Gin. An alcohol that St Andrews has been synonymous with since Eden Mill began distilling their own batches just outside of the town in 2014. What first began as a factory for small batch beer soon became one of the most well known craft gin distilleries in Scotland.
I discovered just how complex and versatile the juniper berry flavoured spirit can be when I had the pleasure of being invited to a special press day at Eden Mill’s Blendworks workshop.
At first, going in to the workshop, I had my hesitations. The class normally retails for £95 per person, a steep price which makes the afternoon class inaccessible to the average student.
However, one of the reasons for this press workshop was to announce that Eden Mill is now offering a new price. Instead of £95 per person, they are also offering a flat rate of £360 for a group. Aimed at society events, birthdays, hen-do’s, or any other group celebration, the new pricing makes the class much more accessible. If you gathered 12 friends or society members, the price now equates to £30 pounds per person.
When walking in to the 2pm workshop, you are met with the scent of berries, dried herbs, and botanicals. All participants are seated at a long table in the middle of the room. Our host, Andrew, began the workshop by offering each participant a complementary gin and tonic as he explained to us the long and fascinating history of gin making, as well as the history of the Eden Mill distillery which only dates back to 2012.
I have enjoyed gin and tonics for years, however embarrassingly knew nothing about the alcohol’s history or even how it’s made.
We learned that gin was highly regulated for years after the gin act was passed in 1751 because the British government was concerned about the mass consumption of the alcohol which at the time was very inexpensive and widely accessible. This ‘epidemic’ of gin consumption can also be seen depicted in many famous artworks throughout history, such as the print titled Gin Lane by artist William Hogarth. After passing the gin act, it became extremely difficult to obtain a gin making license. This explains why there are a handful of very well known gin brands. Small batch gin making didn’t boom until 2009 when the act was appealed. Nowadays, craft distilleries can distil small batches of uniquely flavoured gin, with flavours ranging from classic juniper and citrus to even smoked paprika.
After we learned about the history of gin, it was time for us to taste some. Before we started mixing our own flavours, we first had to select a base gin. They offered four different gins for us to choose from: floral, sweet, citrus, and spice. Of course it was customary to carefully taste each in order to determine our favourite. I selected the spice based gin which was distilled with coriander, ginger root, liquorice root, black pepper, and cardamom. My second favourite was their floral gin which was distilled with coriander, dill weed, parsley, lovage, elderflower, and milk thistle seed.
Once we had selected our favourite base gin, it was time to create our own blend. With over 30 different dried fruits, spices, and herbs, everyone was able to create their perfect blend, unique to their taste. We learned that all spices and flavourings are added as dry ingredients so that the gin distiller can more accurately control the water and alcohol contents of the gin. Classic flavours were offered such as lemon, raspberry and grapefruit, as well as some more adventurous flavours like smoked paprika, bay leaf, and black peppercorn.
I chose to add ginger root, rosemary, rose petal, and lavender to my gin. Our head of business, Sasha added grapefruit and black peppercorns to her gin. After selecting our flavours we tasted the gin on its own and then again in a gin and tonic to ensure that the ratio of flavours were perfect. I chose to mix my gin with half ginger ale and half pink lemonade, which gave the drink a light refreshing flavour.
Once we had settled on our perfect ratio of flavours, our gin was ready to be bottled. We had to measure larger quantities of the ingredients, taste again, and pour in to our glass bottles. Afterwards we had to decide on a name for our gin. I opted for GIN-ger due as an homage to the ginger root that flavoured it as well a nod to my ginger hair colour. Sasha chose something a little more creative and called her gin ‘Ginifer Anniston’. Needless to say, we had tasted quite a few gins by this point in the class.
Your gin’s name is then printed on a label along with your unique flavour profile. In addition, each gin is given a specific batch number and logged in to Eden Mill’s system, so that you can reorder your gin in larger bottles. After the class concludes, the participants all receive 20% off of any Eden Mill products bought on the day, and are allowed to drink and stay at the workshop until 6pm.
Overall, the Blendworks workshop was an exciting, creative and educational experience which taught me a deeper appreciation for craft gin and the gin making process in general. The class gives you the opportunity to talk, drink, and create without feeling pressured or rushed. Designing a blend of complementary flavours is no easy feat, but at the end of the class you are left with stories, memories and a custom bottle of your ideal gin.