Over the last few years, our fascination with gin has grown to the point that when we travel, we try to track down some of the best gin and cocktails bars in the city we’re visiting. When in Bristol, UK, this was an easy task as we tried to learn all about Bristol gin.
Not only did we have some unique experiences with gin tasting in Bristol, but found some great cocktail bars in Bristol too. We were even introduced to a new style of gin that was unfamiliar to us. We share everything you need to know about how to taste gin in Bristol.
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Bristol Gin Guide
In this Bristol Gin Guide, we share our tips on the best ways to go gin tasting in Bristol. This includes how to plan a gin tasting experience at some of the top artisan gin producers in Bristol.
We also recommend some cocktail bars in Bristol if you are looking for a great gin and tonic, or some contemporary cocktails in a cool environment. I also share some of the most common gin styles offered by gin distilleries in Bristol.
Traveling to Bristol? Check out our Bristol Food Guide with the best places to eat in the city.
Gin Tasting In Bristol Guide
Before talking about where to taste gin in the city, it helps to understand a little about the different types of gin made in Bristol. When we started drinking gin seriously, we didn’t really know a lot about gin styles.
Once we started learning more, it helped to know what kind of gins to taste when traveling. We drank a lot of Mediterranean gin living in Spain. Living in Ireland, the gin is more similar to the styles produced in the UK. It’s always an education for us to see how gins differ based on geography.
Each of the local gin producers in Bristol focuses on London Dry Gin. A few, though, are producing Bristol Method Dry Gin, Sloe Gin, and Damson Gin. True gin lovers should try each of these while gin tasting in Bristol. In this section, I will share an overview of each of these gin styles.
What Is London Dry Gin?
Here’s the gin nerd explanation: London Dry Gin is a quality designation for a particular style of gin. For gin to be called “London Dry Gin” the base spirit must be a neutral spirit distilled to 96% ABV. The distillation process includes only natural plant materials, and nothing can be added after except for water and maybe a little bit of sugar. What does this all really mean?
In plain English, the London Dry Gin purity standard started because in the 18th Century gins were unregulated and awful. It was a real low point for the history of gin in London. The purity standard ensured that there was no methanol or other harmful ingredients used in the gin-making process.
The main thing is that a London Dry Gin is a juniper-flavored spirit, meaning the primary botanical used to flavor the gin must be juniper berries. All of the flavors must be added during the distillation process, and not after. For example, Hendricks Gin is not technically a London Dry Gin because they add cucumber to flavor the gin after the distillation.
What Is Bristol Method Dry Gin
As for the Bristol Method Dry Gin, there isn’t a ton of information out there, which makes this a great place for gin lovers to try something new. It’s not common to find Bristol Method Dry Gin, in part because it really hasn’t been produced much recently.
We visited Avery Wine Merchants, a historic wine house in Bristol currently operated by the fifth generation of the Avery family. While researching family history they found a reference to a Bristol Method Dry Gin that the family made decades ago. They resurrected the idea, even though they couldn’t quite find their original recipe.
So, what is a Bristol Method Dry Gin? The biggest difference between Bristol Method and London Dry Gin is that with the Bristol Method, each of the botanicals used to make the gin are distilled independently and then blended. This makes the final gin very smooth. It’s definitely worth a try while drinking gin in Bristol.
Other Popular Types of Gin in Bristol
There are two other gin varieties that are known in Bristol. One most gin drinkers are familiar with. The other? Less so.
Sloe Gin is a classic British gin and works well in lots of different gin cocktails. This gin is made from sloes, which are little berries that grow wild all over England. Although they are not eaten, because they taste awful, they are used to make a deep, red-colored gin. Essentially, the sloe berries are soaked for a period of time in gin. Typical Sloe Gin cocktails include sparkling wine, which offsets the bitterness of the gin.
Another classic British gin produced in Bristol is Damson Gin. It is produced similarly to sloe gin, but with damsons, which I had never heard of before traveling to Bristol. Damsons are a relative of the plum, with a small pit inside. It’s a little more bitter than the Sloe Gin, and can be drunk neat or in cocktails. Definitely try tracking down Damson gin in Bristol.
Bristol Gin Distilleries And Gin Distillery Experiences
Before recommending some cocktail bars in Bristol, there are a few Bristol gin distillers that offer a variety of tours, tastings, and other gin experiences. It’s best to arrange these gin experiences ahead of time because spots are limited. They are also not offered every day.
Psychopomp Gin Bristol
The Psychopomp Micro-Distillery has to be one of the most adorable distillers we’ve visited. A small storefront with a tiny little still behind the counter and all their botanicals in jars along the wall.
They produce a few of their own gin, as well as Old Tom, an old style of gin that some distillers are starting to resurrect. They also produce small-batch gins for various bars and restaurants around town to match with the food served on site. All gins are hand-bottled and hand-labeled.
Make Your Own Gin In Bristol
Rather than a gin distillery tour (they are too small to tour), Psychopomp offers more of a gin tasting experience, which also includes an opportunity to schedule a make your own gin experience.
We were not able to book this experience, but it seems like a fun gin blending experience and would be a lot of fun to book with friends. It’s a great introduction to the botanicals used in the production process and a way to learn how to make your own gin. We had a little Psychopomp gin tasting instead along with a well-made gin and tonic.
Psychopomp Gin Bristol is on St. Michaels Hill, yes, up the hill from the center of Bristol. It’s located in an old British grocery store. The shop is open throughout the day, but they offer gin tastings Tuesday through Thursday from 12 pm – 9 pm, with prior reservation. Psychopomp offers their Distill Your Own Gin Experience on Saturday at 3 pm, with prices ranging from £110-140.
6 O’clock Gin Distillery Bristol
6 O’clock Bristol Distillery is probably the most well-known Bristol gin producer. If you find a gin from Bristol at a bar near you, chances are it’s from 6 O’clock.
Their gin tour focuses on the story of the family behind 6 O’clock Gin, as well as the production method. The company started about 30 years ago, and now the son and daughter of the original owners run the company.
We had the pleasure of having Edward, the family patriarch, host our gin tasting and tour and it was great to hear his perspective on how the gin industry has changed over the years in the UK.
The 6 O’clock brand name started because of an old family tradition of enjoying a gin and tonic around 6 pm. Can’t argue with that. 6 O’clock also produces some traditional Bristol liqueurs. This was how the family got started, under the name Bramley and Gage, when they produced liqueurs from the local fruits. Now, they offer various vermouths as well as elderflower and quince liqueurs, among others.
Six O’Clock Gin is located in Thornbury, a little outside of the Bristol city center. If you can’t make it out for a scheduled gin tasting tour, it’s pretty easy to taste 6 O’Clock Gin at many Bristol bars. They open for tastings on Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 3:30 pm.
They are not in the center of Thornbury, so it’s best to take a taxi there and book a taxi back if you are not driving. If visiting Thornbury for the day, try to stop by at Romy’s Kitchen for lunch beforehand for some authentic and slightly contemporary Indian cuisine.
The Rummer Hotel – Bristol Dry Gin Distillery
In the basement of the historic Rummer Hotel, the Bristol Dry Gin Company operates a micro-distillery in the city center. Opened in 2017, they operate regular gin tastings and tours on the weekends. They feature their own gin as well as other local artisan Bristol gin producers.
The Rummer Hotel is located in the center of the St. Nicholas Market in the Bristol city center. They provide Bristol gin tastings Friday and Saturday at 7 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm. It’s important to book ahead.
Best Bars In Bristol For Gin And Cocktails
Bristol is a fab drinking city, hosting a large concentration of craft beer producers and craft beer bars as well as traditional British pubs. In recent years, though, numerous cocktail bars in Bristol have been featuring local artisan gins, international gins, and all sorts of fun cocktail recipes.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service Gin Bar Bristol
This was the last stop on our Bristol tour and I am glad we made it out there. Having had an overly-pretentious cocktail bar experience in Lisbon just a few weeks before, Her Majesty’s Secret Service made up for that one.
It’s an intimate space that you might not happen upon unless you are looking for it. They offer quirky cocktails, a decent gin selection, and mixologists with some personality too. My favorite part? They’ve eliminated plastic straws from the bar, using a combination of metal, glass, and bamboo straws depending on the cocktail ordered.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service Bristol is on Whiteladies Road, down a small alley next to the Starbuck’s. They have a reputation for the most Instagrammable cocktails in Bristol.
Other Cocktail Bars – Bristol
There is no shortage of cocktail bars in Bristol that’s for sure. Many focus on gin cocktails but obviously feature all sorts of contemporary cocktails as is trendy in Britain right now. Here are some recommendations in and around Bristol city center.
The Rummer Hotel has been operating for hundreds of years and seems to still be on the top of mind of the people of Bristol, perhaps more for their history. They claim to be a “pioneer of the Bristol cocktail scene.” Their menu was creative and the bar well-stocked. The mixologists seemed to know what they were doing and had some personality.
That said, the atmosphere is a bit strange. We visited before dark, but the seating area just didn’t seem to match the small bar and the cocktail menu. During good weather, they do have some outdoor seating in the center of St. Nicholas Market.
The Milk Thistle is located at Quay Head House and qualifies as a modern version of a prohibition bar with four floors of classic design and cocktails. They also host a gin club for aficionados. During 2018, The Milk Thistle was named one of the top 10 cocktail bars in the UK. There is no sign. Look for the doorway between The White Lion pub and Tuk Tuk Cafe.
The Bootlegger at 233 Cheltenham Road features cocktails with live blues, swing, and jazz bands throughout the week. The Red Light at 1 Unity Street is another hidden cocktail bar in Bristol. Look for the flashing neon “sex” sign and you are there.
Gin Festival in Bristol
There are gin festivals throughout the year across the UK. The Bristol Gin Festival is held in April each year, which includes a weekend of gin tasting events. Over 100 international gins are featured each year. Tickets for the gin festival can normally be found on Eventbrite.
We were hosted by Visit Bristol during our stay in Bristol, but all views are our own.