Chin, chin. Anyone for gin? I’m not a drinker and I barely drink. I’m in the category below Light Weight!
If I ever do drink, it’s organic red wine, a famous Irish stout that has iron in it and a popular yummy Irish cream. You know the ones. The thought of drinking gin before the Liquor Studio experience would have never even entered my mind. Gin is something I would use to clean my jewellery or a wound, if I was stuck in the wilderness – like you do. However, after the Liquor Studio experience, I am now gin’s newest groupie!
All puritans and teetotallers relax – I haven’t been corrupted into the evils of spirit drinks. On the contrary, I’ve been educated and enlightened to the wonderful history and process of gin making. Who would have known gin was so unbelievably interesting!
I and several other attendees, (now Christened my gin comrades!) were in the session and we all had a very warm and friendly welcome from Jon Lee and Dan Crowther who co-run the Hedonist, which is the main bar downstairs, and their exciting new venture the Liquor Studio, which is upstairs.
It’s a cosy, intimate, relaxed space. Part mad scientist lab, part herbal chemist pharmacy and part wizard alchemy den – kind of a haunt. The modern, but mostly vintage natural wood interior gives off a Victorian vibe, with old-fashioned copper distilling machines and shelves stacked with gin-making paraphernalia, in antique-looking bottles. The building is in an old historical area of town – in Lower Briggate; an area of heritage small Victorian alleyways which all adds to the atmospheric feeling and historical energy of the Liquor Studio.
Jon, who hosted the event, is originally from Birmingham and has been in Leeds for eleven years. He studied Graphic Design at university, but then moved towards erm…alcohol! Not in a “I’m interested in getting trollied” kind of way, but to create cocktails; designing cocktails that look good and taste good. His background in graphic design helped him to create award-winning cocktails for which he has been recognised. Graphic Design to cocktail creation may not sound like a natural progression, but when you hear Jon relay his knowledge of gin: the history, the process and feel and see his passion, it feels completely natural to me. He is in his element and his perfect ‘now’.
Jon started with the history of gin, which ran like the most enlightening, eye-opening, jaw-dropping and quite frankly dark and sinister accounts of historical events, social attitudes, laws, crimes and people’s stories. Even how situations with gin have created well know sayings we still use today. The back stories to these sayings will make your toes curl! This has to be hidden history because the kind of things he was telling us are not common knowledge at all. If history was even half this interesting in school, maybe we would have more historians. I’m a bit of a history geek, well a lot of a history geek, and I particularly love hidden history and I was more than happy to hear Jon roll out fascinating facts, after fascinating historical facts. We were all astonished, sometimes stunned and very much engrossed, with what we were learning. I’d say we all had our historical education app in our brains upgraded that evening!
There is something about gin you are unlikely to know. Jon in fact opened his history talk with this somewhat show-stopping morsel of information. I’m not going to share this revealing fact here, because it’ll spoil the fun of attending the session and I sincerely recommend people try it as it’s more than worth it, simply for the history aspect.
After Jon took us all to outer-space with the wild historical accounts, he then brought us all back to earth with some super fun experiments involving taste and schooled us on what taste really is and how we taste. This section of the evening was really enjoyable, entertaining and amusing. It created such good banter amongst the members of the attending group. It was a bit like being back at school, in that class where you had the really cool and fun teacher and you liked the classmates in that class and no matter what you were being taught, the learning of it was just pure, fun times! We were all adults there, obviously. It’s a gin session, not a fizzy pop session, but it was funny to see us all revert back to our school days for a bit, resurrecting school days characters, which still feel so familiar. There’s still a high school kid in all of us, it seems!
A little insert, speaking of fizzy pop. A historical fact shared by Jon in the history section that I will reveal is that the first person to discover carbonation was Joseph Priestley, right here in Leeds! This is another first in Leeds that barely anybody knows about! We reciprocated Jon’s revelation with a unanimous and ruckus cheer! Group bonding Leeds style!
Jon then moved all of us naughty kids to the last part of the session, which was the actual making of the gin. I could hardly contain my excitement about actually making some gin. I’m not sure if this makes me a moonshiner, but I’ll take the title and happily add it to my CV.
We all had our own separate stations, which were laden with multiple distilled flavours to be added to the base gin. There were flavours such as juniper, which is a main ingredient in gin, as well as coriander, rose, elderflower, mint, ginger, lemon, cinnamon, etc, etc. The stations were abundant with flavours. Jon had even kindly and specially made us all some apple flavour to use to add to the collection for our session. It was an impressive range and it was only half of the range because it literally takes eight hours to distill the flavours. There are many more flavours to create from the Botanical Tasting Wheel, which Jon is in the processing of creating.
Dan explained the gin-making process, which isn’t complicated, but you need to pay attention. You won’t blow anything up. It’s not that kind of an experiment, so don’t worry about that – but if you get the process wrong, you’ll have to start again. We had all of our kit set out in front of us on our stations and off we went, like little junior trainee scientists. You get to try all the flavours in different combinations in order to create your very own unique bottle of gin, take it home and show off your gin-making skills to your friends and family. You can swashbuckle it down straight away, but for best results – if you have the patience – let your gin creation pre-cure for 21 days. My ginger and mint version deserves the wait. Setting a giant egg timer right now!
The entire event was the best fun I have had in ages. It’s a full experience! Anybody and everybody 18 or over can come and experience this and you should. I became bored with “clubbing it” at nineteen. As much as I like to dance, clubs have never really been my scene. If there isn’t a play or band I want to see, I’m struggling for something interesting and communal to do with my friends. The Liquor Studio is perfect if you want to do something different on a Saturday night, or any night. With the Hedonist downstairs, you can easily continue the fun, after your session. It’s great for groups of friends, interest groups, corporate groups, history buffs, an experience gift for somebody, and it will make a great first date night! You can definitely book solo as well, because you’re bound to get on with the rest of the group because of the warm, friendly tone Jon and Dan set. Everybody becomes relaxed and open.
The Liquor Studio also does cocktail classes, so you can learn how to make gin as well as cocktails. With all of this drink-making knowledge, your drink serving portfolio will be substantially increased and more impressive!
I went home a little merrier than Christmas and I have now effectively had my gin cherry popped. I’m inspired to learn more about the history side of gin and may try a gin and tonic next time I decide to have a little bit of a tipple, having the added enjoyment of knowing exactly what I’m drinking, how it was made and the history behind it. With all I have learnt from the Liquor Studio, it will only add to the layers of enjoyment of simply having a drink.