By Jo Cooksey
Hear ye! Hear ye! Clangs big bell. To all the gin lovers and the friends and families of gin lovers, you really need to read this. We have discovered the perfect gin gift for this Christmas. Or any other time of the year come to that.
The Manchester Three Rivers Gin Experience has just been voted No.1 ‘Top-Rated Tourist Attraction in the UK after Premier Inn used TripAdvisor data to find the nation’s favourite places to visit. Not bad, when you consider the breath of attractions, we have available on this small island.
We recently visited the City of Manchester Distillery, on the edge of the Green Quarter to indulge ourselves in their 3-hour experience. This would culminate in us leaving with a bottle of gin, distilled by our own fair hands. Now, I have blended my own whisky before but I have never distilled anything, so myself and the pal I had taken with me, were quite giddy with excitement.
Because of the demand from people wanting to attend this popular event, the team have had to expand into a second railway arch on Redbank to be able to accommodate everyone. In the original base they have a capacity for twelve gin lovers, but the additional arch means they can now host up to thirty people.
We were first to arrive and were met by Manchester Three River’s, Louise Rivers-Hull, PR & Brand Director and one of the original co-founders of the marque. She showed us to the bar, where we were furnished with our first perfect serve Gin & Tonic of the evening and introduced to our expert gin host for the evening, Joe. Why do my G&T’s at home never taste this good?
The History of Gin
Once our fellow distilling students had arrived and been similarly furnished with a drink, we were all asked to take a seat and watch a specially commissioned video presentation. The film detailed the history of the spirit and how it is interwoven with Manchester’s industrial heritage. I’m very proud of this noble city as it is and the passion contained within the video actually brought a proud tear to my eye.
When the lights came up, I noticed many others dabbing their eyes too. We then followed Joe downstairs to gaze in awe at the shiny, copper gin still, affectionately known as Angel. This is in honour of the area’s old name, Angel Meadows. We sipped on a violet infused Aviator cocktail, whilst admiring Angel’s smooth curves. Costing more than a small house, this piece of kit was imported from Germany and now master distiller, Dave Rigby, makes between 200 and 500 bottles of gin a day. All of which are labelled by hand. This is handmade, small batch gin making at its best.
The original vision for the brand, Joe explained, was that Manchester Three Rivers would work on three levels. It had to make a cracking gin and tonic, banging cocktails and to be a good sipping gin. Big brands like Gordons and Beefeater had only managed the first two but now small batch distillers have started to produce spirits that work just as well on their own, as they do in a cocktail or when paired with a mixer. In order to prove how good Three Rivers is, Joe passed round naked measures of the gin for us to taste. To me it was as good as a 12-year-old malt, which would be my normal straight-up tipple.
Distilling Our Own Gin
Then it was time for the main event. We were taken a couple of doors down the arches to the new distilling room, to make our very own gin. The large room holds around thirty mini stills and on two walls there are around fifty jars of botanicals. We each bagged a still and whilst we awaited further instructions, we were served another gin and tonic. Oh, if you insist.
As well as the stills and botanicals, we all had a brilliant bit of software which divides the elements you use in to flavour brackets, e.g. floral, citrus, spice etc and then how much to use of each. It really is a minute amount that you need for one bottle, so this programme is great for preventing merry distilling students making undrinkable gin. As you go along the computer builds your recipe and then stores it, so that you can order it again in future.
I wanted to make a Christmas gin, so that idea formed the basis of my recipe. A touch of allspice, a pinch of orange, a speck of almond, a shake of nutmeg and a sprinkle of oats. Before you think I’ve gone barmy; the addition of oats makes your gin a much smoother drink. Who knew?
Once distilled and decanted in to our bottles, we wrote the recipe on our labels, applied them and then Joe tested the ABV, as in what percentage proof it was. Most mainstream gins are around the 40° Mine was 46° Wow! Obviously, I will drink it responsibly.
Our Own Recipe Gin
Clutching our bottles, we bobbed back to the original arch, where we were thanked for coming with a champagne and gin cocktail. After which we wobbled off into the night and made our respective way homes. I think my Uber driver loved hearing my enthusiastic retelling of my evening, as he asked me for the website address and said he would buy an experience for his wife for Christmas. Either that or he was desperate to get this gin-soaked woman out of his cab.
Would we go again. You betcha! I have to say we had an absolutely belting night. Very slick, very professional but with a genuine warmth. The cost at £95 per head may on the face of it sound a bit dear but, you get three hours of fun and education, you learn a new skill and drink quite a lot of gin whilst you are doing it. Let’s not forget, you also get your very own 70cl bottle, made to you own unique recipe, to take home with you. If you think about it a bottle of Manchester Three Rivers usually retails around the £35/40 mark, so with everything else that you get as well, it is excellent value. I can guarantee if you bought someone this as a gift, they would think you were the most wonderful human on the planet.
We were guests of Manchester Three Rivers but as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.