As far as I am concerned, gin is the cheapest bottle from ASDA delivery, slapped with a nauseating green sticker, and shut away in my cupboard for emergencies. It is the promise of ‘G&Ts!’ during Freshers, where the lemon or lime is swiftly forgotten in the manic group Sainsbury’s shop; the tonic soon displaced in favour of diet sprite or yellow concentrated juices. I like to think of gin as the sophisticated older sister of vodka, that was downed straight, crunched in old plastic bottles in the hands of sixteen year olds in late night field gatherings. However, whilst a little more classy, it seems to me that a gulp of budget gin will always carry the howl of pre-drinks.
Yet catching site of a tray of fizzy spirit as I entered the Cambridge Gin Laboratory, I felt remarkably relaxed - spellbound, even. A shining network of silvered tubes, curled and criss-crossed around carafes half-filled with clear liquid, hung above a doily-like fireplace and shrubs of green herbs.
‘Gin and tonic?’ Lucy enquired. I picked up a drink, mesmerisingly - unprovoked by a question of whether ‘I have ever…’ - and took a sip. It was crisp and delicate. Lucy explained that we could sample the botanicals used in the gin making masterclass by spraying a burst of gin from the labelled glass bottles into our mouths. We proceeded, showering our tongue in flavours from cardamom to grapefruit to rose.
Finishing our gin and tonics, we entered the laboratory - a silver surface cluttered with glass equipment and coloured liquids; chemical equations sketched on to walls. At the back of the laboratory, more G&Ts were deftly being crafted, whilst shiny red liquid was bubbling over the flame like witch’s potions. The gin specialist rhythmically poured the solution from the carafe into broad glasses, instructing us to pour in ‘rain’ from the narrow test tubes beside it. Frothing with bubbles and flashing blue and flickering into a luminous purple as we held it under the light, the specialist explained that the cocktail was inspired by his Honeymoon in Japan - the vivid, bubbling drink representing a volcano. The cocktails were delicious - the nostalgic fizz of palma violet sweets (the love tokens of primary school) was balanced by the floral, citrusy notes of yuzu.
Having temporarily closed its doors to refurbish, the interior design of the Cambridge Gin Laboratory is beautiful: pristine marble table tops and tear-drop lights brings a chicness to the old design: grandfatherly dark wood drink cabinets and alcoved, misshapen corners. Twisting our way up the wooden floored staircase, we took a seat inside the ‘classroom’, where a carafe and test tube were laid beside a pencil and paper for ‘tasting notes’. Classes usually range from £30 to £130, all including a complimentary G&T and the chance to discover how gin was produced through the ages and enhancing tasting abilities. Our teacher described how the distillery produces its gin with infectious enthusiasm, inviting us to sample their own Japanese Gin, which was fragrant and elegant. Lightly sipping the gin from the carafe and scribbling its ‘notes’ on the paper beside me, I had never felt further from my trusty ASDA own-brand bottle.
Perhaps, I’ll be whipping out the yuzu peel or shiso leaf at the next pre drinks.
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