IT’S been a few months now since I met Martin and Lorraine at Moores of Warwick Gin Distillery.
In that time I’ve learned a lot about their business and been left feeling inspired by their personal story. You see, for those who haven’t thus far seen any of the publicity (where have you been?!) the couple are living their personal dream. But it’s a dream that’s emerged from a nightmare – because Martin has stage 4 cancer.
In 2011, after spotting a mole on his back, Martin, now 59, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. Despite months of surgery, four years later they received the news they had most dreaded – the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. After Martin being given just months to live, the couple took the decision to both quit the rat race and pursue their joint dream of starting a business together.
He’s now on a trial course of immunotherapy treatment which has shown signs of shrinking the tumour. And, as far as they are concerned, it is business as usual. Indeed, plans for expanding their drinks offering are already in the pipeline. So watch this space.
The most recent of my visits to see Martin and Lorraine – on World Gin Day no less – was in a more informal capacity. I thought it was about time I immersed myself into their world and learn what all the fuss was about – so signed myself up for the gin school. – All in the name of research of course!
But who to accompany me? It’s fair to say, volunteers were not slow in forming an orderly line! (Never seen so many forty-somethings been quite so keen to get back to the classroom!)
So my three gal pals and I put ourselves in the capable hands of the Moores and opened our minds and our hearts to the heady world of gin making.
The three-hour session started in the best possible manner – with a Moores G&T at the bar, served with our choice of tonic and fruit garnish from their menu.
We were quickly ‘in the mood’ but didn’t feel rushed and were afforded plenty of time to savour our drinks and meet our hosts before being ushered into the first formal part of the afternoon.
We were treated to a short presentation on the history of gin as well as the Moores’ own story. They are keen to introduce us to Nellie – the name they’ve given to their 100-litre still as a nod to Martin’s cancer – the elephant in the room.
This earnest introduction to our friendly hosts broke the ice nicely (if the gin hadn’t already done that) and settled us gently in to the task ahead.
Then Martin guided us through our instructions for the session and then let us loose on the equipment. (Some might say that was brave!)
Firstly we set about the botanicals shelves like sugar-starved children running amok in a pick and mix shop. For me, arriving at the right recipe for my gin was the biggest challenge. The must-have ingredients are singled out to us (juniper being one). But then which other herbs and spices do I choose? How many do I choose? How much of each do I use? Then the ingredients had to be carefully weighed out. These were fine margins and we’d already be warned that some of the botanicals pack a more powerful punch than others.
As a self-confessed failed cook (my family will concur!), too many nervous doubts were creeping in. This was serious business I had concluded – and was determined not to be the first student to turn out an undrinkable gin!
But luckily I’m also a hopeless perfectionist – and this ‘special’ blend, crafted painstakingly with my gin partner Lindsey, was going to be at very least, I was assured, palatable.
I needn’t have worried. With Martin’s patience and guiding hand the blending processes were painless and I quickly got into my stride, chucking in ingredients like a woman possessed.
In actual fact, the beauty of this is its simplicity. No need to get weighed down with exacting measurements and award-standard recipes. This experience is very much about designing a drink to your own tastes and preferences. Most of all, it’s about having fun. But for all the advice and instinct poured into your recipe, it’s the ultimate taste test at the climax to this experiment that offers the moment of magic.
It’s like the best bits of cooking and chemistry lessons combined. (And this comes from someone who is/was dire at both.) Throw it all in and let the mini still do its work.
Some careful temperature control – again under Martin’s watchful eye – and the first drops of our infused liquid creation eventually emerge from the pipe. At this stage we’re encouraged to sample a drop from our finger – but only a drop as this is undiluted 90%-proof alcohol. It’s fair to say that at this stage in the process, it tasted disgusting. This didn’t bode well, I reasoned.
But then what’s termed the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ of the gin are discarded in favour of preserving the ‘hearts’ for bottling. And so comes time to add the distilled water to make it, well frankly, fit for consumption. The more water, the lower the alcohol volume. Advised levels for gin are around the 45% mark, but you’re invited to keep testing as you keep adding the water and achieiving the desired taste. Interesting how moreish the drink has now become. Maybe I could make a mean gin after all!
Take-home bottles are filled to the brim with our concoction and we add our own labels, even coming up with a name. Apparently a record of our recipes are filed away should we ever want to put in a repeat order. (Can’t see that one flying off the shelves!)
For me the pinnacle of this experience is in tasting our random recipe for the first time. I think if I did it again I would be more likely to try a different recipe altogether. But then I can also quite appreciate why those who hit on a winner would want more of the same.
Throughout our Moores gin glasses are kept topped up, plus some well-timed nibbles are introduced later on to satisfy those mid-afternoon munchies.
I’m not convinced Amanda Chalmers’ June-iper Gin (do you see what I did there?) will be giving the Moores blend a run for its money – but that’s not the point. My friends and I were unanimous in our enthusiasm – we had enjoyed the most interesting, entertaining and unique experience – and one we were keen to repeat.
More information on the Moores of Warwick gin schools at: https://mooresofwarwick.com/bookavisit-2/