On a busy corner of Brisbane’s West End, the doors of Brisbane Distillery open to the comforting dark of its long bar. And just beyond these moody confines, through pearly gates, is the Gin School.
For most of us, the thought of going back to school sends an ice cube shiver down our spine.
But when the class is in a distillery and you’re to learn how to make gin, I’m front of line, apple in hand and ready for the teacher.
It’s the only registered gin school in Australia and classes are about two hours long.
Check out our video from our class here.
You come away with a greater appreciation of what distillers have to do to create the perfect gin, but you also get to keep the 500ml bottle of gin you made.
What’s more, you get a discount on a tasting up at the cellar door bar, discounts on the Brisbane Distillery products—their exquisitely bottled gin, vodka and rhum—and every 700ml bottle you buy also comes with a free refill the next time you visit!
The Gin School itself is in bright contrast to the dark speakeasy vibe of the public bar at Brisbane Distillery.
In exchange for the booths, barrels and brass lighting, the school has a feeling somewhere between a science lab and a botanist’s office.
On high white tables are rows of little copper stills, perfectly formed miniatures of the column stills you’d find in any serious distillery. Next to each still is all the trappings of a school science room; beakers, measuring cylinders, conical flasks, little metal spoons… it takes us right back to Year 7 and our first dealings with Bunsen burners.
Around the walls are scientific diagrams of various plants—the kind of thing you’d expect to come from the ships of early explorers.
There are also shelves—almost to the ceiling—of little containers. Closer inspection shows these are all labelled with a multitude of botanical options ideal for making gin.
Gin class is in session
Our excellent teacher Charlotte gets things under way by first of all asking us to think about the type of gin we want to make.
The booklet we each have has a style guide to help us. Do we want a spicy gin, a citrus-forward one, will it be herbal or floral, or do we want a fruity or sweet spirit at the end.
We then go on to choose up to four different botanicals to match that style, which we collect from the 180 or so tins around the room.
After adding our base spirit to our stills, we drop our botanicals of choice in and reassemble the condensing columns ready to start distilling.
It takes about half an hour for the distillate—the pure gin—to start coming out of the stills, and the whole time we’re chatting to Charlotte and the other students in the class.
We’re also brought four different delicious gin cocktails from the bar as well as a packed lunch of cheese and biccies.
Charlotte helps us take the all-important cuts—the heads, hearts and tails. Also known as the fores and tails, these beginnings and endings of the distillation run are full of off flavours and—more importantly—potentially dangerous chemicals.
We collect the hearts—the good bit—and cut it with pure water to bring it down to 43% ABV.
At this point, we can also add colour to our gins.
Christina adds a little red to turn her gin pink. I go for the lovely blue colour from butterfly pea flowers. This reacts with changes in pH and will turn a light purple when things like tonic water’s added.
Apart from juniper, which all gins must have, and orris root, which acts as a ‘fixer’ and stops flavours dissipating in the gin, our gins were entirely different.
From the 180 botanicals we could choose from, the four Christina chose were grapefruit, lemongrass, pepperberry and strawberry eucalyptus. The result was a lovely citrus forward gin with a little spice and heat and a sweetness from the strawberry.
I went for a more woody herbal gin style, using coriander seed, sage, pistachio (which only adds texture not flavour) and chilli. I actually added double to chilli to bring extra heat. The gin turned out pretty well. On the money for its savoury notes and that hint of heat from the chilli. I’ll add more nut next time though to bring out more of the silken texture it brings.
All in all, we were very happy with our gins. We can’t wait to try it again!
School’s out – time to go back to the bar
Proudly carrying our beautifully labelled and corked bottles of gin, we leave the classroom and approach the bar.
They offer tasting flights of Brisbane Distillery’s gins, vodka and rhum here, so we perch on the comfy barstools and work our way through the distillery’s retinue of spirits.
As alumni of the gin class, we also have the option of buying Brisbane Distillery’s spirits at a bit of a discount, which we obviously pounce on.
The bottles are absolutely stunning and, even better, come with the offer of a free refill whenever we’re back in town! All we need to do is bring our empty bottles with us.
This is one of the best experiences we’ve done and reminds us of our cooking class in Bangkok above the Flower Markets by the river.
Fun, unique and utterly memorable.