Amanda Nicholls discovers a magical place – a place where the time is always gin o’clock, and where long-held booze-based wishes are gladly granted by fun, friendly experts – on St Michael’s Hill…
Until this year, Danny Walker and Liam Hirst had been crafting their own gins and honing their making process from a Montpelier basement. Then, around six months ago, the self-taught distiller duo found themselves a charming premises on St Michael’s Hill, installing Psychopomp, Bristol’s first micro distillery specialising in the Mother’s Ruin in the process – and now, they’re sharing their expert knowledge with local gin aficionados by way of public workshops every weekend.
Having discovered this, and counting ourselves as precisely such folk, we join a couple more of our kind, on our next available Saturday morning, for a welcome G&T garnished with a large wedge of grapefruit and made with Psychopomp’s own rich Woden gin – a classic London dry with juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, cassia bark, fresh grapefruit zest and fennel seed. There’s a wonderfully old-school vibe to the place, with the exterior signage still reading ‘A.Jenkins, groceries, provisions’, and the interior chicly pared back. Various metallic contraptions gleam bright against white tiled walls, while a shelf lined with spice, herb, plant and fruit-infused liquids – everything from hyssop and peppermint to gunpowder tea and burdock root – demands closer inspection.
One half of Psychopomp’s expert distilling duo, Danny Walker – who’s full of anecdotes and facts during our workshop
After a short tasting session, detecting the different notes in Danny’s equally delicious Pata Negra and Papa Ghede gins – the latter named after a Haitian type of psychopomp spirit, said to guide souls to the afterlife – we’re talked through the basic requirements for making gin. We’ll be adding botanicals to a neutral spirit base, says Danny – who’s full of anecdotes and facts about gin making and its history – and the bottom line is that juniper has got to feature. After measuring some out, along with the requisite coriander, cassia – that’s the sweet bark you’d find around a cinnamon stick – and angelica root – which acts as a binding agent – we pick our individually preferred flavours to add to our own unique blends. With Danny helpfully having removed any flavours likely to clash badly (cocoa can be a little dodgy when paired with the wrong thing, he warns…) we can’t go too far wrong, we reckon, seizing spirits, gung ho, and having a sniff.
Portuguese-made copper contraptions catch our eye
Deciding on a light, floral, fruity vibe for The Bristol Magazine’s signature concoction, we pour out rhubarb, rosemary, elderflower, lemon thyme and pink grapefruit zest into our metal still, before heating and distilling the 37.5% ABV mix to separate the water and alcohol – which is sent through a copper tube – and patiently wait for the gin to collect in a little tumbler.
Feeling like crackpot professors among the beautiful Portuguese-made copper pots and flasks, we’re thrilled when the purified liquid, now a solid 80%, begins to trickle out of the metal tube. “It’s almost like being in a hospital waiting room, expecting a child to be born,” we muse, suddenly realising we may be investing slightly too much emotion into our boozy new baby.
The shelves are lined with intriguing spice, herb, plant and fruit-infused liquids
After binning off the citrusy ‘heads’ that drip out first, we mix the liquid we’ve collected with water that has gone through a reverse osmosis system to get it as close to H2O as possible – the purer you can get the water, the more it’s about the flavour of the gin. Danny hands us a hydrometer to test the ABV once more – it’s now a respectable 44% so we bottle it up and give it its own little heated seal and label while thinking up names for our new, prized creations.
If, like us, it’s a long-held ambition of yours to create your own take on a fashionable, versatile and historic spirit, we highly recommend heading to St Michael’s Hill’s wondrous emporium…
Workshops at Psychopomp cost £100 per person and include tuition, G&Ts and a bottle of your own recipe gin to take home; microdistillery.co.uk