“Yes, you’re in the right place.”
My frown must have given me away.
This is classy, and for a distillery, I was perhaps expecting something slightly more rough around the edges.
Thankfully, a helpful member of staff spots me a mile off, marks my name off a sheet and parks me up at the bar with a freshly-poured gin. She'll be back soon, she tells us.
Whilst I'm waiting, I look around.
It’s busy in here, but I guess that’s no surprise.
Gin is as popular in Britain as it’s ever been. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association reported record sales of more than £2 billion from 2018-19 across the country.
That’s a lot of gin.
My ice-cold glass is just about half-drunk by the time the staff member returns, and she points us towards the locked doors at the far end of the room. Our Gin Experience Host is there waiting.
Once everyone arrives, he guides the group into a small distillery room, where we huddle around a brawny, bronze, looping industrial mechanism.
This was more what I'd expected to see, yet somehow, even the pipes have an elegance about them. It makes sense that they'd put time and effort into the presentation of the drinks here. But apparently Manchester Gin is equally proud of its apparatus.
The tour is fully booked, and our host confirms that the UK is indeed warming to gin at an unprecedented rate. Still, I find it hard to believe anyone loves the spirit as much this guy. He's as passionate and informative about gin as any man I’ve ever met - rattling off facts about the history, taste and future of the spirit like he’d invented it himself.
Sure, you could argue that’s his job. But that’d be a little shortsighted. The guy is going above and beyond his job description - and it’s clear Manchester Gin distils passion into their staff as well as the juniper berry spirit for which they are renowned. It's great to see.
Our host decants the entertaining tale of Manchester Gin in full flow (a great story which I won’t spoil here) before waving us into the tasting room, where he talks us through the contents of the clear liquid resting in the glassware on our individual table mats.
He also teaches an invaluable trick - the art of sniffing out good gin without falling victim to the burning rush that causes your face to crinkle in discomfort.
After surging through our five surprisingly delicious samples (I'd never considered myself a straight-gin drinker), the host whips out an iPad and takes some bar orders (all included in the price of the tour), which arrive as we start preparing to make a bottle of our own.
There’s some general advice and recommendations, but mostly, we're encouraged to go nuts. “If you see an ingredient on the list that you like, chuck it in,” we’re told.
The gin expert sweeps the room to ensure our recipes balance out, recommending an extra herb here and there, before leaving us to the rows of seasoning ingredients in towering glass jars at the far end of the room.
As we pinch and pour until the perfect number shows up on the scales, passers-by on the street break their stride to peek into the window, pointing to us all huddled around the equipment. Some even snap photos. For a moment it feels like we’re part of a popular exhibit at a museum.
One couple, who’d clearly bitten off more than they could chew before the tasting even commenced, start haphazardly tossing their ingredients into the container without the scales - forcing our helpful host to intervene.
Wearing the patience of a saint, he scraps the mix and measures out the contents all over again. It looks like a sticky situation, but the couple distil their new gin under his supervision, and all is saved.
Although it’s doubtful whether their bottle successfully made its way home unscathed. They were looking a little worse for wear when the whole thing was over.
Everyone else, on the other hand, scoops up their respective bottles and carries them out of the tasting room like a trophy. Most are smiling, and it's easy to see why.
Whether you’re thirsty for knowledge or gin samplers, you’ll get your fill in the Gin Experience.
Having worked up an appetite, we make our way back across the other side of the building to dine in the cool shadows of Three Little Words - with more gin for company. We order some sides to bulk out the large plates and it works out at just the right amount.
Pork belly, hake, tofu and duck leg are all featured on the mains menu, with some cracking veggie and meat options among the small plates and sides.
When our waiter spots that we’re gathering our belongings to leave, he tentatively reminds us to take our gin bottles for the road.
“People leave them here accidentally all the time,” he tells us.
No wonder. The gin plays its role, no doubt, but the tranquil surroundings of Three Little Words are so soothing, it’d be all-too-easy to sleepwalk out the door without a care in the world, or the bottle of gin (worth a fair whack) you just made yourself.
It's not a spur-of-the-moment deal, and The Gin Experience is something you might need to put aside a bit of money for.
However, what it does promise is a night to remember - along with some great stories, a smorgasbord of tasty spirits, and the best kind of take-home memento.
Cheers to Manchester Gin!