I’ve already written about my love of gin and the breakfast cocktail, so it’ll come as no surprise that I’m a sucker for any kind of alcohol-related activity. Wine tasting, brewery tours, gin tasting – I’m there! And, given that Norwich is home to Bullards, the world’s best London dry gin, it was only right that I go and check it out in person.
The Ten Bells
The Ten Bells on St. Benedicts Street in Norwich has long been a favourite cocktail bar of mine, and after its revamp a couple of years ago it was transformed to include Norfolk’s first gin distillery. It’s probably one of the smallest distilleries around, but don’t let it fool you – Bullards Gin quickly made a name for itself and was soon winning awards, including the prestigious Best London Dry Gin at the World Gin Awards 2017. So, when friends came to visit who are equally as in love with gin as my husband and I, we had to book in for a tour!
We booked a Sunday slot (Sunday funday!) and started the day with brunch and, of course, breakfast cocktails, before heading off to the Ten Bells to learn all about our favourite spirit (and drink some of it as well). We were met by Peter, the head distiller, and got started.
Incidentally, one of our friends has a guide dog and the guys at the bar were so accommodating – Ricky became a star in his own right as the first dog in the distillery! (They weren’t actually distilling when we were there which meant Ricky was allowed in, although I suspect it may have been different had anything been on the go).
We went to the distilling room which housed the fantastic copper still, and learnt everything about how the spirit is made and even got to try a juniper berry or two (newsflash – they taste like gin!). We were told about the botanicals that go into gin, the different styles of gin and the different processes for making it, and had to try and guess the ingredients laid out in front of us (we were unsuccessful, but so close!).
After we’d absorbed everything it was time for the tasting, where we learnt more about the history of gin – from its days of being Dutch courage to becoming known as mothers’ ruin, to its more recent revival in the modern world – and of course, got to taste a lot of fabulous gins.
We had four different gins in front of us complete with ice, four different tonics and garnishes to match, and had to test them one at a time and in stages. First, we tried the gin neat, then with ice, then with its best-matched tonic and finally with the addition of the garnish, and it’s amazing how it tastes so different with each step. Some garnishes are said to work best with different gins, and we learnt that – surprisingly – the combination of strawberry and black peppercorns is meant to be THE one that goes with everything. Who knew!
After we tried the initial pairings we were free to let loose and combine things according to our own tastes, and we quickly found some new favourites (Old Tom gin is now way up there for me). As an added bonus, Bullards were working on a new gin at the time, then known as Project X, and we got to try a sample of it. The pink-hued strawberry and black pepper gin was designed to be released on Mothers’ Day last year, and it was so good that we snapped up a bottle as soon as it was available!
It was a fantastic afternoon and we learnt a lot – my husband in particular is a sponge for that kind of thing and he’ll regularly come out with gin-based facts from the tour – and of course, we got to try a lot of fantastic gin as well (even more so after the tasting, as we stayed in the bar to test some more!). The Bullards tour costs £25 per person and includes the one-hour distillery tour/talk and a 90-minute gin-tasting masterclass, and if you’re a fan of gin, it’s well worth it.