gin. But this was no dull history lesson – this was gin school after all. With a sprinkling of humour and Mancunian pride, we learnt all about the roots of not only Manchester Three Rivers gin but the origins of this much-loved spirit.
I’m a bit of a fact-nerd so soaked in the information and particularly enjoyed the parts about how gin caused the notorious ‘Gin Craze’ epidemic in the 18th century, where mothers would happily trade their offspring for a small amount of gin (as a mother of teenagers, I can understand that one to be fair) creating the infamous ‘Mother’s Ruin’ legacy.
Gin was developed based on an old Dutch liquor that soldiers liked to drink before the war to calm the nerves – hence the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ – so we were given a shot of bols (drink number 2) to get a taste for gin in its original form. I also loved the clandestine ways of which people would get their gin fix once it had been (temporarily) banned in the UK. The logic was that if you can’t see who is selling it, you can’t arrest them so Brits came up with an ingenious way of trading.
Customers would look for a sign of cat nailed to a window, with a small lead pipe underneath its paw. They would then pop a few coins in the cat’s mouth and mutter the word ‘Puss?’. The hidden distiller would then confirm they were in the right place with a ‘Meow’ and the pipe would pour gin directly into their mouths. Luckily for us modern-day folk, we don’t have to resort to such measures to get our paws on the good stuff.
Our group moved downstairs to learn how Manchester Three Rivers Gin is created and saw the magnificent copper still that has loving been christened ‘Angel’. We were given an ‘Aviator’ cocktail as Joe explained what it is that makes their gin so smooth, whilst handing us a shot of neat Manchester Three Rivers gin.
You know that ‘burn’ that you normally get when necking spirits? There was none of that present. It was a silky delight and a welcome surprise. Joe told us that they use oats in the distilling process which helps to create such a smooth blend. According to the notes I’d taken – the ones that become absolute nonsense as the night progressed so I’m not sure how accurate they are in hindsight – Angel can produce 500 bottles of gin during a 13-hour period.
Just from chatting with Joe at the bar afterwards, we could sense the sincerity of the company and it still very much has a family feel. Manchester Three Rivers Gin was created by four friends in 2016 and the City of Manchester Distillery is the city’s first-ever one to date. The bottle labels are all attached by hand and the team truly care about the quality of the end product.
We then moved next door to create our very own full-size bottle of gin – something that I’d been particularly looking forward to. Armed with another G&T (!), we were all set up at our own little stations that consisted of everything we would need, including a mini copper still. Behind us was a row of more than 50 herbs, spices and botanicals that we could use to get creative.
There was a tablet on our workstation with a guide to quantities but other than that, we were pretty much given free rein to come up with something bespoke. I opted for a festive blend of oats (to keep it smooth), orange peel, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg while Claire went for lemongrass, almond and other ingredients that I have forgotten – I’m blaming the booze for that one.
Joe talked us through the process and once we’d meticulously measured everything out and logged our recipes so that we can repurchase more bottles of our own gins at a later date if desired – I will be buying a few extra bottles for friends and family – we waited for the still to work its magic.
We drank more G&Ts and nattered loudly. I also got the chance to say a quick hello to two fellow bloggers that I’ve known for a while – Keeley from Phat Cupcake and Emma from Earth to Emma. I loved the fact that in between the talks and gin creating, there was time to socialise, making it the perfect place for a proper get-together.
Before I knew it, my gin was ready to pour. Joe tested the ABV (alcohol by volume) level and mine came in at a rather impressive 49%. Keeping things classy, I had a little taste from the bottle and the orange flavour was prominent in the silky smooth blend. I’ve already got it earmarked as the perfect Christmas tipple when mixed with ginger ale or classic tonic.
We ended the evening at the bar with a champagne cocktail and Claire bought two bottles of the classic Manchester Three Rivers Gin – one for her to enjoy and one for me as a very lovely thank you gesture for inviting her along.
I’ve always been completely honest on my blog and would never encourage my readers to buy anything with their hard-earned cash that wasn’t up to scratch. That’s why I can wholeheartedly say that I would happily pay to go back and do the City of Manchester Distillery Gin experience all over again.
It costs £95 per person and is superb value for money when you factor in the whole experience, the generous amount of drinks provided and the full bottle of gin you get to create and take home – it really was an evening like no other. It’s recently been voted the ‘Top-Rated Attraction In The UK’ so I’m clearly not the only one who had a fabulous time. If you want to book your own gin experience or buy a gift voucher, you can do so here.