Upon booking a long weekend in Edinburgh, I immediately researched a gin distillery to visit on the trip. I quickly discovered that Pickering’s have the first exclusively gin producing distillery in Edinburgh in over 150 years and immediately booked our tickets for just after we landed!
Pickering’s Gin is produced at the Summerhall Distillery, which used to be the Royal Dick Veterinary School. Converted into an arts venue there are a range of productions to watch, including the fringe, and The Royal Dick bar tucked away in the centre where the tour begins with a full sized G&T before heading off to the distillery! Perfect!
Carrying our drinks in hand we followed our fantastic guide to the small, but perfectly designed, distillery. Founded in 2013, owners Marcus Pickering & Matthew Gammel, were involved in the restoration and conversion project at Summerhall when they realised the kennel areas would actually provide the ideal location for a small distillery. The copper stills, Emily & Gertrude, are now situated in what used to be the the cat kennels, whilst the bottling happens in the dog kennels! They have even re-purposed the cages to store materials now.
The tour started with an interesting lesson on the history of Gin and how we have reached the ‘Ginaissance’ we are currently very lucky to be enjoying! This all started in 2009 when Sipsmith Gin won a legal battle with HMRC to allow distilling in smaller sizes stills and the craft gin revolution was born! I’m not going to detail everything here, (that would spoil the tour!), but I will tell you one of my favourite discoveries.
Why do we have Navy Strength Gin? Well I know the navy like a drink, but I learnt on the tour the name is connected to the higher ABV. Sailors discovered that if the gunpowder and gin crates on-board collided on a turbulent journey the gunpowder was ruined, however if you increase the strength the gunpowder would still ignite!
It was also fascinating to learn about the history of how Pickering’s Gin was born and how they were gifted their recipe. The recipe is handwritten on a fragment of paper, dated 17 July 1947 from Bombay, India. Now, you would think this valuable recipe would be under lock and key, but in fact they proudly display it for everyone to see! (You can’t make your own gin from this recipe though as some crucial ratios are missing)
The famous Pickering’s Peacock was chosen as a nod to the old Veterinary Clinic and also it is the national bird of India as a nod to the recipes origins. The recipe is fairly spiced, so Marcus & Matthew chose to modernise it with Angelica Root to produce the gin. This is the gin used in your full drink and is extremely smooth and full of flavour.
Our guide detailed the process of distilling a batch, taking us through the stages of passing the heads, hearts and tails through the stills. Which led nicely to our tasting session!
Pickering’s produce three main styles of gin from their Bombay recipe. All of these are provided as samples on the tour, so you can decide on your favourite. They recommend that you always sample a gin neat firstly, to get the true flavour and then you can add tonics and accompaniments to enhance their botanicals.
The first sample is the Pickering’s Gin from your original drink and pairs well with grapefruit. Secondly, we sampled the Navy Strength Gin – best served with lime. This is bottled at 57.1% and does make your lips tingle! It is still very smooth, as it is the same as the standard gin just finished to a different strength.
Finally we sampled the Pickering’s Original 1947 gin, which is made precisely to the original Bombay recipe they received. This has a distinctly spicy kick due to the inclusion of the cinnamon which was replaced by Angelica root in the standard batches. It works great with orange or ginger ale for a real winter warmer. This was a new discovery for me and I think it would be a great option if you are looking for a spiced gin for your collection.
There is a beautiful small shop at the distillery where you can purchase all of the Gins they produce, the three staples and their special varieties to take away. They do ship in case, like me you only have hand luggage allowances!
The last part of the tour was having a peek in the bottling area, where they use specially built machine to label their beautiful bottles. They also cork their bottles (who doesn’t love that brilliant pop!) and then seal them with wax. Each style has a distinctive wax colour and also the Navy Strength gin comes with an adorable bearskin hat!
The tour was a fantastic start to my weekend exploring Edinburgh and is something I would recommend to anyone who want to know more about gin and witness a fully functioning distillery, whilst sampling their fantastic tipples!
Cost: £10 per person – booking is necessary and I’d advise to book far in advance.
Time: approximately 1.5-2 hours.
Date: April 2018