Many people love a tipple of gin – especially at Christmas – but have you ever wondered exactly how these ever-popular spirits are made, and how they become so flavoursome?
I headed to the award-winning Massingberd-Mundy Distillery, located in South Ormsby in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds, to find out exactly that.
As a gin lover myself, I’ve always wondered exactly how much hard work goes into the making of each bottle of gin, especially with such an array of flavours and scents available.
Each of Massingberd-Mundy’s artisan gins is inspired by a different person of local and national historical interest; namely, Charles Burrell Massingberd, a former Squire of South Ormsby Estate and his wife Marie Jeanne Rapigeon, who fled France and fell in love with the Lincolnshire squire.
The distillery has had an outstanding year, having won a series of prestigious awards for its artisan gins, including accolades from the World Gin Awards, The Gin Guide and Lincolnshire Life’s Taste of Excellence Food & Drink Awards.
So popular are their gins that their 150 bottles of the festive Mulled Winter Berry Gin, infused with fresh figs, blackberries and locally grown elderberries as well as a blend of mulling spices, sold out in six days earlier this month.
So with such an array of flavours and spices going into their gins, how is each one made?
I met Massingberd-Mundy’s head distiller, Tristan Jørgensen, who gave us a tour of their facility, located on the 3,000-acre South Ormsby estate to show how the gin-making process works.
It is well known that gin was not so popular in the 1880s and 90s, and had something of a reputation as ‘mother’s ruin’, so why is it now so popular again, we asked Tristan?
He said: “Legislation has now changed so that you can use smaller distilleries and you can now put anything and everything in to flavour it now, as long as juniper is the main botanical ingredient, and we can get so creative.
“There’s now so many flavours of handcrafted gins and you can be very creative with them.”
So exactly how is gin made?
The base of gin at Massingberd-Mundy is the 96 percent AVB (alcohol by volume) British grain spirit, which is like a rough and ready vodka, and to make a batch, Tristan will take 50 litres of this spirit and put it into Angelica – the nickname of their distiller – and add 50 litres of water and then it will be brought down to 52 percent ABV.
This is also when the botanicals are added to give each gin its individual taste.
With the ever-popular Burrells Dry Gin, they will use three brew bags and fill them with 14 botanicals, including juniper, lemon, lime, tangerine, cubeb peppercorns, apple and elderflower -– the two latter ingredients are grown on the South Ormsby estate, and all produce used is sourced locally wherever possible.
This next part is what Tristan calls the “heads, hearts and tails” process. First comes heads, where the first 500ml of the liquid contains ethanol and needs to be siphoned off and stored to be re-distilled later, which then leaves room for the heart, which Tristan says is the “good stuff” as it’s the most flavoursome without being too strong. The heart is distilled for roughly six hours and is set aside to be bottled.
Then comes the tails, which doesn’t taste as good because this is where the juniper smell and taste is very strong and is very bitter. Again this is siphoned off and both the heads and tails are re-distilled later until they are usable, so there is no waste.
The heart of the gin is then stored for at least two weeks to allow the taste to become smoother and for the botanicals to settle. This will be tested and checked by Tristan regularly using a hydrometer to make sure the strength and flavour is correct.
The gin is then bottled and sealed and each bottle is labelled by hand. Today, this arduous task is being completed by Annabel Cumberworth, who is spending two months in the distillery as part of the Kickstart programme, where the graduates spend a few months in each area of the Estate to gain a rounded experience.
Another of the distillery’s flagship gins is the Marie Jeanne pink gin, which uses 12 botanicals including hibiscus, juniper, lime, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and peppercorns. This one doesn’t use vapours, but an infusion basket instead, and uses locally made raspberry and strawberry jam and cranberry sauce to give it a distinct flavour.
Tristan is something of a chemist as he will try many different flavours and experiment with different blends to create something new and exciting.
He began his career at the world-famous Laphroaig Distillery in Scotland and has worked for some of the UK’s major spirit producers -– which perhaps explains why he is determined to re-release one of the popular ones from this year – the Oak-Aged gin.
The flavour for this came from chippings from an oak tree which had fallen down on the South Ormsby Estate, which was very popular upon its release in August 2021.
Massingberd-Mundy release six limited edition gins throughout the year, and Tristan said he hopes to create a chocolate-based gin in time for Valentine’s Day next year.
Tristan said: “People joke that I must be an alcoholic to do this job and it’s true I do tastings in the morning because that is when my palate is the most fresh -– that way if I stop at about midday I can go on the school run and pick up my children when I am safe to drive!”
Tristan said he has the best job in the world and, after tasting some of his gins, it’s not hard to see why.
To find out more about Massingberd-Mundy’s gins, visit www.southormsbyestate.co.uk/products/distillery/