Plymouth Gin - a real taste of the West Country

THE Midweek Herald toasts iconic West Country brand Plymouth Gin.

FOR centuries it has commanded an enviable spot in one of Devon’s most historic and celebrated locations.

Renowned for its high quality and smooth taste, Plymouth Gin has enjoyed a history as rich as its home on The Barbican.

The distillery’s journey dates back to 1793 and, through the ages, has become the beating heart of not just The Barbican but poignant moments in history.

Changes in ownership, competition and even Hitler have failed to sink this unique brand, which boasts a taste and strength that have been appreciated by the Royal Navy since the days of Lord Horatio Nelson.

Visitors are very much part of Plymouth Gin’s onward journey – as the Midweek Herald discovered during a recent visit.

Not only is the distillery open to the public, it has become a place where novices can make their own gin.

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Sitting pretty in one of the most picturesque streets in Britain, Plymouth Gin’s Black Friars Distillery is a great destination for a day out.

It occupies a prime position, not far from the harbour; an area once frequented by great buccaneers, including Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Before you even reach the inner doorway at Black Friars, with its ornate stone carvings, you will get a glimpse of another form of art –a wall painting crafted by the late Plymouth artist Robert Lenkiewicz.

The painting, which characteristically features a self-portrait, is almost opposite Black Friars.

Just down the road is another of The Barbican’s great draws – the Mayflower Steps.

Visitors to Plymouth Gin will discover that the Pilgrim Fathers ate in the distillery’s refectory room, once a monastery, before stepping aboard The Mayflower for their epic voyage to the New World.

The room, completely restored and now The Refectory Bar Cocktail Lounge, is an official national monument where the names, trades and home towns of the Pilgrim Fathers are listed on a carved board for everyone to see.

Visitors to Plymouth Gin will see the distillery’s copper still, which has been used for no less than 155 years.

Seven botanicals, all hand-picked for quality, make up the recipe for Plymouth Gin - a recipe that has remained unchanged for 200 years. The exact proportion of each botanical used is a closely guarded secret.

Juniper berries are the main ingredient in all gins but, in Plymouth Gin, they are less obvious.

The berries are combined with angelica root, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, lemon peel, orange peel and orris root. A 96 per cent pure grain spirit and crystal clear water from Dartmoor are the only other ingredients used.

A fantastic display of fresh botanicals, along with extensive information about their origins, is available for visitors to see.

For those making their own gin at the distillery, the proportions of botanicals can be chosen to suit individual tastes.

The complete history of Plymouth Gin is offered to visitors, from its beginnings to use as a cocktail ingredient and much, much more. Importantly, visitors will find out why Plymouth Gin is a unique product of the finest quality.

There is even a fascinating history associated with Plymouth Gin packaging. For example, a monk, signifying the distillery’s monastic past, is strategically placed on bottles so that, when his feet are dry, you know it is time to buy another bottle!

The centrepiece of all packaging, though, is an image of the iconic Mayflower – a symbol of the gin’s great history in Plymouth and its link to the Pilgrim Fathers.

Plymouth Gin must be commended for retaining its history. It has resisted moving to an industrial estate and proudly continues to operate from the very premises the business was established in more than 200 years ago.

During the Second World War, Plymouth’s city centre and docks were virtually destroyed by German bombs.

Amid the devastation and chaos, Black Friars Distillery survived and thrived through 59 air raids that wiped out 3,754 houses and damaged a further 8,000.

Now that’s something Lord Nelson would have raised a toast to!

Find out more about Plymouth Gin, Plymouth Navy Strength Gin and Plymouth Sloe Gin by visiting

For information about guided tours of the distillery and extra special tours, which include a chance to make your own gin, call the distillery on (01752) 665 292.