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A Right Royal Distillation

Posted by Ginny Sweeney on

It takes a village to raise a gin, and we baby our beauty right from the still until it passes your lips! As it happened, our most recent distillation started life on the very day of the Royal Wedding, when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke & Duchess of Sussex, began their married life together. It got me thinking about the many royals who enjoy a gin tipple now and again (and again and again).

The late Queen Mother passed on her love of gin and Dubonnet to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, in the same way I inherited my love of gin and tonic from my own mother. The Queen is said to drink one every day as an aperitif with lunch - seven parts gin, three parts Dubonnet, a single slice of lemon with the pips removed, and lots of ice. As one of the most well-travelled monarchs in British history, the Queen never travels without a few of her home comforts and her staff dutifully pack the booze and lemons wherever she goes in case she gets thirsty!

Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is partial to a Gin 50/50 Martini, with equal parts gin and vermouth, while his wife Camilla was purported to say after emerging from a tense meeting with Prince William regarding her relationship with Charles: “I need a gin and tonic!”.  Other notable members of the Royal family who enjoy this very traditional English spirit include the scandalous Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and our newest fairy-tale princess, Meghan Markle, said to favor the iconic Italian Negroni made with one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari. (Check our cocktail page for a Ginny’s Gin variation).

Meanwhile, the Queen’s only daughter, Princess Anne, emerged from this juniper-laced legacy a teetotaler, despite my best efforts to tempt her with our singular elixir.  While on a tour of suitable schools for her two children, the Princess visited Wycliffe College boarding school, where I was then a student.  To my delight, I was selected to join the receiving line and present her with welcome flowers from the student body.  Ever the enthusiastic promoter, I selected botanicals (sage, iris, juniper) for the bouquet and smuggled in a bottle of Ginny’s Gin under my kilt to offer for her consideration as well.  With regal aplomb, however, she accepted the bouquet but deftly passed the gin on to the official next to me, who clearly coveted it anyway.

So, back to our distillation!  Much like a wedding, there’s a lot of preparation that takes place behind the scenes before the actual event. Our sagebrush only grows at high elevation, so Rob headed up to Lake Tahoe at 5am to forage for this aromatic botanical at 6,000 feet. Soon after he returned with a pickup truck bed full of this treasure, we spread it out to dry under lights on our pool table for a couple of days, then picked the leaves off the stems and spread them out again on our French door screens for another day in the sun. My fingers were darkened by the oil and I swear I smelled like sagebrush for three days!

Next up, we milled the juniper and coriander to release their aromatics and then macerated them in the grape spirits for 24 hours. Almost immediately, the botanicals turn the clear spirit brown!  Distillation take place after that with our eight other botanicals hanging in the helmet of the copper pot still to gently infuse the spirit vapor as it rises. Next our winemaker palettes are put to the test, as Heads and Tails are cut and discarded and only the heart makes it to our three rounds of rigorous blending trials to determine the ideal marriage of grape and grain spirits.

We would be remiss if we didn’t give a hearty Huzzah! to Sonoma Brothers Distilling and owners Chris and Brandon Matthis, our knowledgeable hosts and stewards in this adventure.  They have been ever accommodating, consummate professionals and a true pleasure to work with.  And if the royal and nuptial themes were not already over the top, the distillery is located in Windsor!  Be sure to visit their tasting room and sample their vodka, whiskeys and brandies (but not their gin - just kidding! ; ))

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