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Visit the Yorkshire distillery where you can make your own gin

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Today is World Gin Day and Yorkshire’s love affair with gin shows no sign of abating – in fact we are now being encouraged to make our own. Catherine Scott reports

For those cynics who thought the gin bubble would burst, you may have to swallow your words.

A new Yorkshire gin seems to pop up on a monthly basis, some distilled here, others taking on the name but distilled elsewhere.

And it seems that people are no longer just content to drink their favourite tipple, they want to make it too.

The gin school is the latest craze and it is hitting Yorkshire hard.

The husband and wife team behind Spirit of Masham Gin have just opened a gin school above their distillery on a business park in the shadow of the Black Sheep Brewery.

A business park might sound like an unlikely place to have a high-end gin experience, but once you enter the converted office space you are transported to a world of all things gin.

A dozen shiny miniature copper stills await in a bar area that would not look out of place in a plush city centre nightspot.

“We ordered the miniature stills when we had the big one made for the distillery downstairs, just in case,” explains Derek Harle, who with wife Carol owns Corks and Cases (corksandcases.com) wine shop in Masham, which they bought after both working for Northern Foods for many years. They actually got into gin quite by accident – it all began with tea.

“When we were visiting family in Australia in 2014 they introduced us to Masala Chai tea. We had never come across it before but were soon won over.” Harle saw an opportunity and decided to introduce it into the UK.

After a lot of experimenting, which involved trying 30 different honeys, they struggled to replicate the delicious tea they had experienced, until they added eucalyptus honey from Australia.

“It made all the difference.” But it was while chatting to a gin distiller who was advising Masons Gin that the seeds for the Spirit of Masham were sown.

“Master distiller Gerard Macluskey called into our shop and tried the Masala Chai and loved it. He then came up with the concept of making a gin using it,” explains Harle. “It was all very exciting and when we tasted the first sample of our gin we were blown away with the result.

“Gradually the development progressed and other ingredients were added, including the addition of hops that are used by both Masham breweries.” That was a year ago and after initially distilling at Masons, they invested in their own stills – ‘Big Stan’ and ‘Little Stan’ – and created their own bonded distillery to allow them to keep up with demand. With the help of their head distiller, Jake Jones, last month they launched the Spirit of Masham Gin experience.

“I think people want more than just sitting in a bar having a drink these days, they want an experience. We give them a tour of the distillery, history of gin and the Spirit of Masham and then the opportunity to try it, of course, and then to make their own gin. If they like what they have made they can get repeat orders as they write down what ingredients they have chosen and in what quantities.”

Visitors are greeted with an enticing wall full of 100 kilner jars which contain the array of botanicals that go into making their own unique gin. The three-hour experience costs £95 including the bespoke bottle, three gin-based drinks and distillery tour.

Across in Malton, Rare Bird distillery (www.rarebirddistillery.co.uk) has been running a gin school since opeing in Talbot Yard nearly a year ago. Owners, Matt and Elizabeth Stewart are passionate foodies and enjoy the food culture of Italy and France. They saw now reason why that same Mediterranean passion for food and drink couldn’t be brought home to Yorkshire too.

Gin was their thing and, after two painstaking years of practising on a mini trial still at home, Stewart finally came across the perfect recipe for his gin. Although the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, it does contain juniper, coriander seed, lemon, orange, cassia bark (similar to cinnamon), cardamom, green peppercorns, rosemary and hibiscus flower.

“Mediterranean inspired, Yorkshire at heart,” says Stewart. And it is all encased in a distinctive blue bottle that makes Rare Bird stand out from the crowd and live up to its name.

Their gin school is on the first floor above the distillery, where their copper still named ‘Florence’ takes pride of place.

Not to be left out, over in Hull, recently launched Hotham’s Gin is planning to open a gin school in Hepworth Arcade in July.

Founders Emma Kinton and Simon Pownell met over a G&T in January 2017. Their shared love of gin inspired their first date at a gin school in the Midlands, where they were inspired to think about developing their own gin recipe.

“Simon suffers a lot of allergies and, as a result, can only drink champagne and gin,” explains teacher Kinton. “So we thought we’d learn how to make our own gin.”

After a year of learning about the gin making process, and experimenting with recipes, they are now launching a micro-distillery, Hotham’s Handcrafted Gin and Hotham’s Cardamom Gin, and a Gin School.

“We had the idea of making bespoke gins for people’s wedding favours and then we thought, if you were getting couples over to make their own gin, then why not open it to the wider public? It has taken a lot of paperwork and licenses but we are getting there,” says Emma, who is giving up teaching at the end of the academic year to concentrate on the distillery and gin school which will have nine mini stills. (www.hothams.co.uk)

“We both love living in Hull and are really proud to be part of the fantastic culture here.

“We’re seeing a big gin boom at the moment, with discerning drinkers showing interest in smaller producers and hand-crafted spirits.

“We can’t wait to welcome guests to our Gin School and Distillery, to share our passion for creating gin, and to see others enjoy the gins that we have created.”

In Harrogate, Slingsby Gin has had a gin experience running for a number of years whereby visitors learn the history of gin, get to taste plenty (there are 150 on offer) and make their own gin- based cocktail. But recognising that people want to be more hands-on, the people behind the Spirit of Harrogate are introducing a gin school later this year, where visitors can also make their own gin in mini copper stills to take away with them.

“We have been working on this for over a year,” says Marcus Black, joint managing director of the Spirit of Harrogate.

“Gin is still a growing market, but like in other areas of retail, people want to personalise their experience and that is what we are going to be offering.”

And it seems that our thirst for gin is now making it it big business.

Harrogate Tipple – the people behind Premium Harrogate Gin – are in the process of not only setting up home on the Ripley Castle Estate they have plans to open a gin school there too.

“You can pick your own botanicals from the vast and well-stocked gardens, as well as from the beautiful Victorian hothouses. You’ll then create your own recipe and take home a personalised bottle of gin,” says founder says Steve Green who founded the business with wife Sally after they relocated to Harrogate from London.

So can just anyone make gin?

Not so, says Derek Harle, who is quick to point out that it is illegal to set up a distillery in your own garage.

“We have people come into the shop and say ‘we make our own gin you know.’ I explain to them that they are breaking the law, but they seem to think because it if for their own consumption or to give to friends it is okay, it isn’t.”

So if you do want to make your own gin you are better off heading down to one of Yorkshire’s growing number of gin schools and keeping within the law.