Unusually, a contribution from Mrs Ahab:
So much fun should probably be illegal!
Just spent a fabulous evening at one of the Cellar Door's Gin Masterclasses, based in their shop / tasting room in Clarence Road, Four Oaks, just north of Sutton Coldfield. Simon hosted and welcomed us with a large G&T with dried hibiscus added which gave a delightfully intensifying pink colour with a hint of flavour. While we enjoyed these drinks he gave a short talk about gin, it's origins, it's manufacture and it's current state of popularity. We passed round botanicals, listened to descriptions of Hogarth's 'Gin Lane', learnt of the origin of 'Dutch courage' and nodded wisely while Simon narrated some of gin's colourful history.
Before we got seriously into the gin, we began with tasting tonic waters. Comparing Schwepps with 1724 was a revelation - I cannot imagine going back to cheap tonic full of aspartame and sugar (yup, both, check the labels). And then the main event arrived - the gins! We each had a menu of the gins we would be tasting and gradually worked our way down a list of about 6, beginning at the cheaper end and working up in both quality & price. However, it was interesting to see how people's tastes varied. Inevitably, the most expensive was simply exquisite, but that said, I also particularly favoured the cheapest alternative. Each gin was carefully described by Simon and he advised how best to taste it, to serve it and in some instances what cocktails to mix with it. As a small break in the proceedings Simon expertly mixed a Gimlet for us and gave out recipes for other cocktails too. Many of the gins were sent round with botanicals to add, each depending on the predominate flavours. For one it would be rose petals, another liquorice root and still another apple slices.
At the end of the evening we had the opportunity to taste yet more gins by buying G&Ts - this time in large measures and beautifully presented too. I chose an Elderflower Gin while the Captain stuck to Monkey 47. And of course, we were able to buy bottles of any gin we fancied. This was not compulsory but rather something we delighted in doing at the end of a fascinating evening.
All in all, I can thoroughly recommend this event - well worth the time :)
As I write this the following morning there is an inexplicable dull ache in my head, but I havn't figured out its origins yet.
As with beer festivals, careful notes were taken as drinks were sampled, but after six or so they all started to blur together. No matter, Helen has her notes, doesn't she. Oh dear - apparently not as they were left on the table as we departed ;-(. Back to square one.
On a technical note I was fascinated to learn that Gin starts out as a clear and flavourless alcohol (vodka) and the only criteria which defines it is as Gin is "predominant flavouring with Juniper". What you add beyond the Juniper is entirely to taste which opens the door to endless interpretation and experimentation.
The other technical point which interested me was that the "Dry" bit of Gin relates to when the flavourings are added. If you add them to the alcohol before distillation its "dry" and if they are added after its not.
As a bit of a brewer these things interest me..... Now where do we keep the paracetamol in our new house....?