In the last few years, I, like most of the UK population, have become an expert in drinking gin. But making it? The history behind it? I had no real idea until I visited the oldest working gin distillery in Plymouth, Devon.
The gin distillery is located in the centre of town and there are plenty of guided tours, making it one of the best things to do in Plymouth. The tour is partially focused on the history behind Plymouth gin, partially to do with the making of Plymouth gin, and partially, everyone’s favourite – drinking gin!
Here’s what you can expect when visiting the Plymouth Gin Distillery.
Visiting the Gin Distillery
I visited with a group of ten of us in the summer. We’d prebooked (it’s essential to prebook, especially for large trips) and had a private tour as there were so many of us! After signing in, we were welcomed by our tour guide, who showed us around the first part of the distillery.
Plymouth Gin History
I won’t divulge too much here – that’s the tour guide’s job – but the story of Plymouth Gin is so fascinating that I do have to share a little!
Parts of the distillery building date back to the 1400s, and today’s entrance was actually a medieval street. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth. On the site, there was a monastery, then a jail, and it was then the preferred accommodation for the Mayflower pilgrims when they passed through Plymouth on the way to what is now the USA.
Finally, the distillery was set up on-site. It grew in popularity due to the nearby presence of the Royal Navy – Naval military personnel in higher ranks used to prefer to drink gin rather than rum, which was seen as a commoner’s beverage. 1000 barrels per year were used by the navy, and at that point, it was 57% alcohol!
Plymouth Gin was one of the world’s biggest selling alcohol brands in the early 20th century. In the 1920s, it was a key ingredient to the first-ever martini! However, rationing during the war and economic downturn negatively impacted Plymouth gin, and eventually, the owning family filed for bankruptcy in 1953, with it eventually being delisted from most supermarkets.
However, four private investors saw potential in Plymouth Gin, and put their money into it, going back to the original recipe from 1793. It didn’t quite reach its early 20th century heights, but it is once again gaining popularity, and can be found in bars all over Plymouth and Devon, and many places further afield.
The Gin Making Process
Once we’d learned about the history, we were taking into the distilling room. Because of the amount of static electricity, we had to place our hand on a pad before entering, and turn all of our phones off! Our guide told us about the processes involved in gin making, and exactly how the litres of alcohol are processed.
When making gin, there is quite a lot of waste product. Our guide told us that this is still used, but not for drinking – it joins the market as hand sanitizer, and unsurprisingly, sales for it have soared in 2020.
The Gin Bar
Then, we were taken upstairs to the gin bar. This is a popular bar come evening – at midday, we were the only people there. If you’re spending a weekend in Plymouth, you might want to head back to the gin bar for some evening drinks!
We were invited to try a few different types of gin, including sloe gin, as well as some of the flavours that are infused to create the delicious drinks that we all know and love.
After the tasting, we were all invited to one more drink. I opted for the sloe gin with soda water, which was a popular choice amongst my friends!
The Need to Knows
The Plymouth Gin distillery is a popular tourist attraction in Plymouth, so as I said, pre-booking is essential.
There are few different types of tour that you can take around the distillery:
- The Plymouth Gin Distillery tour is the one that I did, and it costs just 11 per person (which I thought was great value for what you get!).
- The Gin Connoisseurs Tour goes into the distillery a bit more, and has a unique bling tasting of five different gins. It costs 31.
- The Master Distillers Tour includes all of the above, and a distilling masterclass! It takes around 2.5 hours and costs 48.
The distillery is about a 15 minute walk from Plymouth Train Station. There are buses and boats (it is the ocean city after all!) running from other places in Plymouth, or Need A Cab provides a reliable taxi service with an app that is similar to Uber.
There’s also paid for parking at this Google maps location (but don’t drive if you’re planning to drink lots of gin, of course!).
Children are allowed on the tours, free of charge, but child spots are limited so be sure to enquire when booking.
Plymouth Gin is tasty, and the story behind it is fascinating. It’s a great spot to visit while exploring the city, and a fantastic way to learn more about Plymouth – through the nation’s favourite spirit! I hope you enjoy your trip there!