We’ve featured these innovative classes run by St Pancras Renaissance for a while so I thought it was high time to check one out personally.
They run them for various reasons: to connect with and promote local businesses, raise awareness of MI + ME, their new casual dining restaurant on the upper concourse, and get a buzz on social media. The classes are run as part of Renaissance Hotels global event programme to help their guests discover genuine local experiences and get under the skin of the local neighbourhood. The fun part is that they’re absolutely free!
Curiosity took me down there, as well as the fact that I’m a rubbish mixologist and wanted to up my skills. Plus, I love a good gin and tonic…who doesn’t?
Having arrived with a friend, we found a friendly bunch of classmates on the outside terrace, with great views of the station architecture; albeit our lesson was occasionally interrupted by station announcements. All part of the fun.
We were welcomed in with a gin cocktail to whet our tastebuds and get us in the mood – a pleasantly bittersweet concoction based on Aperol, gin, and one of the many varieties of Fevertree tonic water.
Our masterclass was structured in two parts: first the gin then the tonic. Later we would be invited to mix them together to create our own special blends.
It was fascinating to absorb a short history of gin – just “the fun bits” according to our engaging presenter, and with a distinctly London focus.
We learned that gin was initially considered a medicinal drink and became popular during the Great Plague, thanks to the much-hyped healing properties of the juniper berry.
Right on cue, we were invited to squeeze and smell some juniper berries placed at our table; they really did reek of gin! A very odd aroma from a little berry!
The centre of excellence of gin-making later moved to the Netherlands, where our Dutch cousins became just as obsessed with the drink. Soldiers were known to take it with them into battle and simultaneously (a coincidence I am sure) became renowned for their bravery – hence the phrase “Dutch courage”.
Then in the 1980s gin died a slow death as it was overtaken by vodka, the latter being marketed as a similar thrill but without boozy breath. Thankfully, in the last 25 years there has been a huge gin revival. This was initially spearheaded by Bombay Sapphire and other big brands.
In recent years the craze has become more local, with a focus on small batches and bespoke ingredients to find the optimal mix of botanicals, as pioneered by the likes of Sipsmith.
Hence it was totally in keeping that 58 Gin produced at a micro-distillery in Islington/Hackney was our house gin for the evening.
Its founder, bubbly Aussie Mark Marmont, shared how he decided to create a top-notch gin he would personally enjoy, starting with a year of experiments on his kitchen table and at renowned speakeasy 69 Colebrooke Row, culminating in the launch of his iconic bottle (branding by a tattoo artist).
Mark showed us how the process begins by adding 100% British wheat grain spirit to a gorgeous alembic copper still, which he held up in front of us.
Nine specially-chosen botanicals are added: Juniper, Coriander Seed, Lemon Peel, Pink Grapefruit Peel, Bergamot Peel, Orris, Cubeb Pepper, Vanilla and Angelica. We were even passed round samples of these to have a little sniff!
The tonic component of our “class” (by this stage as we took little swigs, it felt far too cool for school) was led by an expert mixologist from Fevertree, the company that has taken the premium tonic market by storm.
Our teacher explained how mass-produced tonics were inadequate in allowing different gins to express their qualities, based as they were on artificial preservatives, cheap aromatics and artificial sweeteners.
The founders of Fevertree therefore decided to make the world’s best tonic water and travelled far and wide to source the best quinine (the source ingredient for tonic – also perceived as medicinal with anti-malarial properties!).
Hence the perfect marriage was born: high-quality tonic water and artisanal, small batch gin.
And we were then invited to come up with our own combinations of gin, tonic and adornments to create the perfect mix for our own individual palette. All ingredients were generously provided and refilled.
I personally enjoyed the citrusy vibe of a simple lemon-infused Mediterranean tonic with the squeaky clean, herby flavour of 58 Gin.
My companion made a fruity pink grapefruit and lime number using the same tonic but with a significantly more fragrant result.
I guess I’m just not destined to become a master mixologist but I sure enjoyed being the amateur experimental gin scientist.
An evening of fun and discovery. I was impressed that they lay on this kind of event for free to the general public where other 5 star hotels might try to charge a small fortune. A great little initiative!
Remember to check out their upcoming masterclasses, but you’ll need to book fast to avoid disappointment.
Photo credits: LHI blogger Rajul, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Alessandra Bonerba.