By Jo Cooksey
Katie in the office is getting married and although she had already had her main hen do, Julie and I decided she should have an office one too. But what to do? We didn’t want to do anything tacky or that involved young men with six packs and barely any clothes. Well, not that day anyway. We wanted something on a weekend afternoon that would be quite genteel and grown up.
We considered afternoon tea somewhere swish but we’ve done that to death. Perhaps a meal at a lovely venue in town but we’ve done that too. Then I had a light bulb moment and emailed the girls with a single question, ‘Do you like gin?
In 2014 award winning, ex-bartender, Leon Dalloway, came up with the idea of running gin focused events in London, including the Gin Journey®. An evening or afternoon tour taking in some of the best gin emporiums and sampling some of the best gins. As gin is enjoying a renaissance at the moment the concept quickly took off and now you can join a Gin Journey in Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh, as well as the capital.
For £60 a head in Manchester you get chauffeured between the five venues on your tour in a rather nice Mercedes minibus. At each location you are given a sample of craft gin to taste whist your Gin Guardian tells you about its history and tasting notes. Then you get a cocktail specially created by each bar for the tour. The Gin Journey also ‘promise’ no hangover but only if you stick to the Gin Guardians special prescription
So we booked our places and waited for the email that would detail our journey around town. We were to meet at Hawksmoor on Deansgate at 1.45pm a few weeks hence. On the day we decided to go for food first to line our stomachs. You can eat on the journey too but it isn’t included in the price. We met at Crazy Pedro’s, one of my favourite casual food and drink places in Manchester, for pizza slices and a wee livener. I know, I know, we were mixing it up and we hadn’t even started the Gin Journey yet.
We pitched up at Hawksmoor and were met by our Gin Guardian, the rather lovely and very tall, Joni, (he’s an actor don’t you know). After the introductions we grabbed a table and had a sneaky peek round at our fellow Gin Tourers. There were sixteen of us in total; the three of us, a couple who work in PR, a lively party from a care home organisation near Clitheroe and some ladies having a girlie afternoon out.
Our first sample was of Thomas Dakin Gin, which seemed fitting as this man is hailed as the forefather of British gin as we know it today. He is credited with taking the spirit from its rather sordid past and elevating it in to a more socially acceptable and genteel tipple. Dakin began distilling in Warrington in 1761 and utilised the canal system to distribute his product to a much wider audience. In the 1860’s the Greenall family became custodians of Thomas’s original recipe, still distilling it in small batches to this day.
This classic, traditional gin is made with botanicals that include orange zest, coriander, grapefruit, a Spice Islands pepper called cubebs, liquorice root, angelica (not the green stuff on trifles) and the eponymous juniper berries. Did you know that if gin doesn’t contain juniper then it can’t be called gin? The flavouring that makes Thomas Dakin gin unique is the use of red cole, which was the 18th century English name for horseradish, which was known for it’s ability to revive the weary. Don’t worry though, the effect is very subtle and frankly the citrus and liquorice are more at the fore than the red cole.
We were then served out first cocktail, a traditional and very refreshing G&T, made with the rather marvellous Fever Tree tonic and served with a grapefruit garnish. Fever Tree is the only tonic I will consider these days, especially the Elderflower flavour. Sorry Schweppes. Then it was off on a short walk to the next bar, Home Sweet Home in Great Northern.
I’ve only ever been in the Home Sweet Home in the Northern Quarter so I didn’t realise how big this branch was. Plenty of room for a gin tour you would have thought but no, we were shown to a secret room that was accessed by pulling the front of a vending machine that was set into a wall upstairs. Very exciting!! It was a little snug inside the room but it meant we all started to talk to each other.
The gin on offer here was Martin Miller’s, a brand only a few years old and at the heart of the recent resurgence in popularity of this clear spirit. It is distilled in England in a single pot called Angela, in a very traditional and labour intensive way, with a lot of love, care and attention. Now here’s the Martin Miller twist, the distillation is then shipped to Iceland, yes Iceland, to be blended with water from Miller’s own spring. Icelandic water is amongst the most pure and unpolluted on the planet and it also boasts an unusual softness too.
The first distillation incorporates coriander seed, angelica, liquorice root, cassia bark, Florentine Iris and a small proportion of lime peel. The second distillation uses bitter orange peel from Seville and lemon and lime peel. This mix of ingredients give a complex flavour but it is doesn’t grab you by the throat and shake you. It is gentle on the palate and softly caresses your taste buds. This is a gin I could quite happily drink neat in the absence of any mixers.
Our cocktail here was a fruity, juicy, berry-licious Martin Miller’s Westbourne Super Blueberry Maple Flapjack Collins. Phew! That’s a long name but anyway it was made up of Martin Miller’s gin, maple syrup, hazelnut liqueur, lemon and blackberry and garnished with a square of flapjack. This is the sort of deceptive cocktail that is easy to drink and could end up getting you in to trouble. A little too sweet for me though.
So that’s two down and three to go. From Home Sweet Home we were directed on to the minibus and driven to Cottonopolis in the Northern Quarter. A small complaint here. As with the other venues we had reserved tables at which to enjoy our gin but here we were plonked right in front of a giant screen playing a Euro 2016 match. Cottonopolis is quite a capacious venue and I think they could have located us better.
That aside, they had kindly provided us with a couple of plates of sushi, which were very welcome by this point. Our next sample was of our very own Manchester Gin. Only launched in May this year, this small batch spirit has a distinctly Northern flavour from the use of dandelion and burdock in it’s botanicals. I really liked this gin, maybe due to supping gallons of D & B as a child.
However, the cocktail that Cottonopolis served had very Far Eastern flavours as befitting their general food and drink offering. Named a Manchester Gin Kurofune, it was a mix up of Manchester Gin, cucumber and shiso infused Soju (Jinro), blackberry and mirin shrub, lemon & gomme. Served long and cool with a shiso granita garnish. No, I wasn’t sure what a lot of these ingredients were either but if you Google them they are easy to find and trust me it was delicious.
Now at this point things were starting to get a little hazy but Jono gathered us up and herded us down to our penultimate stop, Tariff and Dale. Our gin star here was Sipsmith, billed as the quintessential expression of a classic, traditional London Dry Gin. Bold, complex and aromatic – smooth enough for a Martini, but rich and balanced, perfect for a G&T
The Tariff and Dale/Sipsmith cocktail contained two of my favourite ingredients; rhubarb and ginger and was served in a very tall class to accommodate the stick of rhubarb garnish. Our Rhubarb and Ginger Collins was made up thus; Sipsmith gin, rhubarb syrup, lime, ginger puree, rhubarb bitters, soda and garnished with a rhubarb stick garnish. Very refreshing.
Our very, merry band of Gin Tourers danced, yes literally, towards the final gin palace of the day, The Whiskey Jar. Squeal of brakes. The WHISKEY JAR!! But we were on a GIN Journey!! Even so, I have to confess that Scotch whisky is my usual tipple. Ssshhh, don’t tell Jono. But never fear dear reader, all was not lost. Although a purveyor of many fine whiskies from around the globe, The Whiskey Jar also serves up a rather marvelous G & T. They combine Plymouth Sloe Gin, apricot liqueur, peach bitters and tonic in a glass rinsed with a smoked whisky, (see what they did there) and garnished with squeezed lime. I think it was very nice but frankly at this point if you had given me a gallon of engine oil to drink I think I would have enjoyed it. Don’t try that at home people.
So that was our Gin Journey done and a jolly good time was had by all. We all agreed that it was a great way to enjoy an afternoon in Manchester and that it was good value for money. It’s the sort of thing you can do with one or two friends or a whole group of you, for a special occasion or for no other reason than it is fun.
Now you’re probably wondering how we felt the next day. We didn’t stick to the prescribed gin prescription but the next day Julie had leapt out of bed at some ungodly hour and got stuck into her housework. Katie and I were a little delicate but nothing a bacon butty and a couple of paracetamols couldn’t sort out. So all in all a good result.