Rare Bird, founded in 2017 by former firefighter Matt Stewart, is a working distillery, shop, bar and North Yorkshire’s first gin school where you can craft your very own unique gin.
Nestled in a former stable block in Malton’s Talbot Yard, at the heart of Rare Bird sits Florence, the authentic 300l copper still designed by Matt and inspired by the Duomo in Florence, where he creates each batch of craft gin.
The flagship spirit is the well-balanced and crisp London Dry Gin, distilled with 11 different botanicals, including green pepper, hibiscus, rosemary and citrus, perfect with tonic and a slice of blood orange or pink grapefruit to make it zing.
Rare Bird’s second venture, the Rhubarb and Ginger Gin, packs a powerful punch of flavour with the warmth of ginger at the end; as it’s not made with sugar, drinkers can decide how sweet they’d like their drink (Matt recommends a Mediterranean tonic with a slice of orange for a super-smooth sip with a sweet aftertaste).
And now fans can have a go at making their perfect tipple at the gin school above the distillery, home to eight mini-stills which are perfect for experimenting with a range of flavours.
“Our gin school sessions last for about two-and-a-half hours: people come and enjoy a gin and tonic while I talk to them about the process, then we head upstairs to explore the tables full of botanicals,” explains Matt, a firefighter in York for 30 years who set up Rare Bird when he retired.
“It’s up to guests to select their ingredients – I’m there to guide them, depending on whether they want citrus notes, a more floral taste, or a spiced flavour, but really we want to allow people to curate their own blend. Everyone goes home with a 70cl bottle of gin which is completely matched to their specific tastes.”
New figures from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs show the number of distilleries in England has overtaken those registered in Scotland for the first time. In 2018 the UK recorded a total of 361 distilleries: 166 are in England compared to 160 distilleries north of the border.
According to the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, this 'ginaissance' meant gin sales in the UK hit an all-time high last year with a massive boost in gin sales over the summer, taking the total UK sales value to more than £1.9bn. Over 66 million bottles of gin were sold in the UK in 12 months, up 41 per cent on the same period last year.
For Matt, a long-time lover of gin, the timing was perfect for establishing a truly craft gin brand. “In our first year, we were pleasantly surprised with how it went… we got some great reviews and some really good pubs started stocking Rare Bird,” he says.
He’s delighted that others can share the experience at the distillery, which he describes as having ‘an open door to everyone’.
“We have people ranging from their 20s to their 80s booked in, as well as lots of returning customers, and people are coming from all over – I’ve even sent tickets off to France recently,” he adds. “It’s a great way for people to learn a new skill and I really enjoy them feeling part of the business and seeing behind the scenes.”
For more information and to book your own gin school session, see Rare Bird Distillery for details.