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Gin distilling with Tarquin's Gin School in St Ives

The team at Aspects Holidays were recently fortunate enough to be invited to the highly acclaimed Tarquin’s Gin School, newly opened in the heart of St Ives, following the success of their main school in Padstow. After drawing names from a hat, seven of us headed into St Ives, excited by the prospect of making our own gin!

Delighted by the invitation, we wandered through the cobbled streets of Fore Street, arriving at the gin shop and school, easily identifiable by the famous Tarquin’s blue. We were greeted by the lovely Sophie, who would be leading our class, joined by Fran and Archie, all experts in the process of gin making.

 

The school is located on the first floor, above the shop. Climbing the stairs, we stepped into a world of alchemy; copper stills, gurgling pipes and jars of botanicals greeted us. The aesthetics of the room were mesmerising, with something different and exciting to take in from every angle. Bottled botanicals, glimmering copper pots, various tools and equipment, fresh fruit and even carefully designed notebooks (made especially for the gin school) added to the unique vibe of the room. 

After introductions, we were handed a double Tarquin’s gin and tonic, with a non-alcoholic option for the designated drivers. It was fascinating to learn about Tarquin, the man behind the brand, while we enjoyed our welcome drinks. Tarquin is a self-taught distiller who saw a gap in the Cornish market, after seeing a massive rise in craft gin sales in London. Tarquin moved from London to his Aunt’s house at Trevose Head, and ambitiously began the process of trying to distil his own gin. A year later, after distilling 250 separate botanicals, Tarquin created his finished dry gin, using violets from his Aunt’s garden. After his inspirational achievement, on July 31st 2013 he took his finished bottle of gin to the Gurnard’s Head and left it on the bar with a note. Later that day the Gurnard’s Head ordered a case of his gin, and so the Traquin’s brand was born. Interestingly, for the first year, each of his bottles included violets from his Aunt’s garden. 

Inspired by Tarquin, we were eager to begin making our gin! Led by our passionate and knowledgeable teachers, we started making our own gins; a process that took Tarquin one year would take us just two hours. 

Collage showing the gin making process

Key to any gin, is, of course, Juniper berries; these form the Identity and DNA of the gin. Tarquin’s have their own Juniper berries, carefully selected from Italy and matured for two years. Along with Juniper berries, every bottle of Tarquin’s gin contains three other botanicals: Coriander seeds to provide the citrus notes; Angelica Root to give earthy notes (as Tarquin himself says: it “smells of old books and tastes like earthy ground”) and Orris Root from Iris flowers to give floral notes and bind the ingredients. In addition to these four key botanicals, an optional ground Liquorice Root can be added to create a sweeter gin; it is naturally 30 times sweeter than cane sugar. 

Collage showing the gin making process

After combining the base botanical ingredients it was time to embrace our inner Tarquin and get creative! We were able to choose additional botanicals up to the weight of 40g, from herbaceous to sweet and floral to earthy, depending on the desired outcome. Lined up in jars of all shapes and sizes, choosing botanicals was a magical experience. Though it was important to keep track of the ingredients we were adding and make a note of the measurements included; who knew there’d be maths involved in the process of gin making? 

Having carefully and considerately chosen our botanical flavours, it was time to begin the distillation stage. We fired up the copper stills, identical to the one Tarquin began with, feeling like we were back in a science class! The distillation stage is quite a process, it was important to pay careful attention to what we were doing. We began by adding the neutral grain spirit base to the still (57% alcohol) before adding an additional 300 ml of water and our botanicals. By heating the ingredients together, the natural oils from the botanicals are drawn out and the liquid evaporates through the swan neck, then down into the condenser where is cooled back down into a liquid.  At this point, the liquid begins dripping out into the little glass beaker.

Tarquin’s are passionate about producing quality gin in its purest form, and to do this they remove the ‘head’ and the ‘tail’ of the gin, keeping only the ‘heart’, the purest part of the distilled gin. This meant that we removed the first and the last 25ml of the gin, collecting the 400ml from the heart of the gin. 

Whilst waiting for the heart to be collected, we were treated to an additional gin and tonic, with a story behind it. In 2015, Tarquin was asked to provide gin for the closing of the 771 Squadron at Culdrose. To honour the fantastic hard work of the squadron over the years, Tarquin decided to create a gin in their honour. The gin, named ‘The Seadog’ was a huge success and became an incredibly popular bottle for Tarquin’s. In 2017, Tarquin took ‘The Seadog’ to the World Spirit Competition in San Francisco where it won a double gold award for the World’s Best Gin after a blind taste test. Tarquin is the youngest distiller to have won this award.  

Having collected the finished 400ml of distillate (tasting a little along the way!), we topped it up with 300ml of Cornish spring water, before dispensing it into a classic frosted blue Tarquin’s bottle. Then came the exciting part of labelling and waxing our very own bottle of gin!

We spent a little while coming up with creative names for our gins, while Fran measured the ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of each of our bottles, coming out around 45%. To create a professional, crafty finish, we added character notes, additional notes and the ABV to our labels, creating a unique and personal bottle. Swirling the bottle tops in the glimmering blue liquid wax was one of the most satisfying parts of the day, following advice from Archie on how to perfect the wax drip. It is advised to wait at least a week before trying the gin, but I’m not sure we’ll all be waiting that long!

Holding our finished bottles we felt like professional gin distillers, proud of our creations! 

Aspects Holidays are thrilled to be able to offer all of our guests a fantastic opportunity to experience this amazing class for themselves at a special discounted price. Tarquin’s have kindly offered all our guests a 20% discount for the next three months, at either the St Ives or the Padstow school. Simply quote ASHOLIDAYS20 when making your booking on their website.

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, take a look at all our available holidays in St Ives and Padstow >

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