By Sophie Elisabeth
‘When life hands you lemons, crack open the gin,’ that’s how the old saying goes, right? As we all know, gin’s recent revolution is still in full swing and doesn’t seem to be slowing down; last year for the first time it’s sales surpassed £1 billion in the UK alone and craft distilleries are still, to our delight, on the rise.
The use of artisan techniques and marketing local ingredients have no-doubt fuelled the boom - but it’s not just small-scale craft gins who have an interesting story to tell. When invited to Greenall’s distillery in Cheshire, I learnt how their 255-year-in-the-making gin is Britain’s oldest. Created by Thomas Dakin in 1761, its original recipe is now looked after by Master Distiller Joanne Moore - one of the few female gin masters in the world.
Joanne took us on a gin-journey; of the new distillery to learn how they make this much-loved spirit including a newly design bottle, and of the flavours behind their botanical mix, celebrated by a three-course gin paired lunch.
From Botanicals to Bottling
As you walk into the distillery - the smell instantly hits you. A mild yet potent aroma of alcohol lingers in the air, and you can’t help but feel a little happier for being there. The process is complex, and I may have been a little giddy from the fumes as Joanne took us through it step by step. Greenall’s still use the original recipe with the same eight botanicals and traditional copper stills. They use local, clean water which adds to the unique flavour and is key to the distilling process to ensure the delicate botanicals aren’t charred. As the spirit boils with the botanicals and water inside the giant stills - the flavour is born. They can produce 9,000 litres of gin from these two copper stills, which is roughly about as much as my family and I consume in a year. Fantastic! Their eight botanicals include juniper berries (what makes gin, gin!), coriander seeds (for spice and lemony notes) and angelica root (for a dry and earthy edge). They also use lemon peel and almonds from Spain, orris root from Italy and licorice and cassia from China to bring all the flavours together.
Having whiffed our way through what makes Greenall’s, it was time to see the new bottle and production process. I must say, it was impressive. They can produce 400 bottles in a minute and the whole process from empty bottle to gin-perfection takes just 5-7 minutes. The operation is run by technical machinery, plus a team of 4-5 people to ensure things run smoothly; including a team leader, engineer and quality assurance checkers. Their ‘people plus technology’ approach seems to work and flow effortlessly, but the guys work under some extremely noisy conditions so earplugs are essential! Their unused packaging is all recycled, and if they need to add any promotional tags to bottles - they do this the old-fashioned way: by hand!
Dining in the Distillery
As a big foodie, this was obviously the part I was looking forward to most. The gin whiffing, swirling and sipping had got me hungry so I was ready for whatever they had in store for us at the gin-paired lunch (or so I thought!) The first big surprise of the afternoon was that we were actually dining in the distillery. The very place that just moments before we were sniffing and tasting raw botanical ingredients, had swiftly been transformed into a diner's delight.
But up next was the food, and first, a talk to guide us through the pairings. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a very familiar chef at the end of the table, preparing to introduce himself and presumably his menu. It was no other than Aiden Byrne - Michelin starred head chef of Manchester House and star of The Great British Menu. It turns out that Peter Greenall once owned The Church Green - Aiden’s top-notch gastro pub in Lymm and so his connection with the gin has long since been apparent. Aiden and his pastry chef prepared a five-star quality feast - all from a burger van outside the distillery! How they managed to pull it off, I have no idea, but here’s the menu and gin-pairings we were treated to:
Starter - Dorset Crab with Radish and Grapefruit
Starter - Dorset Crab with radish and grapefruit This was a light, summery dish that was so easy to eat with the classic g&t. The crabs’ light, delicate flavours matched perfectly with the sweet citrus of the grapefruit. Paired with a classic Greenall’s and Fever Tree tonic and lime garnish, they complimented each other so well.
Main - Roast Duck with Plum, Beetroot and Berries
The rich duck had been immersed in the gin liquor and berries including juniper berries, cherries and plums. It was cooked on a BBQ to caramalise the flavours and crisp up the skin and coated in a light, rich jus which had subtle hints of coriander spices and even licorice. This was such an Autumnal dish and the martini lifted it right into summery spirits and cut through the richness perfectly. Paired with – Greenall’s and vermouth martini, lime peel garnish.
Dessert - Flora Dora Sweet ‘Cannelloni’
I’m not usually so impressed by desserts, but oh my, this was a showstopper! First, the team had created the ‘Flora Dora’ cocktail using Greenall’s Wild Berry edition, then Aiden’s pastry chef infused the cocktail into the pud. Flora Dora was also infused in the little pink droplets you see in-and-around the ‘cannelloni’; which was filled with ginger mousse to cut through the explosions of tart and sweet berry flavours this dish had to offer. Simply paired with - a shot of Greenall’s Wild Berry gin. Berrylicious.
Shaking Things Up; A Unique Celebration
From meeting the master distiller, to dining in the distillery itself to pairing this fantastic gin with some of the most delicate flavours I’ve ever eaten - this was a truly unique experience. I admire Joanne and the whole team at Greenall’s for producing a craft gin on a global scale, which is sold in over 6,500 stores across 140 countries. The new bottle really shakes things into the 21st Century and aligns Greenall’s with craft gins across the country, not to mention its larger scale counterparts. It was an honour to be in the presence of two experts together: Joanne and Aiden really showcased how well gin works as a pairing with food, and I’ll certainly be drinking ever more gin at home as a result!
If you’re in the mood for summer and want the Flora Dora cocktail recipe head over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SophiesScran) so you can give it a go at home this weekend!