If you’ve ever visited Scotland’s capital city, it’s highly likely you’ve experienced the smell of hops in the air, thanks to the distilleries dotted across Edinburgh. Summerhall is one of the most central of these distilleries, located in the south side of the city, on the edge of the Meadows. The complex, which was once the historic Royal Dick Vet School and is now an Edinburgh staple, is full of hidden gems, cool pop-ups and independent businesses.
One of those unexpected treats, tucked behind the main courtyard, is Summerhall Distillery, home of Pickering’s Gin, which I was lucky enough to visit recently for a Gin Cocktail and Cheese Tasting Experience. Yes, you did read that right. Gin and cheese. Whilst most foodies will have indulged in the more classic combination of cheese and wine, fewer will likely have tried pairing it with gin cocktails. As a gin and cheese lover I was instantly on board, but I was also intrigued to see if gin cocktails would be a worthy alternative to wine pairing with cheese.
Launched in 2014, Pickering’s was the first gin distillery to be established in Edinburgh for over 150 years and it’s packed full of rich history. The experience starts with tour of their small but perfectly formed distillery. The place is very atmospheric, from the bulbous copper stills and mismatched bottles to its industrial chic interiors, which include some quirky nods to the building’s history as a vet school. The history of gin-making and distilling in Scotland is full of twists and turns, and helps you situate the story of Pickering’s and Summerhall Distillery in the context of the craft gin and distilling expertise which is championed across the country. This is the part of the tour where you can find out more about how they produce their gins, including a bit about the distilling process and the various botanicals and ingredients that make up each bottle.
Having set the scene and been able to see where the gins we would be trying were actually produced, we headed upstairs for the main event. In a room above the distillery, tables were decorated with different glasses, bottles of gin, citrus fruits, bundles of fresh mint and basil and generous slabs of cheese samples.
Our friendly guide, Marina, led the gin tasting experience and was incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about the products. She took us step by step through making our own gin cocktails, giving us a little bit of background about each as we went. As part of the masterclass, you create three delicious cocktails that rotate seasonally. In the summer, their series includes Tropical Tom (made with Pickering’s Tropical gin), Spiced Marga-tini (using Pickering’s 1947 gin) and the Clover Club (featuring Pickering’s Raspberry and Mint gin), so there’s something to suit all tastes.
Each cocktail making (and consuming) was punctuated with information about what we were making, as well as general gin history and fun facts. Although those fun facts became slightly hazier as the cocktail making went on, I do remember how fresh and tasty the cocktails were. We could be as generous as we liked with our measures of gin and the ingredients were all delicious, but Marina’s expertise also helped us to pick out certain components and flavours of the gins themselves, as well as explaining why they paired best with particular garnishes or mixers.
But the experience isn’t only about the gin! The team at Pickering’s have partnered with local cheese mongers, IJ Mellis, to provide a range of delicious cheeses that had been expertly paired with each cocktail. There were cheeses from all over Scotland and I was really surprised at how well they complimented each other – why has it taken so long to realise gin and cheese are such a match?! It’s something I’ll definitely be recreating at home. All of our cheeses were from different parts of Scotland, from creamy soft cheeses to salty blue. Another Edinburgh favourite, IJ Mellis cheese mongers supply the cheese fresh for every experience. The cheese offering changes depending on the seasonality and local stock available, making each tasting unique. Alongside the cheese, they provide a hunk of bread and plenty of crackers to counteract the effects of the cocktails!
All good things come to an end, but I had learned how to make three easy new cocktails at home and Summerhall was an ideal location to stay on for some nibbles or to head out for some fresh air with a walk around the Meadows. Its location makes it a great experience to pair with a day at the Fringe Festival in August.
Overall, I felt like the experience would be a great one to share with friends and family. The expertise, quality and novel combination of gin and cheese really makes this experience a treat and I also really appreciated their emphasis on local and sustainable produce from other Edinburgh-based businesses, showcasing the best Scotland has to offer.
The five-star, award-winning distillery runs multiple different tours and experiences, including some in French, so make sure you check out the latest goings on and events available before you book.
Thanks to Pickering’s Gin, who generously invited me along to experience their Gin Cocktail and Cheese Tasting Experience – for more information and to get yourself booked on their next tour, visit the Pickering’s Gin website.