He’s (g)in-demand

Plenty of choice: Craig Macdonald, who runs the gin school at The Old House.     picture: steve parkin
Plenty of choice: Craig Macdonald, who runs the gin school at The Old House. picture: steve parkin
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“THE trouble is it seems to make people cry,” muses Craig Macdonald. “There’s no reason why it should more than any other drink but, as a barman, you notice. Someone in tears? They’ve probably been on the gin.”

The 25-year-old hands round several large glasses of the spirit.

“Still,” he notes. “Drink up...”


Welcome reader to Sheffield Gin School.

Forget wine or whisky tasting nights, it seems this spirit – once demonised as mother’s ruin and considered so addictive five acts of Parliament were passed to curb consumption – is the new ‘in’ drink.

Now, at these classes, connoisseurs are invited to sniff, sip and mix (with tonic) up to 45 different kinds from across the globe.

And Craig – who is running the sessions at The Old House pub in Devonshire Street where he is assistant manager – promises they don’t all taste like paint stripper.

“It’s a complete myth that gins all taste the same,” he says. “What most people don’t realise is that, as long as the main ingredient is juniper berries, you can put pretty much anything in gin. That leads to huge varieties in taste, texture and even appearance. We have a gin here that looks more like brandy.”

Variety is right.

In front of us are gins from Europe and gins from the US, gins made in rooms above pubs and gins mass-produced in huge distilleries, gins which cost a couple of quid a short and gins which would set you back more than £200 for the bottle.

Ingredients include berries, mints, herbs, peels, fruits and spices. None, it should perhaps be stressed, contain sulphur, opium or wood chippings – ingredients which were famously put into cheap versions in 18th century London.

“Because of that gin still has a bit of a reputation,” says Craig, who spent a week at the Beefeater’s London distillery ahead of starting the classes. “There’s the famous painting by William Hogarth, Gin Lane, which shows gin destroying communities but that was just propaganda. It’s never really got away from that stigma even today – even though, on the other hand, it is sort of seen as quite an aristocratic spirit.”

He hands over another drink. This one is called Monkey 47. It contains 47 different botanical ingredients.

“When you taste that how can you not love it?” he says. “It breaks my heart every time someone orders a vodka. Gin is so much nicer. I hope these sessions educate a few people. They’ll learn about its history, how its produced and what garnishes go best with what gins. I’m passionate about it.”

It’s a passion which, tears or not, he’s determined to spread across Sheffield.

To book a Gin School call Craig at The Old House on 0114 276 6002.

Gin wins

GIN has been described as the thinking man’s whisky. Here’s why...

1 It’s quicker to make:

Whisky is best after being aged. With gin, you can be drinking it 24 hours after you started making it.

2 There’s more variety:

The one requirement of gin is that the main ingredient is juniper berries. After that anything can be thrown in there. “We have one with grains of paradise in,” says Craig. “I don’t even know what that is.”

3 Gin has more style:

“The bottles look good,” says Craig. “I’m not a huge fan of Bombay Sapphire but the blue bottle is instantly recognisable.

4 No-one ever had whisky while playing croquet:

It might have originated in The Netherlands but gin is as quintessentially English as cucumber sandwiches.