This week I visited Norwich’s Ten Bells to take a tour of the Bullards Gin Distillery and taste their range of gins – including the latest addition to the family – Old Tom.
Once upon a time, I used to be a regular at The Ten Bells in Norwich.
Back in the day, when Harbercue was cooking up meaty morsels, I could be found tucking into a plate piled high with slow-cooked pulled pork. But, in the years that followed, the pub fell off my radar. I started visiting other pubs and bars, like Hawthorn and Platform 12.
Which explains how I completely failed to notice there was a gin still on St Benedicts Street.
I completely failed to notice there was a gin still on St Benedicts Street.
Yep. It’s true.
For several years, Bullards has been distilling around 500 bottles of gin a week. And I had no idea.
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So when co-founder Craig Allison invited me along to explore behind the scenes, I said yes in an instant.
Lasting for around two hours, the gin distillery tour was filled with history, expertise and passion. Here’s the review of my experience.
First things first: Bullards is unique because it’s the only gin distillery in Norwich.
Its gins are primarily stocked in the south of England, especially Norwich, Cambridge and London. When Bullards moves to the Crystal House next year, it’s hoping to quadruple production and expand distribution across the UK and EU.
Second: The Bullards name is a revival of an old brewing brand from Norwich. While the brewing company was established in 1837, the distillery was founded around three years ago. Which explains why you can see the anchor logo on lots of buildings throughout Norwich.
Third: Vodka and gin are essentially the same thing, except gin has juniper in it. If it doesn’t have juniper in it, it’s not gin.
Norwich Gin Distillery Tour
When we arrived, Craig showed us through to the back of the pub, to the still room. And this is where the magic happens. All their gin is distilled, packaged and distributed by hand from here.
He took us through the key botanicals, explaining how long they’re steeped and the characteristics each one brings to the gin. Off the top of my head, there was juniper, cardamom, angelica, orange, lemon, tonka bean, black peppercorn and coriander. Each one has a different role to play in balancing the flavour.
We were then allowed to have a look at the still, which was filled with juniper berries and peppercorns, ready for steeping the next day. It was fascinating to see inside and have a peek at all of the juniper and peppercorns – and it smelled incredible.
Before moving onto the gin tasting, this is how you should taste gin properly:
1. Swill the neat gin around a glass.
2. Tilt gently and inhale near the bottom edge of the glass. There you will find the spicy notes, while the florals rise to the top.
3. Add two cubes of ice and sniff again to unlock the full aromas.
There is no right way to serve gin and tonic, but the Spanish style has become popular for several reasons. First, a large balloon glass allows you to smell it better. Second, lots of ice means that the ice doesn’t melt as fast, diluting the drink. Third, the garnishes should enhance and exaggerate the botanicals in the gin; very few have lime in them so this trend is dying out. Lemon and orange would be far more appropriate.
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And now onto the important bit…
Bullards London Dry Gin
This classic, traditional gin is smooth and dry. It’s incredibly refreshing with a high-quality tonic, with tonka beans adding a soft, vanilla-like sweetness to the drink.
Bullards Old Tom Gin
This is the latest addition to the Bullards gin family, which was launched at Jarrolds at the end of November.
It’s a complex flavour, which partners perfectly with a plain tonic. It’s sweet, almost syrupy when neat, but this dies away and becomes more vanillay with the tonic.
It’s very light and refreshing and I can see myself happily drinking this in the sunshine on a hot summer’s day.
Produced exclusively for the Gin Trap pub on the Norfolk coast, this was a departure from the previous two. It is very complex, with notes of kaffir lime leaf, cardamom and vanilla. It was very aromatic and exotic when neat.
Craig paired it with Lixir’s Blood Orange and Cinnamon tonic and the flavours were completely transformed. It became very rich and spicy – the perfect Christmas combination. I would never have considered buying such a strongly flavoured tonic in the past, but I’m definitely going to head to Jarrolds to pick up a few bottles ready for the festive season.
Bullards Strawberry & Black Pepper Gin
I’ll be honest that I was apprehensive of this gin.
I’m not a massive fan of highly flavoured spirits because they often taste synthetic and cheap. However, this gin is not.
Bullards steep locally harvested strawberries, so it’s all natural. It also means every batch has a slightly different colour, depending on when the strawberries were harvested or whether they have been frozen.
It also means every batch has a slightly different colour, depending on when the strawberries were harvested
The strawberry flavour is intense when sampled neat, but an elderflower tonic loosens the flavours. The black pepper comes through more as an aroma than a flavour towards the end of each sip.
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Although Bullards offered me the Norwich gin distillery tour and tasting for free, I would have happily paid £25 for a ticket. Although they’re not currently taking bookings (because of their move) it’d make a lovely gift for Norwich gin fans in future.
Bullards is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to help with their expansion and move to the Crystal House. If you’d like to become a ginvestor and help support a Norwich business, visit their website to find out more.