After I found my fascination for whisky, it wasn’t long until my curiosity also started involving other spirits such as gin. Gin has such a fascinating history and is of course a drink that has been loved by the British for a long time.
So we decided to do a tour at Pickerings Gin to learn more about this local Edinburgh-based brand!
Good to know
How much is the Gin Jolly tour?
The price is £15pp and I would highly recommend booking in advance on their website.
Where will I find the distillery?
The Pickerings Gin Distillery is located in Summerhall, which can be found by the east end of The Meadows. It’s on walking distance from central Edinburgh.
Will I get to try some gin?
Yes – on the tour we first got a gin & tonic on arrival. And at the tasting at the end we had three different neat samples.
Do I need to be over 18 to access the tour?
Yes, the tour only takes people aged 18+.
The Tour at Pickerings Gin
It was a rainy Sunday when we made our way to Summerhall in Edinburgh to attend the Gin Jolly tour with Pickerings Gin. The Pickerings Gin Distillery is located in the old school of veterinary studies which is named after William Dick who established the school.
The tour starts in The Royal Dick which is the pub in the same building as the distillery. It is also right next to a venue that does escape rooms which I’ve heard great things about. I need to come back and try that out another time!
We started off by being served a Gin & Tonic made with Pickerings Original Gin which is served with a pink grapefruit slice. As soon as everyone had arrived and gotten their gin & tonic we all took our drinks and followed our guide in to the distillery.
The Pickerings Gin Still Room
The Pickerings Gin still room is quite a small place but a very pretty and interesting one. Unfortunately I ended up right behind a larger German gentleman so couldn’t see anything. I thought I wouldn’t be able to take any photos at all, but luckily enough they give you some free time to take photos and explore in between all the information about the gin and the distillery. Such a great thing to include in a tour when the space is a bit cramped.
The Story of Pickerings Gin
Our guide introduced us to how Pickerings Gin was founded and what botanicals that they use. There were some really interesting stories and the two engineers that started the company didn’t even know that they had started the first gin producing distillery in Edinburgh in 150 years. They had just wanted to make some gin that they could enjoy.
Markus Pickering who is one of the founders was lucky enough that an indian acquaintance of his dad had a gin recipe from 1947 that he chose to give to Markus after his dad had passed away. Since it was an Indian recipe it was quite different to the gins that were being consumed in the UK at the time. So eventually they changed the recipe by changing the cinnamon to Angelica root instead, which created a more dry styled gin. However a few years later they chose to bring back the original 1947 gin in a collaboration with the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. And it is now one of their core range gins.
The Recipe & The Brand
Another fun act was that the original recipe (photo above) didn’t specify what amount of gin it was for. So there was a lot of trial and error before they managed to figure it out. Matt and Markus who founded the distillery didn’t actually have any previous knowledge of gin, except for liking it, and learned most things through google.
The reason for calling it Pickerings Gin came from using Markus’s last name and since Matt’s last name is Gammel and there’s already a drink called Gammeldansk, they thought it best to just call it Pickerings. The signature peacock wasn’t the first animal of choice for the logo. Since rearranging the letters in Pickerings Gin gives “Snickering Pig” that was long considered an option. However the marketing team didn’t like using a pig on their bottles, so they had to choose something else. They still wanted an animal as an homage to what the distillery had been in the past, so they chose a peacock since it is an elegant animal. Which also happens to be the national animal of India.
One of our guides also showed us an original tonic water. Which back in the day was used as a prophylactic against malaria. However at the time it was quite different to the tonic we know and love today. And it was so bitter and horrible that gin was the mixer to make the tonic taste better and to hide its flavour.
The Pickerings Gin distillation is quite similar to any other distillation and since the distillery is so small you can really see what way the spirits travels. Starting from the stills and after the cuts it is transported to the steel tanks before moving on to being bottled. Underneath the tanks you can also see some old cat cages that would’ve been in use when it was still a veterinary school.
The distillate is cut in to three different parts, just like whisky. The heads, the hearts and the tails. In the jar above, that our tour guide Jemma is holding, you can see the tails. Quite understandable that you don’t want that in your final product.
The Pickerings Gin Bottle
Matt & Markus wanted a bottle of gin that would be easy to recognise worldwide. So they decided on a glass bottle that was really sturdy and also quite square but with rounded corners. However there was a problem with labelling these bottles since no labelling machine managed to put labels on every side of the bottles and also put them on straight. But using their engineering skills they managed to invent one themselves. The result was Mabel, who retired in 2016 but managed to label 100.00 bottles before that.
Everything from distilling to labelling and shipping is still done in the small rooms surrounding the Pickerings Gin distillery.
The Pickerings Gin Tasting
The tour ended in the shop where we got to try three different expressions from Pickerings Gin.
Pickerings Gin The Original (available here): a clean gin that tastes very much like what you would expect from a gin. The purpose of this gin was to be created to go well in a Gin & Tonic. The signature serve is with a slice of grapefruit.
Pickerings Gin The Navy Strength (available here) : This was my favourite gin. It’s higher in ABV but still tastes smoother. Below you can see a photo of the bottle which looks very nice in its little “bearskin” hat. The reason for it is that it’s created after a request from the Edinburgh military tattoo. Since it is military related it suited the gin to be “navy strength”, which is the term for gins that are higher than 57%. Even if you soaked gunpowder in this gin, it would still ignite if you set fire to it.
Pickerings Gin 1947 Gin (available here): This tasted a lot like Christmas with prominent flavours of cinnamon and cloves. I can imagine it being a nice tipple in winter time with a slice of orange, which was the recommended serve.
The Pickerings Gin Shop
They had a lovely wee shop where you can purchase merchandise and of course their different gins. This is also where you can find the famous gin baubles, which this year all have festive flavours. The first batch that was ever released consisted of 16.000 and sold out in 82 seconds which crashed the website. One of the flavours is the world’s first gin that is flavoured with brussel sprouts. It has for obvious reasons caused quite a lot of attention in social media. People seem quite upset and/or intrigued by it. Well done to the Pickerings marketing team!
It was overall a really good tour with lots of quirky facts – just the way I like it!
If you like history, a flavour experience and are looking for something to do in Edinburgh – why not check out the Gin Jolly tour at Pickerings Gin?
Next up I’ll need to check out Edinburgh Gin, another Edinburgh based gin company who also do tours!