A few months ago I attended the wonderful Bombay Sapphire Distillery to judge for the Gin of the Year Award 18.
The results are in! I’ve just received the press release and I’m delighted to share it with your good selves.
“The Craft Distilling Expo are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Gin of the Year Competition. Entries came from around the world and were all launched in the past year or, if older, had never been judged at the competition before.
The judging panel consisted of distillers, professional gin judges, drinks writers, and gin connoisseurs.
The event was kindly hosted at Laverstoke Mill, home of Bombay Sapphire and special thanks go to Sam Carter and Dr Anne Brock, as well as the judges and the custodian of the competition’s score system, Sara Smith.
All gins were tasted blind and scored from 0-100. The Three top-scoring Classic, Contemporary, and Signature Botanical gins were then judged in a second round with tonic water to determine the winner of each category.”
So, let’s see who won!!!
Best Classic Gin 2018
Dartmouth English Gin, Dartmouth Distillery Company
Aged Gin – Highly Commended
Aged Perry’s Tot, New York Distilling (That Boutique-y Gin Company)
“The Craft Distilling Expo brings together the world’s pre-eminent distillers, still makers, packagers, marketers, professionals, and connoisseurs – all participants in this newly expanding industry – in an Expo and Conference offering talks, workshops and displays, and including the annual Gin of the Year competition. This year’s Expo was held on Wednesday 26th – Thursday 27th September at the Boiler House, Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane.”
As you may know, I’m heading out to San Francisco to judge in the American Distilling Institutes, Judging of Craft Spirits Awards in January. Excited doesn’t quite cover it.
As their website states, “The American Distilling Institute (ADI) is the oldest and largest organization of small-batch, independently-owned distillers in the United States. Founded in 2003 by Bill Owens, the organization has grown from a few dozen distillers to more than 1,000 paid members. In 2015, more than 1,500 people attended ADI’s 12th Annual Distilling Conference and Vendor Expo, in Louisville.”
Their mission is an admirable one, “To promote and defend the art and enterprise of craft distilling. Through our programs of economic development, academic research and education, ADI generates greater public awareness and appreciation for the quality and variety of artisan spirits and brings greater benefits to the larger society in which we live.”
Have you thought of entering your spirit? Or do you know someone who makes spirits?
Well, I’ve had word that registration is open! The competition is not just open to gin, but lots of other spirits too. In fact, I’ve been given a selection of codes to give a discount on entry for some other spirits. So, if you know of anyone producing Armagnac, Cognac, Cachaca, Pisco and Mexican Spirits then please don’t hesitate to share this with them and do ask them to get in touch. The codes reduce entry fees for non ADI members by $100. Plus, if you enter your spirit by November 19th you get a further $50 off too. Further more, if you are a member of the Gin Guild then you are only charged the price of an ADI member.
I’ve had a little look at the entry notes:
“ADI accepts US and International entries in all classes and categories of distilled spirits, RTDs, cocktail bitters, aperitif & fortified wines from small and medium-scale producers (with maximum annual sales of 750,000 Proof Gallons).”
“All spirits entered will receive written feedback from our expert judges, be considered for awards both for the spirit and the packaging, and be evaluated to see if they if they meet the standards for ADI’s. Certification of Craft Spirits at no additional cost or paperwork. Award winners will receive physical awards as well as digital renderings of all applicable medals, awards and certifications.”
So, for those of you award hunters out there who love blinging up your gin, find out all you need to know and start the registration process here.
Recently I wrote an article on By Ginvitation Only, a new gin experience started by two of my friends who used to work in the Events team for Gin Festival Ltd. And, two of the staff of the twenty seven that found themselves out of work when Gin Festival Ltd announced it was going into administration.
Since the sad collapse of the company, I’ve taken great comfort in seeing the team blossoming into life post Gin Festival Ltd. They’re such an incredibly talented and hard working bunch and with their rich experience, morals and work ethic, they’ve got a lot to bring to the table.
Many of the people that I’ve spoken to since the festivals finished, have said how sad they are as they were such a good event. Well, I’ve got some very good news for you, someone has picked up that torch and is making a run with it.
Naomi Good, another Gin Festival team mate has started ‘The Gin Sessions’. In her words it’s “a much more scaled down version of Gin Festival Ltd”. Naomi wants to focus on putting on good events, working with excellent brands and continuing to share the love of all things gin.
“Over the last four years I have worked endlessly to manage our events program but sadly couldn’t control the commercial decisions that were being made so I saw a slow collapse of a business and community that I loved.”
She acknowledges the determination needed to start up. “My competition is fierce. I have no external funding just me, a lap top, passion and some awesome contacts. I know I can throw a good gin event, my biggest challenge is selling that to people, getting them on board and getting them to purchase a ticket and attend an event.”
“Starting out with zero social presence is terrifying. So far, I have launched two events and the response has been really positive. I’m getting positive responses from previous work colleagues, brands are being very supportive and potential customers are getting on board.” So far Naomi has set up a Facebook page and Twitter page and due to her being known from Gin Festival Ltd is already picking up lots of followers which bodes well.
“It is with great pleasure I present to you, The Gin Sessions, a small independent festival driven by passion and the desire to explore new and exciting gins.”
“At The Gin Sessions you can expect to find a large selection of gins over 4 bars, some live music to keep your toe tapping and masterclasses from industry experts. We love gin and want to share out passion through a fantastic session packed with a carefully selected variation of gin styles. You will be presented on arrival with your copa style gin glass and a booklet with tasting notes.”
Naomi has organised 2 ‘Sessions’ so far with more on the way.
First up is Bristol, Naomi’s home from home, where she studied Photography in previous years.
The event will be held at Hayling Community Centre. It will be the Islands first ever gin festival. Tickets available here.
Tickets are £10 (plus £1.37 booking fee) per person. This includes entrance to the festival, your gin glass, gin talks and the gin booklet. Book early to avoid disappointment. Tickets are available through Eventbrite, with built in refund cover.
Naomi’s plan is for five bars. Two classic gin bars, one international gin bar, a flavoured gin bar and a gin cocktail bar. In total there will be approximately sixty gins exhibited with several brand ambassadors which is a great touch. When attending these sort of events it’s so much better when you can meet people who can tell you more about the gins, how they’re made and whats so special about them. There will be focus on local brands for each location as people are proud of where they come from and their local gins. There will also be masterclasses hosted by the brands along with other topics, such as the history of gin and gin cocktails.
In addition to all the gin, Naomi’s well aware of making it a good night with all the extras so there will be local street food and live music.
“It was really sad when I lost my job, but I’m feeling optimistic. I’m keen to work with as many people from GF as possible. I’ve had awesome support from ex colleagues and I’m hoping to get some of them on board. I’m focusing on small events, no sell out stadiums. I’m wanting each customer to get the opportunity to chat to bar staff, and feel like they have space to roam. No sardines!”
If you have attended any of the previous Gin Festival Ltd festivals, you’ll be able to see where her structure is similar. The bars, masterclasses, copa glass and gin book. What Naomi has been very clever in, is recreating the good aspects of Gin Festival Ltd before it got too big. An event that is intimate, including real interaction with characters in the industry. A genuine, warm and wholesome event that is driven simply for the love of it. Naomi has an enormous wealth of experience in both gin and organising events and her focus is in just the right areas to create some amazing experiences. Well done on picking up that torch and running with it, Naomi. We’re all behind you.
As most of you will know by now, Gin Festival Ltd went into administration on 5th July 2018.
I’ve kept relatively quiet on the subject, in a similar sense it’s hard to talk of a person recently lost, it feels very much like someone special has gone for good.
As someone who worked for them as a Brand Ambassador for Tinker Gin from April 17 – April 18, I was blessed to be a part of the GF events team, a glorious machine and the best team I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. They were incredible. As I mentioned in a response to a post earlier today, they made magic happen. The sterling professionalism in the face of all sorts of adversities in unloading two arctic lorries at 7am and setting up and entire festival to be ready for 5pm is a skill. Being able to have fun while we did it, rock through 3 x 14 hour days with the customers then take it all down after a double session is an art. I’m aware there are many questions floating around on how or why an event of such magnitude and popularity could collapse like this and I won’t keep you keep you hanging. I didn’t work in the office and I’m not privy to the information to answer them. As the events team, you turned up, turned out and made it work.
Although I cannot help with what happened in the office, what I do know is this, with so many tickets sold currently without sign of refund, and with outstanding bills to suppliers who are understandably being rather vocal, its a big knock to the industry. The consumers confidence has taken a hit and that’s something we all need to work hard to repair. There is no issue with the industry, demand is very much there, companies just need to ensure going forward they take it slow, carefully and are reassuring, for example, selling tickets through Eventbrite, which insures customers a refund if an event is pulled. There are important lessons that can be learned here and we would be wise to take notice.
However, despite the loss, something stirs.
The events team has been split from one glorious machine, into several small groups and persons with expert knowledge of the gin industry and events. Despite the blow of very sudden redundancies, I expect to see the phoenix rising from the ashes as they step forward fully equipped to take an existing business to the next level, or to start their own.
I bring to you, Case Study A: By Ginvitation Only.
Founded by two ex-employees Dennis Glynn and Sean William, By Ginvitation Only brings the gin to you with independent gin hosting and a Brand Ambassador service. Think of throwing party at yours, or a corporate event, these guys will turn up bringing all the gin, knowledge, plus a bit of cheeky charm. Their aim is to support independent distillers and as Den says they are “Just a few good guys wanting something good to come out of all the negative stuff because that not the true spirit of GF, that’s not what we represented.”
“I came up with the concept. I approached Sean and Adam (designer for GF) and both have been instrumental in making this thing come alive.”
“Then GF folded so we decided to launch – like a Phoenix from the ashes!”
They’ve only been up and running a very short time, looking through their social media I can see menus with gins such as Robin of Locksley, Cuckoo, Turncoat and Handyman and they’re open to other gins coming on board. They’re also looking into bring premium mixers on board. If you’re interested in them showcasing any of your products then please do get in touch.
Both Den and Sean worked at GF from the beginning and having worked alongside them myself, I can confirm that their knowledge of gin and events is absolutely on point. They’re highly professional and lovely to boot. Both gin connoisseurs, Den specialises in the gin side of things whilst Sean is the cocktail maestro. It’s early days for them so please do show them some support by liking and sharing their social media, and bear them in mind to recommend to anyone who fancies having a party with two of the nicest guys in the industry.
If you’d like to have a look through some of what they’ve done so far, you can check their Instagram or for more information email them at email@example.com
And they’re not the only ones, another bloom is unfolding from previous employees Adam and Joe, who a little birdy tells me, have recently set up a merchandise and apparel site called Merch Stall.
I wish Den and Sean all the luck in their new venture and have full confidence it’s going to go well. I’m also sure that it’s not the last we’re going to be hearing from those beautiful souls on the events team. Guys, please keep me updated with your gin adventures and I’ll be happy to squawk about it on here. All the love.
Exciting times at the Ginfluence. It is with great pleasure I present to your our first ever guest writer!
Yolisa Qunta is a wonderful writer based in Cape Town and has a fantastic passion for gin. “Yolisa discovered the joys of gin to a trip to Victoria Falls where she was assured that not only was it perfectly acceptable to enjoy a tipple at 11am, but it could also prevent malaria. The latter turned out to be an urban legend but her love for gin continued. She is a published author, freelance writer, editor and researcher based in Cape Town. Yolisa enjoys traveling and taking pictures of all her food for Instagram.”
It’s great article and a delicious insight into the gin boom in Cape Town. I warmly welcome writers from around the world to get in touch if they would like me to publish something on gin in their local area. Well done Yolisa! You’re my first fellow ginfluencer and I hope you’ll keep us up to date with any more news.
Cape Town launches its first Gin Route
Cape Town, this beautiful coastal city at the tip of South Africa, is famous for many things. Visitors flock to see the mountain shaped like a piece of furniture. The wine also keeps the crowds coming. From Napoleon, who showed his diva tendencies by having dessert wine shipped to him in exile, to Barack Obama who was sipping a South African bubbly to celebrate his inauguration. Over the years many have made the pilgrimage to the wine regions and cemented their place in history.
Meanwhile a quiet gin revolution was happening. It started the way acrylic nail tips fall off: slowly then seemingly all at once. First there was Inverroche Distillery. But, in the same way Wonder Woman swooped in to save the DC franchise, along came plenty more distilleries to show that the Cape Town gin wave was not just a hipster phase.
Clearly, having a Gin Route to showcase all the fantastic places was the next logical step. I was invited to the launch which fittingly enough happened on World Gin Day. At the penthouse of a swanky hotel, I got to taste all the gins on the new route. General manager Efi Ella, one of the masterminds behind the Gin Route had this to say, “We saw this as an opportunity to celebrate the exceptional gin that is being produced locally. We are honoured to be associated with these incredible distilleries and provide a platform where users can plan their own journey of gin discovery, that is likely right on their doorstep”.
He was not kidding about the exceptional gin, I know this because I sampled every single one. I never got around to asking if it was a coincidence that all of the distilleries were in such close proximity to each other but it makes it very easy to walk the whole route so that’s a bonus. Without further ado here is a round up off all the fantastic places included in the Gin Route:
Hope on Hopkins
These folk take gin distilling very seriously. Not only to they own the first stills to be licensed by the City of Cape Town but they also make their own gins from scratch. The process starts by cooking, fermenting and distilling barley to make the base neutral spirit. Then a range of locally grown botanicals such as citrus, coriander and Fynbos are added to make magic happen to the final product.
Hope on Hopkins is truly a family oriented venue. The three stills are named after the owners grandmothers and there is a rescue puppy that welcomes visitors to the distillery. There are two cats, one who moved from rainy London with the express purpose of keeping mice out of the barley, and a rescue. RescueCat is trying to find his way and spends a lot of time in the tasting room while LondonCat is adjusting to the idea of a newcomer. So just like a normal family then.
A pink gin? Made by a lady? My money flew out of the purse of it’s own accord. Simone Musgrave of Musgrave Gin is the granddaughter of an adventurer who left Plymouth in 1949 headed for Africa and whatever adventures were to be found here. The pink gin that I love gets its Instagram ready color from rosehips and infused rosewater. The other gin is Musgrave 11 Botanicals which showcases botanicals that reflect ancient African spice routes. Highlights include cardamon. Whitei Mondei also known as African Ginger and Grains of Paradise, a very rare pepper like herb unique to West Africa.
New Harbour Distillery
In the same way that the queen of the universe planned her exit from that girl group that used to wear matching shiny outfits, the brains wanted to set themselves apart from the pack starting with nomenclature. When choosing their name, New Harbour Distillery wanted people to know that their spirits are made in Woodstock, the old industrial heart of Cape Town harbour. New Harbour are a company of creative scientific individuals who combine botany, science and alchemy, to create handcrafted spirits using a combination of modern innovative and experimental distilling techniques. As Fynbos is at the heart of their gin they give back donating a specific amount to the Flower Conversation Trust from every bottle sold in the Private Collection. A conscious distillery working for conservation, I’ll raise my glass to that.
Pienaar & Son
In a past life I was a chemical engineer. I lasted two years with a multinational oil company before I set out for new pastures. I am only mentioning this because the Head Distiller at Pienaar and Son is one of those smart people who decided to put his degree to good use by producing amazing gin using cutting edge processes.
A Master Distiller in his twenties, supported by his father the distillery states boldly that they are more interested in starting traditions than following them. Having tasted their Empire Gin distilled from maize (corn) infused with botanicals to produce a flavorful English style gin I can happily attest to all the above.
Woodstock Gin Company
Before the advent of this company, Woodstock was known for overpriced artisanal coffee, hipsters in checked shirts and lack of street parking amongst many other perils of gentrification. Thankfully, Simon Von Witt has provided a good reason to venture back into the neighborhood with Woodstock Gin Company. His grape distilled Inception Gin is matured in American Oak barrels for four months. The water is collected from a natural spring nearby to ensure that there are no chemicals to alter the taste. Another highlight is the High Tea Gin infused with undertones of the famous Rooibos tea.
Cape Town Gin & Spirits Company
Can’t have a brand new gin route without an eponymous company, am I right? Inspired by the roaring twenties, Cape Town Gin & Spirits Company is all about good times and small batch labels. You already know know I have a weakness for pink gins so here we are with theirs, infused with Hibiscus flowers and rose petals, and a heavenly hint of rose water. Fresh, floral aromas on the nose, with rose and Turkish Delight on the palate. That’s what the brochure says. All I know is that the gentleman serving it to me felt like like a looooooooooooooong drink of water himself.
So here we are, 6 distilleries and one glorious Gin Route in the southern tip of the world. Let me know which you which you are are looking to drinking most in the comments below.
The Award winners from the The Gin Guide 2018 have been announced!
Head Judge and Editor of The in Guide, Paul Jackson, kindly got in contact with the news, so naturally I want to share it with your good selves as soon as possible.
“Gins from 19 different countries completed for the coveted titles in The Gin Guide’s annual gin awards, with a leading panel of distillers and industry experts, Four Scottish Gins won awards, including the newly launched Biggar Gin, and Greek Gin has made it’s mark in the industry with Grace Gin winning an award too.”
Excitingly, there were a record number of gins and the quality has been described as ‘unprecedented’.
“Scottish Gins stole the show with four different Scottish winners, including two gins from Orkney, the recently launched Biggar Gin and Glasgow favourite Makar Gin. Grace Gin has made a statement in putting Greece on the gin map, while Listoke 1777 Gin and Underground Spirits Gin has showcased the exciting and innovative gin industries in Ireland and Australia respectively. English gins continued to show their pedigree with wins in Contemporary Gin, Flavoured Gin and Old Tom Gin categories.”
“Entries were judged in blind tasting sessions across the hotly competed categories. Each gin is assessed using a detailed scorecard developed by The Gin Guide, featuring key characteristics including appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, finish and overall balance and appeal.”
Full details can be found on The Gin Guide Website and you can register you interest in The Gin Guide Awards 2019 by visiting here. Please do count me as interested, Paul! I’ll be signing up shortly and would love to come and give a hand next year.
On a personal note it’s fantastic to see Underground Spirits doing well for themselves. They’re a great bunch and have a great gin. I’ve been working on a write up for them and it will be posted very soon.
As a judge at The Word Gin Awards 2018. I’m always keen to see other awards, and how they’re judged. I think it’s really important that we keep this variety of competitions. It’s just another wonderful and varied facet of the colourful world of gin.
With so many gin blogs out there and so much information to be found online, do you ever get the craving to hold the information in your hand? That traditional desire to sit and read a magazine rather than trawl through a lit screen? If so, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Paragraph Publishing have launched a magazine dedicated to our favourite tipple.
With the continuing rise in gin’s popularity, Paragraph Publishing decided it was time the drink had it’s own dedicated magazine. Responsible for publications such as Whisky Magazine which launched in 1998, they clearly know their stuff when it comes to readers with a dedication to distillation.
The first issue of Gin Magazine was launched on 17th November 2017 with a fabulous launch party in London’s Merchant House. It was wonderful to meet and greet some of gins finest and make some new friends, as well as catch up with some familiar faces in what is in my experience, one of the most friendly industries out there. The evening saw us tasting the 22 featured gins of the first issue, including spectacular gins such as Isle of Harris, Elephant and Swedish lovely Hernö, who I covered last year. They aim to continue this generous amount of reviews, with the magazine keeping to 22 gins every quarterly issue.
As well as reviews, there will also be interviews and articles on producers as well as botanicals, production itself and naturally cocktails that you can make at home. (I do so love a home project!) Plus, it’s aimed at gin enthusiasts at all levels so it’s sure to be a brilliant way of keeping up with the gin world with something in there for everyone.
Where can you get your hands on a copy? Well it’s available from Waitrose as well as W.H. Smith. It’s not just limited to the UK though and is also available in the US from Barnes and Noble. It’s also available online through https://gin-mag.com/ and there are print and digital subscriptions though https://ginmag.imbmsubscriptions.com/. If you’re looking to subscribe, good news! Right now, if you subscribe then the first issue is free. If there’s any of you out there thinking you’d like to advertise then you can contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gin Magazine is a quarterly publication with issues to be released in February, May, August and November. The next issue is due on the 16th February and I’m pleased to say that I’m contributing a little something so keep your eyes peeled. It will also contain details of the winners of the World Gin Awards 2018, an award which I’m lucky enough to be judging with some amazing people tomorrow. Needless to say I’m ecstatic to be getting involved with such a fantastic publication and wish it all the best for the future.
Back in I wrote an article about IOW Distillery’s triumph, the Mighty HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin. Whilst the gin itself is something special, I was left extremely curious as to how the whole project would turn out. You see, as well as the gin there was also an ambitious endeavour to age the gin in casks made including staves of wood and copper from the ship itself. These casks would be aged briefly for 4 months, then 1 year, 3 years and 5 years, known as the first-forth release respectively. The concept is that the gin would take on the colour and flavours of the cask, recreating a taste something like what it would have tasted like in the days it was carried by barrel.
The ceremony of presentation of bottles from the first cask was on Tuesday 18th October, well timed during Trafalgar week, the day itself being the 21st. I was lucky enough to secure an invite into an intimate evening and went with keen interest to see how the gin was working out.
The attendees were a mixture of people at varying levels of involvement in the project. We began by taking a quick tour of the ship. Led by Max, we were led around key areas of the ship, the quarterdeck, captain’s cabin, galley, guns and shot. It was a beautiful evening and the colourful sunset of golden oranges and pinks lit up the wood with a wonderful glow. It felt serene, quiet and peaceful, far away from the chaos that would have been there.
After the tour we were given a glass of the standard Victory gin, complete with Fever Tree tonic and pink grapefruit. As in my previous article, it’s a very good gin. Boadecian Hops, rock samphire and elderflower give a nice twist on standard gin recipes. The spirit is of a very high calibre with the hearts being cut off a little early to boost the quality.
Whilst sipping on the we listened to a talk from gin historian David Smith. David is a local man who himself had a relative on the Victory at Trafalgar, which is such a fantastic link. He explained that on hearing about the project he was keen to get involved and told us a little on the history of Navy Strength Gin. Gin was transported at 57%, it was only in the 1850’s that Plymouth gin used this as a commercial idea. He’s a very knowledgeable man and as a result I am taking a little expedition to visit him at his HQ and gin den to learn more on historical gins late December, write up to follow.
And with that, we were all presented with a glass of the freshly bottled, 4 month cask gin. No tonic needed, it was to be sipped and tasted bare, with nothing to change the favour. I was all aquiver as I took a deep breath and sipped. The taste was rounded, almost marmalade like in flavour. There was a slight mustiness to the smell and a yellow brown tinge to the colour. This was an interesting progression for the brief period of ageing and I’m more than curious as to what the next batch will be like. I savoured every sip, being well aware that I was consuming 250 years worth of history. It’s a pretty special feeling.
After the tasting we moved into the Captains Cabin for the formal presentation. Everyone involved was presented with a bottle of Batch No 1, complete with wooden cask and a miniature, a keepsake worth keeping. I am sure that almost all of these will remain unopened on shelves, gaining value over the years. What an investment!
The remaining bottles are now on sale through the IOW Distillery shop and the National Museum of the Royal Navy shop with a price tag reflective of the rarity of this project. It’s difficult to know how it will all go but my gut instinct tells me that this is something worth paying for. Any gin collector will know that this is a very unique gin indeed and of great interest to both the discerning collector and any gin drinking historian.
So all that follows now is to wait patiently until the 1, 3 and 5 year aged is open. It’s not that far away and I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that I’ll be there to taste the difference that these extra years make to both the flavour and the colour. Although I guess we’ll never know exactly how alike to the original flavour it is, what a rare and fantastic opportunity to create something akin to it. Also, on a personal note, to taste and consume elements of a ship as incredible as the Victory has been very special to me indeed.
Sunday 2nd October marked the first of a new run of Gin Tasting Evenings to happen at the Wine Vaults, Portsmouth. Brainchild of Business woman Tracie Sharp, they are also to be joined by brandy and even whisky tasting evenings later on. Well worth keeping an eye on.
Tracie runs ‘Your Platinum Events’ and has already been putting on occasions such as Ascot and Goodwood trips. She’s a fantastically bubbly and honest character. Incredibly determined and hardworking, she has already won awards for her efforts, Business Woman of the Year 2015 and Social Enterprise Business Woman 2015. She doesn’t do things by halves.
Held upstairs in the wonderfully homely setting, the long table managed to accommodate 20 people. On arrival there were goody bags on the chairs waiting for us, each containing miniature Hendricks, Fever Tree Tonic and Juniper berries amongst other things. What with the Williams Chase Sloe and Prosecco cocktail on arrival, nibbles on the table and 6 gins on the menu it was already shaping up to be very good value for the £25 ticket.
Once everybody was arrived and seated the festivities got under way. Helen Stevens, the General Manager of the Wine Vaults, led the evening with a talk about gin in general and then a guide through each one. We started with Sipsmith, with her telling us a little bit about Sipsmiths themselves, before our assistant put one down in front of each of us.
In front of us were trays with different botanical garnishes. Lot of options including the standard lemon and lime as well as more exotic ginger and rose petals. There were also different tonic options, standard, elderflower and rose lemonade.
The name of the game was to mix and match, initially trying the straight gin to talk amongst us and work out the base flavours. From that we then added ice and our choice of tonic and garnish. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but it was fun and all part of the learning process. In all fairness I’m pretty sure the only wastage was a nice lady next to me choosing to add wasabi peas to one of her creations. Helen was careful to confirm the base notes with us before we added the extras so we had something to go on.
We worked through Sipsmith, Ophir, Gin Mare, Monkey 47, William Chase Extra Dry and Tanquery Ten, with intervals after each two. As the night went on, everybody naturally limbered up and became more talkative. The group were very social and I believe are all planning to return. There were some nice twists and I learnt quite a lot. For example, Monkey 47 going with tarragon. That is a new and lovely thing for me.
Finally, things got serious with the surprise quiz. 10 Questions on what we had learnt that evening and a bottle of Hendricks was at stake. Not having one in my collection (shame on me, I know) gave me sweaty palms. Competition was tight though and it seemed that I wasn’t the only one. Four of us scored almost perfect and had to approach the front for the tie breaker question. I’m sad to say that I fell at the final hurdle but we all warmly congratulated the very happy winner.
Tracie and Helen clearly put a lot of effort into the night. It was generous, informative and really good fun. I can highly recommend it and I’ll certainly be going again.
There is another night, a special ‘Gins of the World’ edition on 6th of November. Tracie and Helen explained that they wanted to try different gins as much as possible so people could come another time and experience a new thing. This attention to detail is one of the most exciting things about these nights as I can see them growing better and better each time.
One of the things that baffles me about our hometown of Portsmouth, is that despite our Victorian and nautical heritage, there is a distinct lack of gin in our history.
Am I missing a trick here?
I’m wondering if it simply wasn’t documented. It’s a subject I am highly interested in and dedicated to uncovering. If anyone out there has any stories or information, please do get in contact. It would satisfy my restless heart and I’d love to write about it.
Nonetheless, every day is history in the making and look at us now, in the midst of this gin revolution. The number of distilleries in Britain has doubled in only 6 years according to a recent article in the Telegraph and let’s be honest, with the huge array of flavours achievable through natures glorious palette of botanicals, there is room for everyone. Along with distilleries, gin bars and gin evenings have been popping up like straws out of fizz since the law was changed in 2009 and there’s a world of gin out there for the discerning drinker. Even JD Wetherspoons have managed to bag some very good brands for their ‘gin palace’ selection, including craft gin revolution forefathers, Sipsmiths themselves.
So, what to do as a beginner. Well, we can research online. Or more fun we could venture into a local gin bar for recommendations and explanations of flavour. We now have another option. The Gin Festival, an opportunity to learn together, stopping on its national tour in the Guildhall of our beautiful city.
Lock your doors. The gin fiends are out in force and tonight I walk amongst them.
The queue was full anticipation and the well dressed and it moved quickly. Once inside we had an introduction from Laura, and provided with very own copa glass, gin book, pen and order form, we were ready to be let loose. There were four areas as such, the main arena with live music and the gin stalls: A&B: British, C: International and D: fruit/sloes/liquors, the cocktail bar with vendor sample stalls, the masterclasses and an outside space with food and a punch bar.
The people were plentiful and our immersion into this collection of chic, geeky and fun loving drinkers was quick and natural. The gin books with introduction, recommended Fever-Tree tonic and garnish for each and every gin proved incredibly effective for those still learning and took the weight off the staff if they didn’t know an answer about a particular one of the good 100 gins on offer. It was however, very impressive what they did know and there was a definite passion, pride and patience in explanation that made learning a more fun and comfortable experience. It was also obvious that they were enjoying themselves too and the bubbling correspondence between them and the drinkers made for a tantalising and somewhat boisterous atmosphere.
My advice is, that it’s imperative to try a sip before the adding tonic. By adding tonic you are creating a completely different drink, garnish an additional element entirely. Some gins are made to be sipped on their own, some are made to be opened up by the right tonic pairing. To get a true understanding of the complexity of flavours in a gin it’s important to try it both ways. Terribly hard work, that.
With so many to choose from it made it difficult to choose at all. We started with Bluebottle, a gin that made an appearance as part of the Craft Gin Club on Dragons Den and has also won both a gold award in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Gin Masters 2016. Not a bad set of credentials and with such a beautiful and powerful taste including notes of floral and spice it delivers what it promises.
As we enjoyed our first of many, we took time to contemplate the offerings in the Gin Book and our next selection was a no brainer for me. Dictador Columbian Ortodoxy Premium Aged Gin, a Columbian twist on our favourite tipple. The sugar cane spirit base and ageing in rum barrels gave a deliciously sweet underbelly to its more tart juniper and citrus elements.
It was shortly after this, and still with two gins left, I started to contemplate the possibility of buying more tokens. I then started considering how much I would have to spend to try every gin I wanted, finally reassuring myself that although that wasn’t possible, the Dictador had already been a brilliant discovery and had made my night worthwhile. This voyage of discovery is the very magic at the heart of the Gin Festival.
It was about time to check out the cocktail bar. With a lovely little collection of gin themed cocktails such as the Rhubarb Rumble with proceeds going to charity, there was something for everyone. I spoke to a seasoned chap who had clearly found his place and had decided the Rumble was his favourite thing ever. His joy was infectious and he wasn’t the only one. Two hours in everyone was beaming brightly in their gin tinted glasses.
The vendor stalls were fantastic. I just love the opportunity to meet distillers and representatives to talk to them about their gin in detail. I firmly believe that understanding the story behind the gin gives the flavour an extra depth that’s simply unachievable by taste alone. I counted Locksley, Masons, Whitley Neil, Copper House, Conker, Pinkster and Brockmans, who together were a brilliant collection with lots of variety between them.
Sir Robin of Locksley Gin was a delight. Elderflower and Dandelion with pink grapefruit that gives it a wonderful sweetness. In addition, elderflower tonic lights it up into a fresh and dewy spring day of a drink. This was one of my favourites and recommendations of the evening.
Brockmans have been on my list for a while and they didn’t disappoint. The blueberry and blackberry tones came alive and fizzled like sparklers with ginger ale. Absolutely made for the Autumn months to warm our hearts when creeping chills hint of the coming winter and the crackles and smoke of bonfires fill the air.
It was lovely to meet a couple of the guys from Conker. Living in Bournemouth for a while, I’d heard of them bringing out the first Dorset gin for over 100 years and I’d been, as once a local, rooting for them to do well. They certainly have with a combination of earthy compounds including elderberries, samphire and gorse which they forage regularly in their local area, a delightful pastime if it weren’t for the prickliness of the bushes.
It was good to see Masons there too. I’m already a fan of their tea gin (marvellous in a marmalade Martini) and was lucky enough to try their lavender gin which was stunning. Not the heavy floral taste we’d expect, but soft, gentle and sweet. It’s on my Christmas list, which was by that point, growing longer by the minute.
The food smelt incredible and on venturing outside we found two stalls and the punch bar. A nice chat with host Peter revealed we had just missed the last of his special punch, an unusual milk and citrus marvel that he based upon a recipe that was over a century old. I would love to go into more detail on this, and fingers crossed that may happen down the line, so watch this space.
Back to the main arena and the music was flowing. Speakeasy style fiddle and guitar from two very talented musicians really got the mood going. I went in for a Strathearn Oaked Highland Gin, on the rocks as recommended by the rather knowledgeable barman. The website recommends serving with an equal measure of orange juice for a brunch drink, the Gin Harvey Wallbanger. I’m doing that as soon as possible. Life has many heavens to me and one of them is sipping on a whisky gin.
And another would be Tarquin’s Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin Ltd Edition. This absolutely outstanding gin has been made exclusively for the festival. With Tregothan tea Camellia sinensis, kaffir lime, ginger and bee pollen it is both a delicacy and a triumph. Floral notes, warmth and the most wonderful sweetness that lingers on the tongue. I am heartbroken at its passing and live in hope they release a public batch. If you like the sound of this, it’s worth checking out South Western Distillery, they are creating some wonderful things at the moment.
I confess, through the fun I was having what with talking to all the lovely people about gin, drinking said gin, furiously writing notes and having the occasional dance time just raced past and I missed the masterclasses. I did however catch up with the lovely gentleman from Locksley Distilleries who explained that during his masterclass (120-140 people in attendance), he had spoken a little about EU regulation and explained that they were about lots of different aspects of gin and between them they’d tried to cover lots of these.
I wish I could have stayed longer, the time ran out far too quickly but that’s always a good sign. All the extras like Hobo Tom Photography really kept the party moving. Tom is the official photographer for the Gin Festival and you can see his work in much of their marketing. He took some amazing photos taken there, and some a bit of fun, one of my good friend Dave and me is posted below. Before we knew it, we were spilling out into the streets of Portsmouth, clinging defensively to our copa glasses and chattering excitedly about all our favourite findings. It seems that everyone was in agreement that it was a big step up from last year. The Gin Festival began in 2012 when Jym and Marie Harris wanted to up the ante on the gin bars they’d visited and that idea has grown and grown. Four years down the line and business is booming. This year there are 28 locations around the UK. Next year it’s looking to be 40.
Since I first discovered the gin revolution it has blossomed into a renaissance, with Artisan distillers putting love, money and pride into creating truly beautiful gins. It’s an interest for adults to indulge and socialise in, sharing knowledge, enthusiasm and a bit of good old fashioned fun. Despite Portsmouth’s lacking history in gin, we are gaining momentum for the future. What with establishments such as Gin and Olive offering very good selections, local distilleries like the Isle Of Wight offering mighty gins such as Mermaids and the Might HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin and now the Gin Festival, maybe it’s Portsmouth’s time to shine and to take on the gin torch that it’s deserved for so many years. Who’s with me? Raise your glasses! Chin chin!
Many thanks to Laura at the Gin Festival for the press passes.
Also huge thanks to my good friend David Scotland for the photography. If you like his style you can find out more about him here and look at and purchase his work from here.