Four years ago today, I posted my first post on this blog, and what a wonderful four years it has been!
Although it feels peculiar, and maybe a little self indulgent, to write about me rather than someone else, it feels right to take a moment of reflection and to size up my progress. Reading my first ever post, a brief introduction to the blog and how I was at that point just falling into love with gin, is actually quite emotional. Initially I spoke to distillers that came into the bar I worked in. One of the first pieces I wrote on a distiller and their gin was Paul Bower of Twisted Nose. Although I was lucky to have the access to distillers that I did through my job, I was keen to get further afield to visit some distilleries. In those early days I would contact distillers through Twitter and ask if I could visit. Sometimes I would hear back, sometimes I wouldn’t. Of those that let me arrange a visit, some would treat me like royalty, others would give me ten minutes and seemed suspicious that I was only in it for the booze, quite certain that they were never going to hear from me again. And no, I won’t divulge who.
Now, I absolutely understood that it would be this way until I built a reputation and I tried very hard to build a good one. I am a conscientious writer. Despite my cheeky nature, I try to be fair and respectful in what I say, both in my posts and my social media. I like to encourage and motivate others to do well in their gins and their blogs too. It was important to me to be reliable and early on, writing those first few reviews, I actually sent them off to the distiller to look over, as I was concerned that perhaps I had made a mistake with a detail and was terrified of putting up something that was ‘incorrect’. I know, I know. I lacked confidence back then. That all changed when I met Alfie Amayo, who at the time, was working as a Brand Ambassador of COLD. I had an amazing night in the distillery talking shop with him. At the end I asked if I could send him my article to check. He looked at me, saying nothing for a short while. Eventually he said “No. I don’t want you to send it to me. It’s your work, it’s your thoughts. You shouldn’t ever send it to anyone. You put it up for you.” That really resonated with me. In the early days you feel that you were doing it for others, but really, you’re doing it for you. That moment changed everything for me. That’s when I really started to feel like Under the Ginfluence was mine.
Blogging is very much a labour of love. You do it because you love it. Not because you’re trying to make anything from it. I think that if you did, you would lose patience. It took time toiling over posts to get a like, perhaps a share. There were points when I would feel disheartened. But, I somehow found myself seeking out the next gin to write about. I had a compelling curiosity to find out the information for me. And, I just love to write so sharing came naturally. I found I revelled in storytelling, in sharing my rather infectious enthusiasm with others.
The first brand to contact me to write on their gin was Batch, and in June 2015 they sent me a bottle of their Premium Gin. I still remember how excited I was, how my hands clumsily unwrapped the package and cradled the bottle as if some sort of trophy. I had the most fabulous day trying it with different mixers to see which worked best. I was so proud of the fact that I’d been contacted, rather than contacting other people. It was a sign that things were starting to grow.
And grow they did. Especially when I met David T Smith, Gin Expert and Historian, on the deck of HMS Victory, for the opening ceremony of HMS Victory Cask Aged Gin. I was fascinated with his knowledge and we met up to talk about gin. I was hoping to write a feature on him for my blog, but as it happens we never got to that. He was more interested in what projects I could help him with. He has been intrinsic to a lot of opportunity for me, especially the judging. I owe you a big thank you, David.
The judging has been an incredible development. David picked up on my ability to taste and asked me to help out at Gin of the Year, held at Bombay Sapphire Distillery. Visiting the distillery alone was a joy and I felt really privileged to be a judge. I found I really enjoyed getting stuck into the differences in flavour, and how the gin worked. I loved sussing out the quality and seeing how the gin alludes to what it claims to be. It really was the start of something special. I still do Gin of the Year, and now also the World Gin Awards, have recently judged at the American Distilling Institutes Judging of Craft Spirits in San Francisco (there are nine posts on my blog, one for each day of the trip and you can find the first one here). And, in July I’ll be at the IWSC for all four days of the gin judging, which is a big box tick for me. Judging has become a key part of what I do. It has allowed me to taste such a huge variety of gin and really pay attention to each one. It’s also been fantastic for networking. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, the gin industry is incredibly friendly. I now have a little gin family spread far and wide and bumping into any of them at an event is a delight.
Networking opportunities also grew during my time working for GinFestival.com. Almost every week I’d be in a different city, with different brands on stalls. I made the most of that to talk to them all, try all the gin and look to arrange write ups. One of my favourites from this period was Cotswolds Distillery. Written in June 2017, the article hardly seems relevant now, but I still love it. Since that was posted they’ve released their whisky to great acclaim and have finished building their visitor centre. I’ve got a lot of love for their distillery and they know it. As well as Networking, GinFestival.com taught me the valuable skill of the masterclass. A few years ago I was scared to get on stage and read my poetry. At GFs height, I was holding masterclasses for almost 200 people a time.
I should add as well, that GF brought me my Gin Festival family who were the most amazing set of people to work with. We worked hard and played hard. The year I had touring around with them will always have a massive place in my heart. I love you team.
Blogging is a beast. Always there begging for attention and for nurturing. My life has become more and more about gin. Anything I was doing, could it go on the blog? Sitting down to a meal with a gin, I’m asking if should I take a photo to upload? Will it help my social media? I find it hard to leave things alone, even to my detriment and it all became a little obsessive. In the years since I started blogging, my life has become much more busy. I’ve studied and completed a BA in English and Creative Writing, I’m now half way through an MA in CW, and I’m now a self employed writer, as well as working at the University. So, I’ve had to lay a few rules to myself as otherwise it could all get a little too much. Sometimes the social media goes quiet for a few days. It’s ok, I’m just doing other life things. I used to stress myself out trying to turnaround a review in a matter of days. Now if someone contacts me, I give them an idea of lead time and give myself plenty of time to do it. I’ve learnt to relax in what I’m doing. It’s my ship. I’m in control. I’ll tell people how I work, rather than try and work like them. Taking these steps have been hugely beneficial to my mental well being and my productivity.
So, if you made it to the end of this, thank you! Here we are. I had other work to do today. Yet, I’ve just spent the last four hours sat here, writing this. It is a compulsion. I am compelled to write. I do it because I love it. I do it because I love gin.