While I have been on dozens of distillery, winery and brewery tours, I have never actually made an alcoholic beverage. For someone who had consumed so many, I felt like it was time to give back and produce some of my own. I had heard about such opportunities in London and with a little research, found the City of London Distillery (COLD), where it is possible to make your own gin.
Who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon drinking a few gin and tonics while making your own bottle to take home?
The Gin Lab Experience at COLD begins with a quick background look at the history of the gin, covering its origin in Holland as a medicine. After the Thirty Years’ War (during which British soldiers developed a taste for the “Dutch courage” as they called it), hundreds of distilleries popped up all over London, and a vast concentration were in the square mile that is now the City of London.
That is what makes the experience at COLD so special: it is now the only gin distillery still operating in the City of London, preserving the gin tradition.
After the history lesson, I picked the ingredients for my gin. The three standard ingredients are juniper, coriander seeds and angelica root, but there are literally dozens of other botanicals available to include in the mix. COLD uses only the raw ingredients, not relying on essential oils or chemicals for flavoring like other distilleries, which mean that I was able to actually taste both elderflower and elderberry to see if I wanted any in my personal gin.
The folks at COLD provide digital scales and advice on what ingredients mix and match together well. Everything is weighted our to the exact gram and recorded on a recipe card. My gin included the three base ingredients, plus rowanberry, cinnamon bark, elderflower, cardamon and sweet orange peel.
Now, it’s time to make the gin!
In the aptly named Gin Lab, the distillation process begins. COLD produces neutral grain spirit on their large, custom equipment that forms the base of the gin. The spirit is added to miniature copper pot stills, along with the individually concocted recipe of roots, herbs and spices.
This is the best kind of chemistry experiment: one that produces a tasty beverage!
The basic idea for distillation of gin is that the spirit, along with the flavoring, is heated in the mini pot stills. The vapor released from the alcohol goes to the top of pot still and is carried over to the coil of piping that is sitting in cold water. The cold pipes condense the vapor, turning it back into a liquid. What comes out is gin. That kids, is how liquor is made!
Once enough of the gin has been collected, water is added to bring the alcohol content down to around 40% (which is standard for most spirits) and bottled in one of COLD’s neat glass bottles.
The personalized bottle gets its own label. I bypassed the standard templates for pictures, and found an image on Google that worked for my bottle.The last step is the sealing of the bottle with wax, which requires a quick dip and twist in the vat of warm, red wax.
After a few hours spent at COLD, I now had my bottle of Sea Monster Gin in my hands!
To conclude the day, the leftover gin that doesn’t fit in the packaged bottles gets used for a gin and tonic to be enjoyed at the bar. The staff at COLD is fantastic and hyper knowledgeable about gin. They also offer basic distillery tours, but clearly, the full Gin Lab Experience is the way to go.
I traveled with my Sea Monster Gin all the way from my home of London to Denver, Colorado, to share a cocktail with my father for his 70th birthday.