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Published February 6th 2018
Make your own gin
You'll want to gain entrance to this university class.
I am proud to announce that I took the undergrad course in compounding blending of gin which ran for two hours.
Let me explain. Amidst a region best known for its wineries nestles the Limeburners Margaret River Distilling Company. Like some of the best treasures in the area, it is tucked away, but in this instance easily walkable from the Margaret River township along the riverside.
This is a great bonus as some of the gins are over 40% proof and walking there means you have even more of a chance to fully enjoy them.
Relatively new to town, Margaret River Distilling Company is the sister distillery to Limeburners Albany. Founder Cameron Syme took inspiration from his Scottish ancestors and in 2017 the company was named as producing the best International Whisky in the World at the American Distilling Institute's annual spirits awards.
This truck signifies the entrance to this tucked away distillery
This achievement certainly showcases just what a small and dedicated local distillery and a knowledgeable and passionate team are capable of creating.
While you can also buy this famous whisky at the Margaret River Distillery it is also home to something new--Giniversity. These are classes where you not only get to taste, but broaden your appreciation for gin, challenge your senses and create your own bespoke gin recipe. Better still, you get to take the creation you have blended home with you.The whole 500 ml bottle of it.
I was all pre-nerves and anticipation as I felt I was probably going to be the worst in the class and know far less than everyone else, right? But isn't that the way a lot of people feel when they attend their first university class?
However, as gin is involved the other 11 students didn't seem daunting for too long.
After our introductions in the dedicated classroom, we were introduced to the shiny and lovingly polished still--nicknamed Optimus Prime. He looked like he was about to take off. On the floor were the containers collecting his vital liquid drip by drip.
Then we went into the small lab to see where all the botanicals are made. I found this a steep learning curve as I had no idea there were so many. Some you will have heard of before such as juniper berries, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, kafir lime leaf, lemon rind, pepper, angelica, star anise and ginger.
But what is fascinating for tourists are the many local ingredients that make these gins so unique. For example, the use of quandong (a native peach and a close relative of sandalwood), lemon myrtle, boronia, eucalpyt and meen, which is a native bulb vegetable long used by the Noongar Aboriginal tribes of Western Australia. Meen is a relative of the kangaroo paw and only found on the south and west coast of Western Australia. It is brought to the distillery by a licensed local forager.
So as you can see the tastes you will experience here are WA-centric.
All Margaret River residents seem dedicated to their food and wine. Resident distiller Rebecca De Burgh, who helped present our course, said one of the joys of having the distillery in Margaret River is that locals are always bringing in exciting new possibilities for the team to experiment with.
Interesting items have included Mexican cucumbers, salt-bush and a couple of weeks ago someone even brought in strawberry guava which is round-shaped like a strawberry
[/I], she said. And Rebecca is in raptures during our class when someone drops in a large bag of juniper berries smoked in peat . Almost hugging the bag she says, 'This really is the most creative job in the world.'
'This is the most creative job in the world' - Rebecca de Burgh
Rebecca completed exam based studies in gin making through the Institute Of Brewing and Distilling which runs out of London. Our other 'lecturer', Stephanie, is doing her training in horticulture and they make a great team.
I am particularly fascinated with Stephanie's insights into the history of gin. Apparently this well-known drink was originally a Dutch rather than an English invention and the warmth and stamina it gave to soldiers going into battle lead to the term 'Dutch courage.'
She also fills us in on other historical markers through to the roaring 20s when there was a resurgence of gin drinking with Jazz Age style cocktails and how gin has again become the drink of fashion.
History was always my favourite subject at school but at Giniversity you also meet science.
Our classroom reminds me of a Harry Potter science lab. Kind of like Hogwarts but for grownups. There are lots of jars of dried herbs, spices and other botanicals and mortas and pestles on display.
We learnt how to twirl, sniff and taste gin properly awakening our senses to the time soon coming when we would blend our own.
Stephanie tells us that to truly taste a gin one must take three small sips and note the reactions in different part of the mouth. We do this by sampling Giniversity's collection that includes London Dry Gin with pronounced botanicals including juniper, coriander, citrus and Meen; Botanical Gin with juniper, sandalwood, boronia, lemon myrtle and eucalypt; and Giniversity Barrel Aged Gin that has been handcrafted in a single small batch and aged in a French oak pinot cask. This aging in wine barrels seems highly appropriate given the distillery is in the famous Margaret River wine region.
Then we are set loose to create our own bespoke gin. Well, not quite loose, as we do have excellent guidance and charts to help us as well as our knowledgeable instructors on hand. I sniff the many bottles in front of us and I set aside those I like.
Then we add drops from these to our glass of gin with the suggestion of 5 drops for the most predominant botanical we want to use, 3-4 for the less predominant and 1 drop to provide the finish in one's mouth.
When we come up with a taste and aroma we are happy with it's time for some maths. Ugh!
The formula (the number of drops) has to be multiplied by 25 so that we could now add the right amount of drops to our large bottle.
I must have messed up somewhere as Rebecca noticed that my bottle was just about to overflow and Stephanie came to my aid by emptying some out.
While this was all happening there was also some great information on tonics and what goes with what. Tips: If you do order tonic water at a bar ask for it on the side so you can mix to taste and these days there is much more to life than Schweppervescence.
Looking around the classroom the course seemed to attract a wide variety of people and age-groups. There were a number of young couples, a group of girlfriends who obviously loved their gin, a few people who seemed to be thinking of distilling their own, overseas visitors and others who had been given the course as a special birthday treat. A class at Giniversity would make an ideal group bonding session.
You can also do a more extensive postgrad course in distillation which runs for four hours, includes lunch and you get to distil your creation in your own personal copper still, as well as taste your classmates' creations, which I imagine would open up a wide world of new possibilities.
Rebecca says it is the one day in the week that she definitely makes sure she walks home.