On Sunday 11th August, Mrs Raven and I visited the Rare Bird Distillery in Malton, North Yorkshire for a tour and to go to Gin School!
Rare Bird London Dry Gin
I have been looking for a gin making experience for a while, and as a master procrastinator had found some but not done anything about it. Then I started thinking a little more seriously about making my own gin, so the idea of getting to see how it’s done became a lot more relevant!
So, tickets booked, train times memorised, and dog-sitting arranged we set out for Malton! We decided on the early session since it was a school night and it would give us plenty of time to sober up before going to bed!
We had visited Malton briefly a year or so ago on our way back from the beach at Hunmanby Gap and immediately fell in love with it, so it was a pleasure to tie in a return visit with my favourite thing: gin! In fact we ended up adding in my other favourite thing: ice cream, as practically next door to the distillery is an amazing Gelato store!
The reception area where we enjoyed a G&T or two
We were the first to arrive and Matt, our host (and owner, master distiller, and general do-everything-er of Rare Bird) welcomed us with a G&T. This was actually my first taste of Rare Bird gin and my first thought was that it was absolutely delicious, so I knew our experience was going to be a good one!
Florence, the 300L still at the heart of Rare Bird
Once everyone else had arrived (there were 8 of us in total), Matt gave us a little history on the brand and how it came to be. An ex-fireman, Matt was able to retire and, deciding it was too early to stop working, ended up having a drink at the City of London Distillery when the idea of making gin came to him.
It was really great to hear the story of how he went from the raw idea to distilling his own gin, and with the decision to do it all himself, the process took around two years! Finally with the equipment on order, he needed buildings approval (a beautiful grade II former stable block) which thankfully all went through. Next came the gin.
The man himself
The still room section of the tour was very interesting and full of technical information I won’t recount here. What was also really enjoyable though, was that Matt gave us the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ of a recent distillation run for us all to smell and taste. I had read a lot about these aspects of a run, but had no idea how different they were to the ‘heart’ which is what becomes the bottled gin. The heads were a veritable treasure trove of flavours! Absolutely incredible! They’re commonly discarded though as amongst other reasons, they are simply too full of oils and elements which can cause louching (cloudiness) in the final product. The tails contained other, very different flavours and are also discarded as they tend to contain the more bitter, stewed elements of the run that can negatively impact the flavour. It was really great to get to experience these aspects of the process though!
After that, it was time for another quick G&T before we headed upstairs for Gin School!
Matt continued the experience with a talk on the history of gin and what we would be doing to produce our own bottles! Already laid out for us was 500ml of pure grain spirit, which we poured into the still and to which Matt added 500ml of water. The rest of the equipment comprised a set of scales and spoons for measuring our botanicals, our recipe sheet to record our individual botanicals and quantities, and our bottle labels: one as the main label with our gin name, date of distillation etc. and another to seal the cap. Finally a set of beakers to collect our heads, hearts, and tails, and to weigh our botanicals.
The gin stations were imaginatively named ‘1’ to ‘8’
What was interesting was that both Mrs Raven and I went in with a fairly solid idea of what sort of flavours we wanted. I was aiming for a spiced, citrus forward gin, whereas Emily wanted lots of florals. The selection of botanicals was great and within moments of discussing them with Matt and smelling the different herbs, roots, and spices, pretty much all bets were off and it was difficult to not simply chuck everything that smelled good into the mix! Matt was sure to answer questions on quantities so as not to overpower anything, but other than that he was happy for people to do what they wanted!
A selection of the botanicals available for us to use
While I managed to stay relatively on track with citrus and spices, I confess my recipe also contained a few florals! Emily went a bit more off the rails with plenty of tonka bean and cacao nibs! Then it was time to tip our botanicals into the still and set everything going! Matt kept an eye on the cooling pots for us while chatting away and giving us a little more history and information on the gin industry and after a few minutes we were collecting our heads, which we (reluctantly in my case!) put to one side ready to collect our 400ml of hearts. Once that was through it was time to switch beakers to let the tails filter off.
Finally, we added our hearts to our bottles, along with 300ml distilled water and Matt produced a very cool and expensive digital alcoholmeter to read the ABV of everyone’s gin. The the lids went on and everything was sealed up! Suffice it to say we all ended up with very different gins, which is good! I was sorry not to get to try anyone else’s though!
Getting up to temperature!
And here it is! My bottle of Ingfield No. 1 gin!
Bitter orange peel
Orris root powder
I really like my gin, though it is ever so slightly cardamom strong in my opinion. Otherwise I think it fulfils the juniper forward, citrus elements I was aiming for, with some added notes from the lavender and vanilla.
All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and one I would heartily recommend! This particular event at Rare Bird is also very good value for money in my opinion so if you’re close enough I would definitely say it’s worth booking (Malton is serviced by trains from Leeds/York/Scarborough)!
My thanks to Matt for making it such an enjoyable experience, and for all the great info! I came away with a much better understanding of the whole process and am excited about hopefully doing it myself in some fashion soon!
Oh, and of course, I couldn’t leave without a bottle of Rare Bird gin, so I’ll be reviewing that soon too!