Tuesday 13 October 2015

Preview: Cambridge Gin Laboratory

In addition to my husband, children, and a really good steak, there are two other ways into my heart: gin and Labrador Retrievers. You know those Saint Bernard dogs in cartoons that rescue people stranded in mountains with a small barrel of spirits attached to their collars? If someone could send me a Labrador bearing a G&T, that would be awesome.

I was watching "Great British Menu" the other night and Rich Bainbridge (a Norwich-based chef) wanted to make a Victoria sponge cocktail to go with his dessert course. For this, he created a bespoke vanilla gin. The next thing we know, we're in Will and Lucy Lowe's house in Cambridge where they distill their own gin. (Side note: when people ask about the benefits of working from home, this is the sort of thing I have in mind.) Their Cambridge Distillery works with restaurants such as Alimentum and Morston Hall, businesses, and (if you're very lucky) individuals to create tailored gins. On a busy week, Will says, they can produce up to 60 bottles of gin. They are award-winning, world renowned distillers and I had no idea that this was happening a few miles from my house.

Lucy and Will are in the process of opening the Cambridge Gin Laboratory in central Cambridge, offering gin lovers a lesson in gin history, a behind the scenes look at how it is produced, and the opportunity to blend their own gin. There will be various experiences available, which you will be able to view and book on their site.

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DSC_0971 Will is not only a Master Distiller, he is also studying to become a Master of Wine - a combination that is a rare breed. I asked him how wine tasting compares to gin tasting and he said that it all comes down to detecting flavours. "I even eat foods I don't like just to experience different flavours," he said. I learned more about gin in the few minutes I spoke to Will than I have in the many years I've been drinking it.

One of the gins they produce is a seasonal gin that changes annually depending on what's been growing in their garden or available to forage that particular year. It is, without wanting to sound horribly cliche, Cambridge in bottle. Each vintage's report is a story about what was happening in Cambridge that season. We had the pleasure of tasting three drinks yesterday evening at the Gin Lab: a Cambridge Dry gin and tonic, a Japanese Gin martini, and a summery Basil Smash. You're probably supposed delicately sip and savour it, but I took great mouthfuls and said things like "OHMYGOD THIS IS SO GOOD."


How do Labradors fit into all of this? I have an unapologetic, extremely biased love for Labs and Lucy and Will have a very lovely one called Darcy. She graces the labels and if you visit the distillery, you'll get to meet this gorgeous lady yourself. Darcy is key to Lucy and Will's foraging, as they find botanicals to use in their gin during their walks. Also, it's rather lovely to sip a remarkable gin and tonic while giving her ears a little scratch.

Gin seems to have evolved from your grandmother's tipple to a spirit we are starting to care much more about. My heart sinks a little when I walk into a pub and all they have is Gordon's and tonic out of a nozzle. It's not snobbery, it's the knowledge that there is something so much better out there. To know that there is exceptional gin being produced right here in Cambridge is cause for celebration indeed.


The Cambridge Gin Laboratory aims to open at the end of October. We were invited to visit before the opening, and other than the really amazing G&T, the only compensation I received for my visit was the extreme joy in having gin on a school night. This is not a sponsored post because I don't do that sort of nonsense.