As a spirits specialist, I like to think I’ve learnt a fair bit about them. Visiting every distillery I could find over the years and identifying the often subtle differences between the different distillates, you’d think I’d have a pretty good grasp of how it all works.
Alas, there’s a big difference between theory and practice. That’s how I find myself at Sydney’s Archie Rose Distillery in Sydney, to take part in a hands-on gin blending class where I’m hoping to discover a whole other level of knowledge – and enjoyment – of spirits.
The first thing you need to understand is the difference between distilling and blending: a Master Distiller aims to make the best possible spirit with the raw materials at hand, while a Master Blender takes different spirits and blends them to perfection, or to a house style.
Bringing the spirit to life
Many spirits are a result of blending differently distilled and aged spirits, or arrive at a final flavour by changing the type, quantity and varying percentages of aromatics, and the final alcohol content (percentage of alcohol by volume).
Blending or distilling experiences such as this are a great way to acquire first-hand knowledge, and learn what happens to the whole when any one component is changed.
At Archie Rose, each botanical is distilled separately. This affords them the opportunity to develop new recipes without having to perform all the work in the still, and effectively start from scratch each time.
This means we are able to blend a product in a very similar way to how the Archie Rose blending team creates each product. We can pull the levers to create consistency and optimal flavour.
Mix and batch
The format starts with eight unique botanical distillates and a base gin. We’re acquainted with gin history, then walked through the flavour of each distillate and how they work together.
With two bottles of base gin each, we’re first asked to isolate our three favourite botanicals and then blend what we think are appropriate quantities of the aromatics to create a new gin.
For the second bottle we have the freedom to use all, or as many as we feel are right for our taste to create our very own gin. At the end of the session, we walk away with 2 x 200ml bottles of our very own creation. It’s both fun and educational, and I recommend it highly.
The whisky tango
In the whisky blending classes, Archie Rose staff demonstrate the power of the blend by taking multiple single malts and allowing guests to create their own style.
The base whisky is not revealed – suffice to say it’s a smooth, soft, light and balanced blend. The idea of this class is to modify your ‘blank canvas’ whisky by using the following single malts:
- Ballantines (control)
- Highland Park 12yo (mid smoke and sherry)
- Bunnahabhain 12yo (mid sherry and body)
- Caol Ila 12yo (smoke)
- Glendronach 18yo (bold sherry)
- Longmorn Distiller Select (fruit)
- Clynelish 12yo (texture and fruit)
The rationalisation is that each of these are much loved by blenders, each with its own unique style. Again, this is a really fun class and you’d be surprised how much you can learn.
Here are some of the many blending experiences you can enjoy at locations around Australia.
Archie Rose, Rosebery, NSW
Blend your own gin: $115 per person, 1 ½ to 2 hours
Whisky blending experience: $125pp, 1 ½ hours
Four Pillars, Healesville, Victoria
Maker Sessions: $200pp, 2 hours
Unlike other classes where guests blend distillates, at Four Pillars they actually distill their own gin with distiller Cam Mackenzie on their experimental still, nicknamed ‘Eileen’. Guests load the still with botanicals selected by Cam, and taste the gin coming out of the still during the class. They are sent a 700ml bottle of the gin in the following weeks.
Patient Distilling Co, Melbourne, Victoria
Gin masterclass: $50 pp, 45 minutes
Recently opened the doors to a new gin distillery and bar in Melbourne's Southbank. This masterclass runs through a number of elements that educate guests on the history of gin, Patient Wolf Gin, and the distillation process.
Bass & Flinders Distillery, Dromana, Victoria
Gin masterclass: $160pp, 2 hours
Attendees can learn about gin and the distillation process, plus traditional and native botanicals, and create their own gin to take home in a 500ml bottle. Each guest’s unique recipe will be kept on file for re-orders.
Brisbane Distillery Co., Brisbane, Queensland
Gin School: $189pp, 2 hours
Guided blending experience featuring drinks and snacks, a choice of more than 130 botanicals to blend, and a bottle of your own gin to take home.
Adelaide Hills Distillery, Nairne, SA
Blend your own gin: $115 pp, 1 ½ hours
Begin with a G&T on arrival and a tasting of the Adelaide Hills gin range, followed by a masterclass on distilling and making gin plus a 200ml bottle of your own gin to take home.
East End Cellars @ Tasting Australia, Adelaide, SA
Spirit masterclasses to be featured in the East End Cellars Masterclass Pavilion during Tasting Australia (March 27 to April 5).
Spirits in the City: March 28, 12pm to 1.30pm
Lark & Lark: March 29, 7pm to 8.30pm
23rd Street Distillery, Renmark, SA
Gin blending masterclass: $80pp, 1½ hours
Explore the taste profiles of their botanical distillates to create your own signature blend. Gin master classes are also available at their Experience Bar - 23rd on Melbourne St, Adelaide.
Margaret River Distilling Company, Margaret River and Albany, WA
Giniversity Experience: Blending Class ($150pp, 2hrs), or Distillation Class ($300pp, 4 hrs)
In the blending class, participants are guided through a blending experience featuring a wide array of botanical distillates to create their own gin to take home. In the four-hour distillation class (lunch included), work with raw botanicals under the guidance of a distiller to hand-select a range to suit your palate, then work with a still to produce your own gin.
Republic of Fremantle, WA
Gin School: Cost and duration to be confirmed
This distillery is opening in autumn 2020 and the Gin School will play a big part in the new venue. Republic is installing 20 mini stills so each attendee can use their own still.