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Wirral Gin School has started holding classes seven days a week within Brimstage Distillery in Brimstage Hall Courtyard.
The school is run by owner Eric Healing, who opened the distillery in November 2019. He already jointly owns The Handmade Gin Company, which produces Wirral Gin, but was keen to focus on small batch production too.
“I decided I wanted to do something a bit more boutique so I set up this distillery and we make between 50 and 100 bottles a week which are sold locally and through our website,” he explains.
“Brimstage is a really nice picturesque village and we’re in the craft centre courtyard with lots of other makers and small businesses, so people come here for an experience – that’s why it was always our intention to run the school alongside our own gin production.”
That plan was initially side-lined by Covid, but when restrictions were eased Eric was able to welcome his first amateur gin distillers at last.
He says fans have jumped at the chance to make their own and have fun with mates going through the process together.
“We make all our gin in small copper stills, using a traditional method that goes back hundreds of years, and we have all the botanicals here so every gin we make when someone comes to visit us is unique.”
Anyone enrolling on a gin class gets to choose from four different styles for their own bottle – citrus, spice, floral or traditional.
“When people arrive, we have the still set up, we talk them through the gin-making process and then they select some botanicals like juniper, coriander, cardamom, dandelion and burdock, and different types of pepper and spices and citruses.
“They physically have them in their hands so they can rub them in their fingers and smell them, although people do tend to be familiar with most botanicals anyway.”
Once the gin pupils have decided on their style, they’re talked through flavour profiles and given tips about what goes with what and which combinations are better avoided.
“Occasionally some people will go overboard with star anise and we always warn them that if you put too much in it’ll taste like Pernod rather than gin,” says Eric. “Some decide to still go ahead but it’s very rare, usually we steer them quite well!”
The botanicals are loaded into the still with some alcohol, boiled, the steam is collected, then it’s cooled and distilled and a bottle made for people to take home with them.
The whole session takes around 90 minutes: the first 30 minutes is making the gin recipe and learning about that, then another 30 minutes is the distillation process.
“There’s lots to do during that part so it’s a very active process to get involved in,” adds Eric.
Once the personalised label has been created, the final stage is to use a hydrometer to measure the alcohol level before sampling the gin with a measure of tonic.
“That’s when we give them some idea whether it’s a winner or not,” says Eric, “and we’ve had some amazing gins come out. We’ve had a few people who’ve been distilling for a while to a different method who have come here and learned how we do it and gone away with some tips and some great gins.
“Everyone goes away with a recipe card and if they stumble across an amazing gin that they make while they’re here then they can come back and redo it because we record every step as we make their gin with them.
“And as distillers ourselves, we learn something new from every single bottle that’s made. We have 20 different recipes and although we wouldn’t completely copy someone’s, that wouldn’t feel right, when we taste them if we think there are ideas in there then we take them to our next distillation. The gin school process actually helps us explore the different combinations you can have.”
After so many months of lockdown, Eric says people really appreciate the chance to get out and do something a bit different.
“It’s a 70cl bottle so people can invite friends to a few garden parties for a little taste, show off what they’ve made, and that way the fun lasts.”
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