I knew that Silent Pool distillery, down in Surrey, had the facility for distillery tours and tastings. However I didn’t know until recently that they have a vineyard and a cheese making shop right next door! So when they advertised their new Artisan Tasting Days, which would have tours and tasting of all three, plus lunch, it seemed perfect for my friend Becky’s birthday.
Silent Pool artisan tasting day
Where is Silent Pool & how to get there?
Silent Pool distillery is based out in Albury, Surrey, not far from Guildford. So this is definitely a day trip gin outing from London!
We got the fast train from London Waterloo, which takes about 45 minutes, to Guildford station. We then grabbed a taxi from the station taxi rank – but Uber works out there too, which is how we got back at the end of the day. I’d highly recommend NOT driving if you want to sample the wine and gin. Even if you spit, you’ll still absorb some of the alcohol, so better safe than sorry!
Starting at Albury Vineyard for wine tasting
Head straight to Albury Vineyard when you arrive – this is where the tasting starts at 11am.
We were a little early as our connections were all super easy, so we had 20 minutes to wander around the vineyard before our tasting started outside the barn.
They provide self guided vineyard tours where you follow the information signs and learn more about the vineyard and wine making:
Seated at a large table outside in the sun (they provided sun cream for those who didn’t have it on!), we started our tasting with their famous Silent Pool rose wine.
Silent Pool Rose
The Silent Pool Rose was served on the Royal Barge as part of the Queens Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. At 11% it’s light and but the acidity means it will work well with food. It’s also certified organic, as are all the wine at Albury.
Sparkling: Longwells Seyval Blanc
This wine is made from grapes grown at Longwells (hence the name). The vineyard is two acres of Seyval Blanc vines managed by the Albury team. It’s a quintessentially English sparkling wine, fresh, crisp and dry, perfect for summertime picnics and BBQs.
Albury Estate Classic Curvee
The classic curvee is made from a traditional blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes (the same grapes as champagne!). A high quality English sparkling wine, served at some prestigious Michelin starred restaurants in the local area.
Albury Estate Prestige Curvee
The Prestige Cuvee is only made from exceptionally good vintages. This one was made from the 2014 first pressings of the three grapes making the Classic Cuvee. It’s a very dry wine that is bottle aged for 4 years and you can see the golden colour clearly in the glass:
They suggest serving this refined sparkling wine with lemon sole or high tea and lemon drizzle cake.
The mead is made from fermented honey from the hives on the vineyard. It’s obviously sweet and also floral. It can be drunk on it’s own (this is how we tried it), or over ice with a twist of lemon.
Our tasting ended with a sip of The Duke’s Reserve English Brandy, which is all we needed by then! The brandy is made by the distillers over at Silent Pool distillery, from the third press of the grapes. It’s distilled and then cask aged for a year. It’s definitely strong enough to put some hairs on your chest (to quote my Dad!).
Our tasting included a £5 voucher that we could put towards any bottle of sparkling wine from the range. We bought some wine as treats and left it there to be collected at the end of the day. At this point we were ready for the next stage of the tasting day.
Silent Pool distillery tour and tasting
Paul from Silent Pool distillery met us outside the vineyard and we walked the short distance up to the actual Silent Pool & then the distillery.
The actual Silent Pool
The legend of the Silent Pool goes a little something like this:
A local maiden was bathing in the pool when Sir John saw her as he was riding by. He was so entranced with her beauty that he spurred his horse into the pool to go to her. The maiden was scared and so backed away, further into the pool where the deep water lay. (The deep end of the pool is 12m deep). Unfortunately this meant that she drowned! For some reason Sir John left her there and rode off, so her body was discovered by her father alongside some discarded heraldry by the side of the pool. It turns out that Sir John later became King John – but still, why did he scare the maiden to her death and then leave her body there?
The actual water in the pool is only 4 degrees as it comes directly from an aquifer. Despite the floating bits in it, it’s quite pure and rainbow trout live in the pool.
If you look closely at the Silent Pool gin bottle you’ll be able to see not only Sir John and the maiden, but also all 24 botanicals represented in the pattern.
Meeting the stills
We then moved inside the distillery. Silent Pool has 2 stills called Juliet and Ophelia, with Ophelia being the largest. At 1800 litres she’s 5 times the size of Juliet. As they are Eau de Vie stills they are a bit different to the usual gin stills.
Paul took us through the distillation process and showed us how much of the botanicals they would use for one load in Ophelia.
Silent Pool gin botanicals
The botanicals include:
- Juniper from Bosnia. They use this juniper as it has lots of oil and complex flavours.
- Orris root from Tuscany. This is air dried with no direct heat. It’s the most expensive ingredient as Chanel buys most of it for Chanel no. 5. Orris root acts as a binding agent to bond flavours and scents together.
- Angelia root – adds a tannic element
- Green cardamom
- Liquorice (for sweetness)
These botanicals are soaked in the alcohol & water mixture for 12 hours to help leach out the oils into the alcohol, pre distillation.
Then they also add honey. This isn’t for sweetness (that’s what the powered liquorice is used for), as that sugar element doesn’t distill through. But honey does add mouth feel and helps round out the gin.
Fresh ingredients include:
- Dried pears
- Macedonian juniper – less rain, so less oils, but what is included is concentrated flavour, so still complex & it adds to the aroma
- Bitter orange peel
- Lime peel
These are all loaded into the vapour chamber – a gin basket where the vapours from the distillation run through.
Then they make a tea with the floral elements that include 5 flowers that grow locally:
- Rose petals
- Lindon flower
- 12 kaffir lime leaves
They are steeped in the 96% base alcohol for 24 hours to get the oil out of the flowers. This gets added to the belly of the still.
Silent Pool gin tasting
The many ingredients and complex process to extract the flavours from the botanicals means that Silent Pool gin is something a bit special.
We tried a sample of Silent Pool gin neat, before adding tonic to dilute it. Silent Pool gin is classic at it’s heart – so you get the juniper first on the nose and in the taste. For me there are notes of sweetness and almost a caramel like flavour that come through in the taste.
With tonic the citrus and floral notes open up. It’s a lovely well balanced gin that works superbly in a g&t.
We then moved on to try the other gins that Silent Pool make.
The English Rose gin uses a more simple recipe with just 8 ingredients. It’s then steeped with semi dried rose petals and orange blossom. A local artist has designed the labels for all of the flavoured gins and liqueurs, they look pretty good don’t they?
The Navy strength gin is loaded with juniper, both in the making and in the end flavour. I do love a Navy strength!
This apricot Amaro is something a bit different. Using gentian root to add bitterness, it’s like an Aperol, rather than a liqueur. Definitely without the extra sugar that comes in Aperol! This means you can sip it all day long.
Silent Pool gin is the base and oranges, mandarins and apricots from Kent are steeped for 2-3 weeks. In another vat rosemary, thyme and bay leaves are steeped. In yet another vat they steep dandelion root, black tea, black olives and liquorice root. These are then blended together.
Serve the apricot Amara with tonic for a long drink – Paul recommended elderflower tonic for an aperol spritz replacement. Or just sip neat over ice as a pre dinner aperitivo.
Ploughman’s lunch with G&T
By now we were a little peckish. We had tried the Silent Pool Gin smoked salmon on blinis (a nice touch!), but were ready for proper food.
Lunch was the local cheese from Norbury Park Farm cheese makers. We tried their Norbury Blue, a soft flavourful but light blue cheese and their Dirty Vicar (read on for the cheese making tour for that story!).
It came with salad from their garden, including beautiful chives with flowers, bread and some real ale chutney.
To drink we all had a large Silent Pool & tonic in their signature glass (which we got to take away at the end). They also made sure we stayed hydrated with a bottle of water each – although Paul did top our G&Ts up rather generously too!
Norbury Park Farm cheese making tour & tasting
After lunch Michaela from Norbury Park Farm Cheese collected us and took us down to their space on the estate. The building is where they make their two cheeses from local Surrey Fresian milk.
Once we were suitably attired with hair nets, white lab coats and shoe covers, Michaela took us around the facility.
They buy the raw milk unpasteristed from the local farm and pump into the heated tub.
The Norbury blue uses 900l and the Dirty Vicar 600l of raw milk. The bowl heats the milk up and then they add a starter culture to the milk to turn it.
This is when the blue mould is added, it’s then left for 50 minutes and before adding vegetarian rennet. Michael and her husband cut the curd by hand and stir down the curd.
For the Dirty Vicar they use a white mould. The Dirty Vicar gets its name from a local vicar who married his second wife very soon after the first had died and acquired the nick name from the locals!
Maturing the cheeses
Next we saw where they mature the cheeses. They set the cheeses and then leave for a day before turning. Then they salt the cheese – this makes them firm – scooping the salt off after 12 or 24 hours depending on the cheese. The cheeses are then turned every other day.
The Dirty Vicar turns white after a week. The Norbury Blue has to be spiked, they stab it with a stainless fork. Aerating the cheese helps the mould to grow. The Blue matures for 4 weeks before it’s wrapped and refrigerated.
Then the best bit – we got to taste the cheese!
I liked the Norbury Blue flavour. The Dirty Vicar cheese is crumbly and soft inside, with a rind like Camembert. It’s similar to mozzarella when melted and can be breaded and deep fried, which sounds lush too.
Having already tried the cheese at lunch, this was a bonus tasting! Michaela also told us about growing the salad we had with lunch and the chutney. Unfortunately they didn’t have any cheese sufficiently matured for us to buy the Norbury Blue on the day.
The verdict on the Silent Pool distillery visit & artisan tasting day
We all agreed that we had a great day. The beautiful weather certainly helped, as did the generous tastings! We all came away with purchases of Silent Pool gin, or their Amaro, and Albury wine. If the Norbury Blue had been ready, I’m sure I would have bought some of that too.
At £80 this isn’t a cheap day out – it probably cost us £100 each with trains and taxis. However we got good value for that money and I would totally recommend this day for a special occasion. In fact everyone on the tasting day were celebrating recent birthday’s (the oldest person was 85 in April!).
Due to the nature of the tastings this is not suitable for children and can’t be adapted to dietary requirements (the cheese is vegetarian, but there are no vegan options).
Obviously if you were only interested in visiting one of the Silent Pool distillery or Albury vineyard, you could do tastings for less than the cost of the artisan tasting day. But if you want a special treat for a present, this is the ideal thing for a foodie, wine lover or gin fan.
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