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Tarquin's Gin School | Boutique Retreats

Tarquin's Gin School | Boutique Retreats

A rather damp Friday afternoon in November finds me heading to St Ives to visit the fantastic Tarquin's Gin School, located on Fore Street. Today, I'll be learning all about the man behind the famous Cornish brand, with a few cheeky tipples along the way! I'll be creating my very own bottle of Tarquin's gin, with guidance from the wonderful gin experts at Tarquin's. 

We were kindly invited along to Tarquin’s Gin School in St Ives to test out our creative skills and find our inner Gin Connoisseur! Walking along the cobbled streets of Fore Street in St Ives, on a not-so-sunny Friday afternoon in November, the gin school and shop stood out with its famous Tarquin’s blue store front and large copper still in the window. The shop and school are split over two levels, with the shop downstairs and the gin school on the first floor. 

Feeling excited, my partner and I climbed the stairs to the gin school, where we were met by the lovely gin experts who would be running our class today, Sophie, Archie and Fran. Sophie kindly took our coats, and we were shown to our workstations. On two long wooden work benches were six shiny copper stills, bubbling away, ready to create our botanical concoctions. In front of our stills were carefully placed weighing scales, measuring jugs and the all-important ingredients needed to make our gin. Directly behind us, there was a shelf full of botanicals, which would soon be required to make our one-of-a-kind bottles of gin.

To start off the session, we were handed a double measure of the Tarquin’s classic, a Cornish dry gin, paired with a Mediterranean tonic and a slice of grapefruit – delicious! For those driving, a non-alcoholic option was available. Archie began by going back to the roots of Tarquin’s, telling us all about the man behind the famous Cornish gin that we know and love! Small batch distillation became legal in 2009 and in 2012, the story of Tarquin’s Gin began. Tarquin left his life in London and returned to his roots, moving in with his aunt in the West Country. Tarquin found himself surfing by day and making gin by night.

In just one year, Tarquin distilled 250 separate botanicals and with plenty of experimenting along the way, he selected 12 botanicals to share with the world in his first bottle of gin. On 30th July 2013, that very bottle was taken to the Gurnard’s Head near St Ives, which is renowned for using Cornish suppliers wherever possible. Tarquin left the bottle on the bar, with his contact details on a note. Later that day, he received a call from the pub, who wished to purchase a case of the delicious gin. From there, the brand Tarquin’s was born.

Feeling inspired by the man behind the brand, we set about making our very own creations. First, the basics. Archie talked us through the key ingredients to create our gin. The key ingredient to any gin is Juniper berries. Tarquin’s source their Juniper berries from Italy. The gin experts advised us on how many grams of each ingredient to add, to ensure that we created the perfect gin to our taste. I opted to make a sweeter gin, so added slightly less Juniper berries. To provide a citrus hit, we then added coriander and for the earthy layer, Angelica Root was added. For a floral note, Orris Root was then added, and the final staple ingredient added was liquorice root. This gives the gin a sweet note. 

We were asked to keep note of the weight of each ingredient added so far. This was jotted down in our carefully crafted notebooks, provided by the school. The weights were added up and Archie explained that this was an important step, as the total weight, including our botanicals, couldn’t exceed 40g. Adding too many ingredients affects the distillation process. With that in mind, we set about adding our own combination of botanicals. Just like Tarquin’s original creation, we were recommended to add up to 12 botanicals.

Archie explained that there were four sections of botanicals available: herbaceous, sweet, floral and earthy. There was also a citrus station available, with lemons, limes and oranges available to add to our creations. The experts were on hand to listen to our ideas and help with any suggestions for botanicals that they felt may complement our gin.

After careful consideration (and lots of sensory exploring), we had chosen our botanicals to add to our gin. It was now time to distil our gin! Firstly, we added the neutral grain spirit base (57% alcohol) to our still. We then added 300ml water to our large glass beaker, then transferred that into the still, followed by our botanicals. Sophie checked my still, whilst Fran checked the rest of the group’s stills. We turned on our hot plates and waited for the magic to happen.

The experts explained that at Tarquin’s, they remove the ‘head’ and ‘tail’ of the gin, to ensure that it’s at its purest form (which helps to reduce hangovers according to the team). The impure parts of the gin are used at Tarquin’s as biofuel, and it is featured in their hand sanitiser too! 

We kept an eye on the thermometer of our stills, waiting for the temperature to reach 70°c. At this temperature, the liquid starts to collect in the beakers below. We sipped our drinks whilst we waited for the heart of our gins to collect. We were also encouraged to taste a little of the distillate along the way, as it dripped into the beaker below. It was interesting to taste the different flavours along the journey.

No sooner than we took our last sip of Cornish Dry, we were handed our next double serving. Perfect timing! Fran explained the story behind our next tipple, which was a Navy strength gin at a whopping 57% abv named ‘The Seadog’. This spirit came to life in 2015, when Tarquin was asked to create a gin to commemorate 771 squadron stepping down from their roles at the Culdrose naval base. Two years later, this very gin won the title of “World’s Best Gin” and “Double Gold” at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. To this day, Tarquin is the youngest distiller to have won these awards.

Once the final 25ml of our gin had been collected, it was time to cut back our gin, by adding 300ml Cornish spring water. We gave this mixture a good stir and Fran measured the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of our creations using a measuring hydrometer. My gin measured at 44.5% ABV. The group went quiet whist we waited to hear the percentage of each other’s bottles to find out who’s was the strongest – sadly mine did not qualify! We used the funnels provided to carefully transfer the gin from the beaker into our bottles. 

We were kindly handed the labels for our bottles by Fran, along with a Sharpie pen to name our bottles. We put on our thinking caps and got thinking of the perfect name for our creations. My fruity creation was labelled Boutique in a Bottle! We also added the character notes, additional notes and the ABV to the bottles. We were advised that it’s best to wait a week before opening our bottles, to allow the flavours to settle, but we don’t think we’ll be waiting that long!

In the penultimate stage of our experience, Fran showed us how to ribbon our gin bottles. We carefully followed her instruction, and we also placed the labels on our bottles. We learnt that in production, this process is done by hand, with workers adding these to between 3,000 – 5,000 bottles per day!

The design of the bottles used by Tarquin’s has been carefully redesigned in recent years to embrace its’ Cornish heritage. The frosted glass represents sea glass, often found on our Cornish shores. The wax added in the final step is linked to a water splash. On the bottom of the bottle, you’ll find the words “Yeghes Da!” which is Cornish for “cheers and good health”. A final lovely touch is the puffin. Tarquin loves puffins and he has even adopted one on the Isles of Scilly, which he of course named Tarquin! 

To conclude our exciting afternoon, Sophie talked us through how to create the perfect wax drip for our bottles. We took turns waxing our bottles, sharing the names of our creations with the group. 

Feeling tempted? Experience the Tarquin’s Gin School for yourself, with 20% off for all Boutique Retreats guests for the next 3 months at either the Padstow or St Ives school. Simply quote BOUTIQUE20 when making a booking on their website.

Feeling inspired? Book a luxury retreat in Cornwall here.


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