On international gin and tonic day, we’ll undoubtedly be drinking some Psychopomp tonight, which is an incredibly good Bristol gin made right in the city centre on St Michael’s Hill. It was at the owner Danny Walker’s gin club that I first heard that each city used to have its own gin-making process.
In 1789, Bristol historian William Barrett wrote of ‘many great works ( distilleries ) being erected at amazing expense in different parts of the city’.
Barrett was convinced that spiritous liquors caused ‘slow but sure death’ and added: The quality of gin and brandy made at home indicates and proves what a great consumption of these liquors there is now.
It may have been cheap but Bristol spirits caused – drying up and hardening of the fine vessels and nerves, rendering them impervious, producing paralytic strokes, hemiplegies and apoplexies Barrett added.
London Dry gin, became known for its own distillation process, which included adding the flavours during the distillation process and not afterwards.
Historically, the term “Dry Gin” came about with the advent of the Coffey still in 1832. Once the Coffey still came into action and a more consistent (and critically, more neutral) spirit was available, unsweetened gin started gaining popularity and became known as “Dry Gin”.
Working off a neutral base spirit of agricultural origin, that has already been distilled to over 96% ABV, London Dry Gin must be (re)distilled to at least 70% ABV. It can only be watered down to a minimum strength of 37.5%, it must contain no artificial ingredients, contain only a minute amount of sweetener and cannot have any flavour or colour added after distillation. Of course, as with all gins, the predominant flavour must be that of juniper berries.
Danny at the gin club was much more fascinating that a list of percentages and he got me to thinking about what Bristol gin might have been like. Currently, there are two or three Bristol gin distilleries producing the juniper-based spirit but they don’t know how it used to be done either [from what I have been able to determine]. I searched for a while and while I found records of where the distilleries used to be, Cheese Lane in St Phillips was one, owned by Thomas Castle — the process was not known for its health-affirming properties. By 1821 there were five Bristol distilleries.
The closest I came to discovering what Bristol gin might have tasted like was the following list of ingredients itemised by a brewer in London and sent to a Bristol distiller in 1870.
By then the process would most probably have been similar to dry gin but perhaps there was some variety in the flavours. The ingredients are: juniper, coriander, calamus and angelica. I don’t know the individual proportions but there was three times as much juniper as there was coriander and 1/8th calamus and angelica relative to the coriander.
And that’s Bristol gin done the 1870-way. We may be sipping it the Psychopomp St Michael’s Hill way tonight however.