Five Best Gin Distilleries, Makings and Tastings in Cornwall
Cornwall did not miss the memo on the global ‘ginaissance’ of the last seven years. A relaxation of restrictions on this tipple’s production around a decade ago meant that gin-making exploded across the country – and artisan stills are still springing up all over the UK. With around 15 independent craft brands alone in the county, Kernow can count some of the world’s finest gins among its home-grown gems. The abundance and variety of a vast range of botanicals offered up by Cornish soil, as well as a stunning coastal and country environment, make creating and imbibing Cornish gins that bit more special. Here we have rounded up five of the best places to learn about – and crucially taste – this elixir of our times.
Tarquin’s: the original Cornish gin
Tarquin’s put Cornish gin on the map and this distillery is the first port of call to embark on your Cornish gin journey – the perfect place to be-gin (sorry). In 2012, 23-year-old Devon boy Tarquin Leadbetter chucked in his boring London job and set his sights on establishing the first Cornish distillery for over 100 years. Armed with a 0.7 litre copper pot still, a suitcase stuffed with botanicals weird and wonderful and a prized surfboard, Tarquin made his return to the West Country. After a year of trial and error, Tarquin hit upon a winning formula of 12 botanicals that infuse his Cornish Gin. The first batch was distilled then filled, labelled, waxed, stamped and signed all by hand – a process that remains the same today. On 30 July 2013, the first bottle was sold to the Gurnard Head Hotel in St Ives, Cornwall – Southwestern Distillery was now officially trading. Fast forward a few years and the brand’s brilliantly bold Tarquin’s ‘The SeaDog’ Navy Strength Gin, clocking in at a punchy 57% abv, was crowned the World’s Best Gin at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It’s quite an incredible story from an inexperienced yet inspired distiller who managed world domination, and you can learn all about it on a guided tour of Tarquin’s HQ. Visit the humble distillery, nestled on a windswept hilltop overlooking the wild Cornish coast near Wadebridge and get acquainted with the four leading Copper Ladies; Tamara, Senara, Ferrara and Tressa. You’ll be educated about the unique botanicals used and the particular characteristics they each bring to the mix. You’ll also learn about the special processes behind the production, and finally be taken on a delicious tasting flight through the core gin range.
Colwith Farm Distillery: plough to bottle
Next up is Colwith Farm Distillery, where decades of farming know-how and a deep love of the Cornish countryside infuse this particular brand of gin. Colwith is the region’s first plough-to-bottle distillery, founded upon five generations of farming history. To brothers Steve and Chris, producing premium spirits represented the perfect way to add value to the crops produced on the farm, as Colwith gradually phased out livestock and other crops after successfully growing potatoes for 70 years. Now, the family specialise in premium potato growing: planting, nurturing and harvesting over 400 acres of potatoes each year from the cliff tops of Fowey back to Bodmin Moor. Thereafter, every step of the production process is delicately carried out in-house. Whereas most distilleries buy-in mass produced ethanol, at Colwith Farm Distillery, everything is delicately produced from scratch, on a single estate – even the water used in the production process rises from an aquifer situated beneath the distillery. It is much more challenging, time consuming and costly to produce spirits this way, but the family believes it's worth it. You can find out more about this ‘plough-to-bottle’ provenance on a step-by-step tour at the distillery near Lostwithiel. You’ll learn how to prepare the mash, distil (numerous times!), rectify gin and hand bottle the spirits, followed by a tutored tasting through three vodkas and three gins.
Trevethan Gin Distillery: Cornish heritage hedgerow flavours
Trevethan Gin is steeped in traditional Cornish values. It was traditional in Cornwall to celebrate the changing of the seasons with home-brewed alcohol, using bounty from the hedgerows, fields and woodlands. Parsnip wine, blackberry and elderberry wine, marrow rum, plum brandy and blackthorn plum and sloe gin were common and families had their particular specialities and secret recipes that were passed down the generations. Norman Trevethan epitomised this type of inventive and resourceful rural personality. Born in 1906 in Tideford, Cornwall, the Trevethan recipe was perfected in the 1920s by Norman and in 2015 his grandson Robert Cuffe, an engineer, and his friend, John Hall, a chemist, decided to resurrect the distillery. Each batch is hand-crafted in a traditional Copper-Alembic still in small quantities using botanicals such as elderflower and gorse flower, handpicked from the hedgerows of a local dairy farm. The water used comes from a natural spring on nearby farmland and is so soft that no mineral treatment is necessary to boost that natural flavour. Sadly, the distillery does not offer tours but Trevethan is available at bars and pubs throughout Cornwall. Try The Point Polzeath in Polzeath, The Portreath Arms in Redruth, The Cove and Dolly’s Bar in Falmouth and The Carew Arms in Antony.
Green Cart Farm: gin distilling with plant alchemy
Essential oil distillery Green Cart Farm in Lostwithiel offers gin-making classes in its old apothecary, where you’re surrounded by copper stills, bottles, maceration jars and traditional distilling equipment for distinctive blends of florals, resins and herbs. Vintage labels, authentic glass stoppers, green glass globes and secret potion books complete the alchemist atmosphere of the apothecary, giving your whole experience a medieval, mystical and magical quality. Shona and Ben Hands have been living on a completely off-grid farm for over a decade, making scented candles, essential oils and distilling their own gin all from herbs grown less than 50 metres away. The class includes a talk on the history of gin and essential oil distillation, a tour of the botanical garden, designing and distilling your bespoke gin, a tasting session with tapas and a 100 ml bottle of your gin to take home.
An Mor: a gin-making masterclass
Gin aficionados should head to Cornwall’s only gin school. The Discover Gin experience is part of quirky-cool boutique hotel An Mor in Bude and offers tastings, a gin-making course and gin parties. There’s also an al fresco gin bar and a brand-new sushi bar for post-distilling snacks. The class starts with the history of gin and a bit of gin trivia before moving on to getting a grasp of the various flavour profiles and range of botanicals that feature in popular gins. You can taste different gin flavours and work out how to choose various botanicals to produce your gin – for example, every gin has juniper and most have coriander, angelica root and orris root but the rest is up to you. Next, you design your own gin recipe by using your choice of botanicals, fire up a copper still and produce your own 500ml bottle to take home, then personalise your bottle by labelling and corking it. Don’t forget – as if you would! – to finish your experience off with a gin to celebrate all your newly acquired knowledge.