Staffordshire distillery says cheers to festive spirits

A warming mulled wine, a creamy eggnog or a classic snowball – these are usually among most people’s favourite drinks for a Christmas Day tipple.

But this year a Staffordshire distillery has been trying to inspire us to try some new flavours including a Christmas dinner gin and a Brussel sprout vodka.

Yes, you read that correctly. Nelson’s Distillery & School, based in Grindley, near Stafford, has brought all of the elements of a festive feast together in their seasonal beverages.

“I think people will be really intrigued by the flavours and excited to share these unusual drinks with their Christmas guests,” says founder and master distiller Neil Harrison.

“Everybody has been having such a rubbish time under lockdowns and other restrictions that we thought we would do something really fun for everybody,” he adds.

A yearning for a new challenge after many years working as a chef inspired Neil to set up the distillery in 2016.

Using his knowledge of how to balance different flavours in recipes, he created his first gin and has never looked back.

Since then he has gone on to develop many others including his famous rhubarb and custard and roasted pineapple varieties as well as making a range of craft rum and vodka.

The distillery supplies products to selected bars and restaurants across the country and its drinks are stocked in Waitrose, Harrods and numerous independent stores.

Months of research and development has gone into the Christmas selection, which he says retains the premium quality of the Nelson’s range but with an added element of fun, Neil tells Weekend.

And the skills he honed in the kitchen definitely came in handy when it came to make his new seasonal drinks.

“It’s all about trying different flavours and getting the right balance. It’s a bit like making a curry and mixing in the different herbs and spices except it’s with gin,” he explains.

The sprout vodka blend is described as “a love it or hate it festive green tipple with a subtle nutty cabbage-like flavour”.

And the Christmas dinner gin serves up the sweetness of cranberry fused with the complexity of sage and hints of turkey – thanks to a meat-free flavouring, suitable for vegans.

“The sprout vodka was quite easy – it’s sprouts distilled in the big still. The Christmas dinner gin is heavy on the sage and cranberry and not so heavy on the turkey flavouring. It took a long time to get the right balance and we had to play about with the different flavours and quantities. We did about 20 distillations before we got there,” Neil tells Weekend.

Also on the festive menu is Nelson’s Christmas Gin, which contains seasonal aromas of cinnamon, vanilla and orange. “We’ve been selling this one for a few years but this year we’ve added flakes of gold leaf. It’s nice mixed with champagne on Christmas morning,” says Neil.

While the distillery’s Spiced Clementine Rum, inspired by the traditional stocking gift, brings together the sweet warming taste of nutmeg and a light zest of clementine mixed with Nelson’s Signature Blend Rum.

“It’s a really nice barrel-aged rum and it’s my favourite,” explains Neil, who has also produced a Christmas-scented hand sanitiser and is selling his spirits in Christmas baubles.

Nelson’s, which has seen its products receive endorsements from Saturday Kitchen’s Matt Tebbutt and broadcast personality Philip Schofield, has seen a boom in sales in lockdown, with online purchases up 1,000 per cent.

As well as creating his own gin, Neil teaches the craft of distilling to a steady stream of enthusiasts at his gin school in Staffordshire.

It proved so popular that this year the business underwent a major expansion opening three new gin schools within hotels in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, in addition to a base in Manila in the Philippines.

At the gin schools, up to 28 visitors are tutored through the distilling process, adding their own selection of botanicals to produce their own distinctive gin. The recipe is retained by the distillery so that customers can re-order their own gin.

Unfortunately, coronavirus restrictions have taken their toll meaning the schools have been unable to open to students as planned.

“It’s been a very unusual year. The gin schools are a big part of our business but they’ve been shut for most of the year.

“Online sales are what have got us through it,” explains Neil, who has also set up a franchise scheme offering gin enthusiasts the chance to create their own schools on licensed premises.

In April, Nelson’s announced that it was distilling a limited edition charity gin, to celebrate, thank and raise funds for the NHS and its workers helping in the battle against Covid-19.

The Hats Off to Our Heroes gin which is blue in colour after being infused with blue pea flowers has raised more than £30,000 for NHS Together Charity.

Neil says it was created “in celebration of all those incredible people who are saving lives whilst putting theirs at risk every day”.

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