You're never too old to go back to school - science was never a subject that made any sense to me, but like so many of the subjects that stumped me, a bit of practical application would have worked wonders.
So I signed up to try out the new Gin School at The Loch Leven Hotel in Ballachulish, with Craig Innes of Pixel Spirits Ltd in their new Craft Distillery. Practical application and an opportunity to take home the product of your day sounded like a good all round learning experience - and it's even on the bus route back to Fort William.....
You get your own mini still.......well - not THAT mini.
This is big enough to get you a whole bottle full of your very own bespoke brew. But you don't just chuck a load of berries in and hope for a quality product. This is school, and this is science......
There must be juniper berries for it to become gin. And there's some coriander that apparently has to go in. We're talking very specific measurements, and for the botanicals which will give your gin it's unique flavour, there's a tiny wee set of scales for the tiniest amount of hibiscus or citrus or cinnamon. Too much of anything and any subtlety of aroma is gone and your precious bottle isn't going to be very precious.
Once you are supplied (by Craig) with your very high content alcohol which is your base, you must check the temperature
There's no messing around and no setting fire to your mates with the Bunsen Burners here.
Your wee still has to get up to correct heat for the gin to start flowing gently into your glass jar below the table and before you know it your bottling it.
And then you're naming and labelling it
The only test involved here is to test the product. This is my kind of school - but it's off to the bar for a little ambience and an opportunity to try out Craig's carefully crafter creations.........
There was a choice between Neptune's Staircase which was tempting as I live close by to that staircase on The Caledonian Canal, and The Devil's Staircase which is on the edge of Rannoch Moor. Over 20 years ago I remember trying to extricate my husband from this very bar and I always promised him that some day he would have the pleasure of returning the favour - so I opted for a taste of the Devil to see if it would bring out the best and worst in me.
Depending on which gin you choose there are delicious additives to complement the flavours.
Craig's passion for his craft is contagious - rattling up a quick bottle of gin at his school is fun and satisfying, but creating a whole distillery requires drive and dedication, therefore hitching up at the cosy bar or taking the air on the balcony with a refreshing drink is a little more relaxing.
Woops! Getting a wee bit wobbly.
For a night out or making a weekend of it, don't think you have to rush off to Edinburgh, Glasgow or destinations further afield. I found myself extricated from my bar stool far too early by my sober driver and I realised that my husband might not bother coming to get me anyway and with no bus timetable to hand - well, I cut my losses. But it's the kind of place you could be drawn in to..........