Gin fans can still visit the Pickering's distillery on these Covid compliant tours finds Rosalind Erskine.

Ever wondered why the original Pickering’s gin has a red wax seal? Or why there are two Pickering’s musical martini makers? Then a tour of the Edinburgh distillery is a must.

In these strange times of going in and out of restrictions and lockdowns, an afternoon of all things gin is a great way to relax – and I can think of no better place than entering the (slightly eccentric) world of Pickering’s at Summerhall.

Their Gin Jolly tours are running Thursdays to Sundays at 1,3 and 5pm and can be booked online.

As with everything just now, the tours are running slightly differently, which means being met outside Summerhall by your guide.

Ours was the brilliantly funny and knowledgeable Eloise, who kicked off the tour in the old workshop, which was also the former Christmas gin bauble filling room – one of two sites that the gin brand has within the arts venue.

Given the current restrictions, the welcome G&T is no more (but don’t despair, you’ll leave with a gift bag containing a miniature and bottle of tonic).

The story of how Pickering’s came to be is told in this room, which is now full of weird and wonderful inventions – dreamed up and brought to life by the owners – Marcus Pickering and Matt Gammell, who set up the distillery in 2013.

Pickering’s distillery was the first to be established in Edinburgh for over 150 years and came about as Marcus and Matt, keen gin fans, loved the space at the former old Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, so they made it the home of Pickering’s.

On this leg of the tour you’ll find out how they came to be in possession of a gin recipe from Bombay, dating from 1947 and how this was adapted to eventually produce their original gin before being released as its original recipe some years later as Pickering’s 1947.

You’ll find out all about the stories of the inventions – from the vintage delivery truck, and monkeybike (possibly the world’s smallest gin bar) to the (second) martini-making record player – and how they helped get the Pickering’s name out all over the world (sometimes via a specially designed suitcase – the tip top tippling trunk).

After some pictures, it’s time to move on to the distillery.

Formerly the dog kennels in the vets, the distillery consists of three rooms and a shop. It’s a small affair but there’s plenty of room for social distancing.

In the distillery you’ll get to see and find out all about Emily and Gertrude – the two copper stills that create the Pickering’s gins. Named after Matt and Marcus’s grandmother’s, the stills are wrapped in a  custom designed water bath system, which means they’re kept warm without the use of gas.

Here you can see the original gin recipe and, if distilling is in process, you might get to see, in action, how the spirit is ‘cut’ into the heads, hearts and tails. Another invention can be seen here – Mabel the label maker – designed by Matt for putting labels on their somewhat awkward but instantly recognisable bottles.

The bottling room (and it’s much more efficient label machine) can be glimpsed here too before ending in the shop.

Luckily here, (for anyone not driving), you will enjoy a tutored tasting from Eloise of Pickering’s original, navy strength and 1947 as well as a lovely shot of the warming Sloe Gin. You’ll also be able to stock up with 10 per cent off all bottles in the shop.

Ideal as a gift or for a day out with friends or family, the Gin Jolly tour is an entertaining way to find out more about one of Scotland’s best loved distilleries.

Tours cost £15 and are available to book online here.

Due to social distancing guidelines, Pickering’s now have a minimum and maximum group size on the Gin Jolly tours. The minimum group size is two people, whilst the largest group they can accommodate is six people from two households.

Win free Pickering’s gin

To celebrate the launch of their gift-wrapping service, Pickering’s are giving away two amazing gin gift bundles to two lucky readers.

To enter the competition, click here.

Pickering’s festive gin baubles are back for Christmas 2020 – here’s why there’s a limited supply this year

About The Author

Rosalind Erskine

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related.

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