This summer I have totally embraced water activities. I have been canoeing, SUP’ing, on boat trips and of course developed an obsession for cold water swimming. The health benefits of water are not a new phenomenon at Peebles Hydro. Visitors have been flocking to the pretty town in the Scottish Borders for some hydrotherapy since 1881. Now, in 2019 there is a brand new reason, so we went to see what it was all about at the all new gin school experience at 1881 Distillery.
The same fresh spring water that flows downhill to the hydro now has another purpose. To make gin.
I kid you not, when I mentioned to a neighbour about the gin school using the spring water she thought I meant water was being recycled from treatments. It’s definitely NOT. Can you imagine?
There is another deeper link to the water here and that’s because the distillery and gin school are in, what used to be, the swimming pool. That was a long time ago and it has had several purposes since, including being a café.
Now, this large open space is home to 1881 Distillery. With the beautiful copper still catching our eyes as soon as we walked through the door. Then the bar at one end and the best looking class room I have ever been into.
All 26 copper stills lined up along the benches, and sparkling brightly under the lights. It was a beautiful sight. Along the walls were large bookcases with rows and rows of jars containing the botanicals we would be using to make our gin.
Gin School experience
We were welcomed by Laura, one of the distillers and made to feel at home straight away with a glass of 1881 gin and tonic. Once our fellow classmates had arrived Laura told us about the history of the Peebles Hydro and how the distillery came to be.
Then we were introduced to Felicity. A gorgeous red head from Germany. Felicity is the copper still used to make the gin here and given her name by the distillery manager, it’s apparently a tradition for good luck. Laura talked us through the distilling process and all the botanicals used to make the unique taste of 1881 gin.
Over at our work stations we each had a workbook, a recipe card, weighing scales, a funnel, a beaker and bottle for later.
With the juniper already measured out for us all we had to do was decided on which botanicals to use and how much of each. I prefer a more floral and sweet gin compared to Dude who likes his with a bit of a spicy bite.
Using our notebooks for reference each of us went our separate ways at the shelves in search of our perfect mix of ingredients. I have to say it’s difficult to imagine the end result when you are sniffing at jars. Taking Laura’s advice not to choose anymore than 12 jars, I had seven ingredients and Dude chose six (both including the juniper). Now all we had to do was decide on measurements. What did we want as our lead flavour?
I chose: Pomegranite peel, elderberry, rosehips, cassia bark, dried sloe berries and lemon peel.
Dude chose: allspice berries, kaffir lime leaves, cumin and grapefruit peel.
So we knew we would be getting two totally unique tipples, made to our own taste. Fingers crossed they would come out drinkable!
Now for the magic to happen. We emptied out the mixture of weighed botanicals into the copper still with the base spirit and waited for things to heat up. This made time for another drink and it would have been rude for me not to try out the Pavillion Pink gin. I momentarily felt bad for Dude as he was driving, but then I remembered all the times that I have driven after us doing whisky tours. It wouldn’t hurt him.
Turns out our classmates had made the most of the distillery being a part of a hotel and also booked a room for the night. Genius! As we chatted in class, we learnt that we had similar taste in gin and us girls had chosen to make something sweeter, whilst the boys opted for warm and spicy.
The excitement stepped up a level as the clear liquid began dripping in to the beakers. We had made gin. The first drops taste fierce, just more alcohol than anything. As the process continues you taste the various flavours coming through and more of the end product.
To complete our own bottling, Laura gave us labels to design, colour and write the name of our creation. Also on the label was a space to write the ingredients too. What a fabulous idea.
With the distillation now complete it was time to fill our bottles with the spirit and then add more of the famous spring water to make it drinkable. Corked and now ready for the final bottling step, the label. Doing it freehand is more difficult than it seems and all the bottles came out with slightly wonky labelling. It’s the content that counts though, right?
We were invited back to the bar to sample our creations but I chose to wait until we were back home so we could do it together. The other couple got stuck straight into theirs and toasted their success.
The wonderful thing about this gin school experience at 1881 distillery is that you can buy your gin over and over again. Made to the exact same measurements. Or if you fancy changing one element, maybe increasing on flavour, then that can be done too. Perfect for topping up or maybe you want to give it to someone as a present. I think this is a brilliant idea. So, the recipe cards that we had filled in will be kept on file (or you can opt out of this) and used when we want to order more, all for the same cost as a 70cl bottle of 1881 gin.
We thoroughly enjoyed our three hour experience. It felt almost like having a private tutor with such a small class but would be perfect for a group day out, work Christmas party, or maybe a family or friends present to one another. You get to spend time together (the most important present) and have something to share afterwards. Every time you take a sip of your gin it will remind you of how much fun you had with loved ones.
You shouldn’t need an excuse to visit the Scottish Borders, but if you do, this could be one of them.
** We were invited to 1881 Distillery on a complimentary basis in return for this blog post. All views and choices of botanicals are entirely my own.