Manchester is, of course, wonderful, as any Mancunian (adopted or otherwise) will be pleased to tell you with little or no prompting. I moved here at 17, lured by two revolutions: the Industrial one which I had learned about in History lessons at school, seduced by the march of progress in the form of canals, and railways, and the enormous belching mills and factories; and the cultural one that I had learned about by riffling through my sister's record collection, full of moody black and white covers and even moodier black and white songs. Nor have I have ever regretted moving here, despite sporadic accusations from other, lesser cities that Manchester's glory is all in the past, a relic from another time.
This is clearly nonsense, as one of the things that Manchester does best is combine past and present - as even a cursory glance at the city centre skyline will make abundantly clear. This approach is also very evident in the new City of Manchester Distillery, located underneath one of the railway arches in the Green Quarter and home to Manchester Three Rivers Gin. This is the city centre's first dedicated gin distillery in modern times and aims to blend a sense of Manchester's glorious history with the current renaissance in small batch gin - the name refers to the three waterways (the Irwell, Irk and Medlock) that played such a huge part in Manchester's development into the city we know today. All of this is celebrated in the video that visitors to the Gin Experience will be greeted with and which we watched at the recent press launch - a video that speaks volumes about the passion of Master Distiller Dave Rigby and which brought several tears to several eyes (must have had something in mine, I reckon).
Dave began his career as a university lecturer but now spends his time with his beloved custom-built 450l copper pot Arnold Holstein still, named Angel after the distillery's location in the shadow of Angel Meadow. He produces all the gin himself, and very good it is too - I've never been able to enjoy gin neat, but the inclusion of oats leads to an oily sweetness that makes Three Rivers palatable even on its own. Dave suggests serving the gin with cherries in order to pick up the natural sweetness of the gin, which combines 11 botanicals and derives its smoothness from vanilla, cinnamon, cardamon and almond as well as the oats. Three Rivers Gin is already available in a growing number of Manchester bars and independent and online retailers (Manchester House has it behind the bar and you can pick up a bottle at Hanging Ditch), but the distillery is also positioning itself as an interactive visitor attraction. The City of Manchester Gin Experience offers a guided tour of the distillery, four drinks (all gin-based, of course) and - best of all - the chance to create a bespoke 700ml bottle of gin to take home using the mini Alembic copper pot stills. I am, naturally, beyond desperate to make my own gin, but had to make do with eyeing up these cute mini stills and drinking a Three Rivers and tonic, pretending I'd just made it.
The experience is not cheap at £95, but this is a chance to see (and taste) a seriously good gin being made by lovely, passionate people who want to share their love of gin and of Manchester and its history. And any cultural experience that leads to going home on the bus carrying your own bottle of gin is absolutely fine with me.
- Full details of the City of Manchester Gin Experience are available through the Three Rivers website, and the distillery can be found at 21 Red Bank Parade, Manchester M4 4HF.