Passion and Business – Junipalooza and Imbibe

Being a gin writer based outside of London isn’t always easy. Don’t get me wrong, there are great gin scenes happening all over the country. But, London is still a base and hot bed for shows, launches and other events.

And the last month has been particularly generous, what with two of the largest events on the calendar, Junipalooza and Imbibe. This year I was lucky enough to get to both. Here’s my round up.

Junipalooza

Junipalooza was an exciting event for me. I’ve been writing on gin for about four years. But, due to previous work commitments, this was the first one I’ve made it to and it was a real box ticked! Junipalooza is legendary in the gin world, it is some would say ‘the’ gin event of the year. Held at Tobacco Docks, a fabulous venue in London, it spans countless rooms with ninety odd stalls. Some were simple whereas others went all out, creating whole rooms like the Franklin and Sons experience room. The event was huge and I learnt the valuable trick that some people go to more than one session, a popular choice being the one Saturday session, then a Sunday session to break it up. I arrived slightly late and did an initial run round to get my bearings. Even doing this, and having a clearly marked map, and the event being incredibly well sign posted, I still managed to miss a whole room on the left hand side! I’m sorry guys!

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What I did make it to was great. As soon as I walked in I saw Xav’s happy face behind the IOW Mermaid gin stall. He had a new offering for me to try, getting on the pink train with the release of a strawberry Mermaid gin. Xav is a stickler for local produce so naturally the strawberries are sourced from the island. It’s a gorgeous spirit. The muddled sweetness of the fruit mingling ever so nicely with the elderflower and sicilian lemons of the gin. Their new bottle caused quite a stir yesterday and the new pink colouring for that edition is sure to be a definite hit. I also met a couple of lovely chaps from Belgium who are looking to launch their gin, the Drunken Horse, into the UK soon. It’s a good solid gin and I’ve got a little bottle to go into more details when it comes out so lets hold that thought for now.

Next up I sought out Jaisalamer. I have recently been sent a bottle which is in my reviewing queue. I was keen to see what it was about after trying Hapusa at Gin Live. It seems the terroir of Himalayan spirits add an element of mystical earth and spice and make for a beautiful and different style, built around fragrant notes and generous warm spices. The gentlemen on the stall were all lovely and serving a G&T with orange was a great serve indeed.

Taking a minute to contemplate the map, I was approached by Olivier and handed a mysterious plant. He has asked me to love it, nurture it and keep it alive for a project that Gin Foundry and Warner are working on, which should happen about August. I’d like to add that the plant, now identified as apple mint, is looking very happy on my windowsill, which is quite surprising considering my kittens love a nibble on a juicy plant.

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Boatyard Gin was certainly worth a visit. Having tried some of their vodka at a competition, I was surprised at the character, power and smoothness. It stood out to me so much, that a year down the line, I was immediately drawn to their stall. The chap there was lovely and keen to show me the gin wares. Their double juniper gin was incredible! So much flavour, really generous and a lovely mouthfeel. If you’ve not tried it yet then I suggest that you get on the case. I’m a big fan of their work. Speaking of overtly juniper gins, Never Never was another stall I discovered and their Juniper Freak gin has been making waves in the gin community and fellow bloggers have spoken very highly of it.

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One of the great things about the event was getting to meet people face to face that had only previously been voiced in email and social media. Bruce from Brentingby was a highlight for me and his grapefruit pomelo gin slushie was absolutely superb. The natural zing of the grapefruit was so refreshing on such a hot and busy day. Hats off to that Bruce, you’ve inspired me to try and source a slushie machine for home.

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I promised myself I’d sit in on a masterclass, just the one. It felt important to appreciate the offerings of the event, though I’ve held a few myself and the time felt too valuable to sit and learn stuff that I already knew. The Warner one seemed incredibly relevant for me. Tom Warner came to do a gin talk at the gin bar I worked in a few years ago, where I fell in love with it. I missed that class. And, even now, I feel like I missed out on something there, so I was keen to see him in person doing his thing. What a force of showmanship he is. After working on the Tinker stall for so long I do feel akin to people doing the job. It’s intense, repeating the same info, being asked the same follow up questions, and being able to do it with consistent energy and enthusiasm, treating the last set of customers with the same approach as the first. It really is a marathon and he didn’t let me down. He was informative, personable and funny. The room itself was gorgeous, with an incredible wall of flowers which they had built for a stand at the Chelsea flower show. Nature in a fundamental element of the botanicals and the process at Warner. They forage what they can in botanicals down at the farm, if they don’t find enough they’ll make less bottles, simple. That love and care really came out in the masterclass as well. Great stuff guys!

It was at this point I realised time was running out and discovered the missing room! I just had time to get in and see my chums at Bullards. Their London Dry is a favourite of mine, using Tonka beans which give it a wonderfully earthy, old cocoa/vanilla vibe, which is a contemporary twist but still very in keeping with what we want from a traditional London Dry, really well thought out flavour, that. And I managed to catch a brief chat with Martin from Pothecary, who is very much one of those online voices I engage with often, it was a pleasure to meet him in person.

There were so many stalls I missed! I’ve certainly learned my lesson. I’m making a full weekend of it next year. The vibe was just wonderful. Everyone was there for the gin. The crowds were friendly and it felt like a party, a party where we celebrated our mutual love of our favourite spirit. Next year I’m hitting a couple of sessions and I’m doing it properly.
Imbibe

In recent weeks I’ve lost a small sense of the urgency in my writing. I tend to find that whether it be a review or an event, I tend to sit and stew on the experience, giving time for the ideas to develop, much like leaving botanicals to macerate in a still. This tends to produce better writing. However, it does have draw backs, the most difficult to negotiate being the drive to complete the piece. I am trying to become more disciplined with this.

Saying that, I’m currently on a train heading home from London, where I came to Imbibe yesterday, and I am just compelled to write. This compulsion is one of the main reasons I write, the sentences flying out onto the screen quicker than I can comprehend them and my finger tips dance on words that fall away like the bricks of a path in a fantasy land.

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I went to Imbibe two years ago when I was working for Tinker and GinFestival.com. Dan and me drove down off the back of three days working at an event in Leeds. I was repping for PJ Gin at that event and it was one of largest in the season. Being on a stall promoting four gins to so many excitable people was hard and by the drive down I was losing my voice. Even so, when I walked into the Olympia for the first time, seeing that enormous space, chok full with every alcohol you could imagine, set ups of all sizes, I felt like I was in heaven. I remember saying that if the real world was that space, and walking around it was the every day, I’d be so happy. I promised myself I would go back one year as a punter, the other side of the bar and this year I got to fulfil that wish and it was glorious.

With so many stalls offering so many things, there’s really just not time to get around everyone and give them all the time that they deserve, but I tried my best. I found some great little gins there. The Old Curiosity Distillery with a Geranium and Mallow gin was a firm favourite of mine. The gentleman on the stall, another Bernie, was warm and spoke about the gins with great love. There are currently six in the range, all inspired by old recipes for medicines and tinctures, flavours like ‘lavender and echinacea’ and ‘chamomile and cornflower’ with all botanicals excluding the juniper, being grown on their‘almost organic’ farm. I do hope they send me a little something to review as the Geranium and Mallow was exquisite.

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It was great to see Greater Than Gin there too as it meant they also had a little set up for Hapusa. Mystic and fragrant, it’s a fantastic gin and one to get your hands on. The natural terroir of the Himalayas is just fab, as mentioned previously. Hapusa certainly leans more to the rich an fragrant aromatics, rather than Jaisalmers warm spice. The rep on the stall was fantastic. She was really passionate about the spirit and was a great example of how a rep can be just as enthusiastic as those that work in the distillery.

Masons had a lovely set up this year and it was such a pleasure to catch up with Luke Smith, formally of Poetic License, who had moved over to Masons last year. It was also an honour to meet ‘Mr Mason’ himself and finally try some of the Pink Peppered Pear, which has been on my radar for ages. Things seem to be going really well for them since the fire which is wonderful. They’re great company and they make fabulous gin. Their Yorkshire Tea Edition has always been a favourite of mine. It’s my go to tea at home and they do such a good job with the balance of it. If you’ve not tried it yet, put it on your list.

I hit up the Maverick Stall to say hello as I do a bit of writing for them. It was great to see they had the Boutique-y RTD range out which includes some right crackers, my favourite of which being the Spit Roasted Pineapple Mule, made with their pineapple gin, ginger ale and lime. It’s a gorgeous drink.

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Fancying something a little different I got chatting to a chap called Federico Pasian, Head of Mixology at Quaglino’s Mayfair. He made me an incredible cocktail called the Globetrotter. Made with Sauvelle vodka, Nocino de Modena, Oloroso, Banana, Peanut butter and Grapefruit. The flavour was absolutely amazing! Such unusual notes but mingling together in a beautiful smooth punchy sweetness. It was gorgeous.

I was super pleased to see Bruce at Breningtby again. After reviewing the Black Edition a few months ago, then meeting him at Junipalooza, it’s great to see him going for strength to strength with his gin. He’s recently launched an RTD of the Roobois and Baobab and it’s up there with my favourites on the market right now. Having missed out on the new barrel aged gin at Junipalooza, it was great to see it in the flesh and give it a go. I love an aged gin, but I find the balance needs to be just right, with enough juniper punching through. Brentingby is a boldly classic gin and holds it weight really well in the barrel ageing process. Sterling work Bruce!

As I final treat I got to say a quick hello to Steve Gould from Golden Moon Distillery, an American Distillery that I first discovered through a Boutique-y Gin collaboration. There were a great few products on the stall and it’s always a pleasure seeing Steve, as I catch him at a lot of gin competitions.

Before long I was feeling a little woozy, announcements were announcing the event was closed and staff were patiently ushering wobbly people towards the door. I’m sure local bars do a great trade today, the punters continuing the fun and discussion whilst the exhibitors are left to pack down their stalls, with the Olympia staff dismantling the set up around them. It’s really quite impressive how quickly it all disappears, until next year.

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It’s an interesting vibe at Imbibe. The event is aimed at trade and industry types and naturally this does mean a lot of the conversation comes down to business, rather than the love of distilling. This has the unfortunate setback in cultivating certain attitudes where words cost money. Let’s be honest, anyone selling the gin wants to make money. However, there were various instances where I was greeted with an attitude of ‘what can you do for me, is it worth me talking to you’. I was the lone blogger ignored at one stall and on another asked my credentials as if I had to prove my worth for being there. There were points where the speils ran dry quite quickly when they realised I wasn’t about to put a case a week on repeat order. Whilst I totally understand that it’s an industry event, and it takes a lot of stamina handling so many people, having been that side of the bar, I do feel it’s worth a gentle reminder that if you’re going deal with the hospitality trade, you should be hospitable. Still, I was already expecting some of this before I went and I don’t think it’s the fault of the event at all, it’s just the nature of business.

So, Junipalooza is mostly for the gin drinker and Imbibe is for trade. They’re two completely different experiences but are great none the less. There’s lots to be learnt and tried at each one. If I had I had to pick one of the two then Junipalooza would definitely be my preference. But, luckily for me, I don’t have too, so I’ll be going back to both next year. Just as a final note, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the organisers of both events. They’re just so big, it must take a lot of time to do it and we in the drinking world salute you.

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Bringing it Home – The Gin Sessions, Hayling Island, Saturday 1st June 2019

I’m very pleased to say I’ll be dusting off my masterclass hat to make a special appearance at a great event lined up for Hayling Island on Saturday 1st June.

Now you may have read my previous post on The Gin Sessions, if not then I recommend you get the background on The Gin Sessions and it’s importance to me here. Unfortunately I was unable to attend last year as I was at a family event. But now, my time has come and I’m thoroughly looking forward to teaching a little gin history.

As well as the gin bars, Brockmans will have a stand for you to indulge in their trademark decadent spirit. And, there will also be an appearance from the recently launched Portsmouth Distillery and their gin. Based in Fort Cumberland, Eastney, this is a great opportunity to meet them and get to know their spirit, Fort gin, and what else they are up to.

I had a quick catch up with Gin Sessions herself, Naomi Good:

I’m really looking forward to returning to Hayling Island, and sharing my love of gin. We will have all the usual antics, live music, street food, over sixty gins, a cocktail bar, masterclasses, and industry experts.

For those of you who don’t know, Hayling Island is a gorgeous little retreat on the South Coast. The picturesque backdrop for parts of both Naomi and my childhoods, it has a special sentimental value to me and I’m going to take great pleasure in bring some of my knowledge to the party. It’ll be a great day, for sure.

You can get tickets for the event through Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!

Gin Live 2019 – Here’s to the first of many!

What a beautiful day for the first ever Gin Live! I do a little writing for Gin Magazine so I was keen to get along and see what one of their events was like. Held at the exquisite venue, the Royal Artillery Company, it was a wonderful addition to the already known Whisky Live. I have been twitching with anticipation the last few weeks.

The sun was out. Beautiful blue skies and a marvellous day for a jolly into London. I was overwhelmed by the building, which is essentially a castle and felt like Royalty as I entered the marquee to collect my glass.

There were several gins on show that I had not tried previously. and it very much felt like everything had been handpicked for me. The standard of everything was really high. There are so many gins to write about, so I’m going to give a quick run down of the ones I tried and leave it open for me to write a full review down line, if possible.

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I started off with Brighton Gin, a firm favourite with it’s milk thistle. It was really good to see a friendly face in John of Brockmans, who I know from the Gin Festival.com days. Crafty Distillery was there with their Hill to Harbour Gin. Their beach glass style bottle is beautiful and it holds a really very stunning gin. Proudly grain to glass, they have gone to great lengths to create a very high quality spirit. After months of distilling 100s of recipes, they brought sea, forest and earth together in a truly wholesome spirit and sent samples of it to a hundred of the general public to get their opinion too. They have been very conscious about every step of producing this gin and they definitely deserve a lot of recognition for their process.

Next up Gothic Gin. Beautifully soft and named after the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, I was delighted with it’s smoothness. It was ever such a soft gin and featuring your staple botanicals, and some more unusual ones such as eucalyptus, it was a really unusual offering.

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The Gael was a wonderful find. Made in Scotland, it is essentially a genever (location aside), as it’s made with malted barley. The wholesome warmth of malt cradles the juniper in such a delightful way. The lass I spoke to was a star, really passionate and delighted to be involved, which was a testament to her Father, Nigel, the owner at Gael and a really lovely chap too. I’m hoping to do a full write up on this one soon.

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Next up, Greater Than. Heralded as India’s “first craft gin”, there is a marvellous freshness, with ginger and lemongrass and a wonderful softness of chamomile, such softness as I could use it as a pillow. I was also very lucky to try a fabulous Indian export that is very difficult to source, but is imminently due, hopefully. Hapusa Gin. Absolutely gorgeous. Sublime. The purple glass of the bottle, the elegant complexity of mango and spices, of it’s a really incredible gin and fingers crossed they get it here soon as it is going to go down a storm. Thanks for bringing me in that sample What’s Katie Doing, much appreciated!

Glasgow Distillery were there showing off their Makar Gin in classic, oak aged, old tom, mulberry aged and cherry. The mulberry aged caught my eye, I’ve not seen mulberry wood being used to age gin before so I was keen to give it a try and it was delightful! It works beautifully with ginger beer and makes what tastes rather like a dark and stormy. Which doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the power of ageing gins and that’s exactly why I love them.

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I had a great find when I came across Columbo 7 Gin. What a gin! Distilled using an old Sri Lankan recipe, it’s a wonderful twist on gin and a beautiful nod to history, which is what enthralled me with gin in the first place. Made with botanicals that were sourced during the Second World War, when the trade routes were closed, the recipe uses cinnamon bark, curry leaves, ginger root and coriander seeds.

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Edinburgh Gin were there and I was discussing with friend and fellow blogger Gin a Ding DingGin a Ding Ding, sometimes brands get so big that you overlook them at events and tend to go for the more niche stuff. But, they have got some good stuff going on. I finally got to try the seaside gin. Coming from Portsmouth I obviously have a soft spot for the sea, and high expectations as this was one of the earlier seaside expressions from a gin. It was exactly what I hoped for. Also, the Cannonball Navy Strength is wonderful! I myself, haven’t heard navy strength gin made for sipping. What a bold move indeed! It delivered what it said. It was a wonderful drink and was just right for me as I drink a lot of neat gin, and always appreciate a navy strength, especially one that can be drunk on it’s own. Plus, a little birdy told me to keep my ears to the ground as they are releasing some new gin in the next few months. Edinburgh Gin, I’m ready!

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I was getting pretty heady by now, as you can imagine! So, I went to have some food. The eating experience was really quite wonderful. A hot buffet serving beef stroganoff. Although I was on my own at this point I found some nice people to sit with and talk to. And, sitting in rows like that in such an elegant room was really quite magical.

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Before I left I thought it only fair to try some whisky. I slipped into the whisky room and Oohlala, what a great experience! I do not know enough about whisky. I need to know more. There were some fantastic spirits there. Ben Nevis Distillery offering some fine tipples and That Boutique-y Whisky Company blowing me away with a Single Malt Irish Whisky, the label nodding to Father Ted’s ‘My Lovely Horse’.

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I considered staying for one more, until I caught my glass and it fell and broke on the floor. Within moments 3 staff where there cleaning it and I suddenly felt rather embarrassed. My time had come. I was woozy and had to get off to visit a friend. So, I scurried out of there quick sharp and into London like the giddy rat I was. What a great day. Bring on next year!

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 9: The Journey Home

When I woke up, I was a little fuzzy from the day before. If you haven’t read day 8, it might be worth catching up. Tequila, Mezcal and Gin can give you quite the head.

I woke early, snuck into the shower and was down for breakfast early. As I prepared a toasted bagel smothered in cream cheese, a big glass of OJ and a cup of fresh coffee, I was contemplating the day before and my jolly around the bars. I had come across a various mix of people, as you do in any city. Some were friendly and others weren’t really out to meet new people. As a lone traveller, you have to put yourself out there. It was apparent more than once that the people I’d started talking too weren’t very interested in talking to me and it had left me feeling a little sad. I had hazy memories of ordering a shuttle to the airport. I could remember the woman behind reception being very patient with my slurry demeanour, but I couldn’t remember what time it had been ordered for.

Looking for somewhere to sit for breakfast in a hostel is like looking for a place in a school lunch hall. For those of us with social anxiety it can be a nerve racking situation. You have to make a decision, and fast. No dilly dallying, or you get stuck between several possible places and stand there like a glitching character in a video game. This has happened to me more than once. And, certainly more than once since I left school. I saw a girl smiling and waving at me from a table with a space. I was unsure where I knew her from but was very thankful for the hospitality so I flashed her a smile and went to sit down.

“I remember you from last night.”

Oh dear. I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember much from the night before. I hope I hadn’t embarrassed myself.

“Well” I responded, “good morning!”

She spoke to her friends around her and introduced me. They were from Taiwan, visiting the East Coast on a 17 day trip. They asked what I did and on explaining the gin blog and the ADI and by the time I had finished they had already looked my blog up and added me on Facebook. She gave a big grin and showed me a picture of my fella.

“He plays guitar!”

“He does!” I grinned proudly.

“I play music” a lad in the group started, enthusiastically. “Let me show you!”

He fiddled on his phone and found a couple of tracks he’d written and recorded at home using logic. As I sat there looking at their lovely happy faces in that busy room I realised that this was the sort of interaction that I’d been missing, and the sort that can sometimes dissipate from a busy city, even one like San Francisco. Within 30 minutes sat at that table we’d swapped social media, shared hobbies and promised each other a bed if ever in the country. I thanked them, telling them they’d brought some sunshine to my day. I left the table feeling warm, went and checked what time the shuttle was due and went to pack my things.

I shared the shuttle with a lovely couple that were heading to the airport to travel home after 6 weeks away. Talking to them was like a debrief. We agreed that the city was much more relaxed than London, but there was still that city vibe. Despite the FDA shutdown I managed to get through customs relatively quickly and found myself near the gate with time for food. On a nosy around I spotted Tacos. Tacos! One of my take homes from the trip. I still hadn’t tried the fish tacos that San Francisco was so famous for and to my delight they had them on the menu. Ooderlally they were gorgeous! They’ve been added to the list of tacos I’m going to be making at home.

The flight was long. I was hoping to catch the Northern Lights as we headed back across Greenland and over to Iceland but alas, I think I saw them faintly but it was too faint to tell, a grey/white shape mottling in the sky. The flight gave me time to contemplate the trip. What were my take homes, the best bits? Well, there were a lot! The City Lights Bookstore, Versuvio Cafe and Women’s March in just one day. The trip to Tiburon and the beautiful scenery. The amazing experience of judging for the ADI. The incredible people that I met, and the things I learnt form mingling with such experts in their field. The Zombie Village Tiki Bar, Tequila and Tacos at Tacolicious, Anchor Beer, crab melts, True Laurel and Whitechapel. I do feel like I crammed a lot in, but there is still so much to do in that city that I didn’t get close to touching. Fingers crossed that the ADI were pleased with my work and I get an invite to go back next year. Pretty please ADI, I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed! In the meantime I’ve made a lot of new connections and I’d just like to extend my thanks to everyone that was involved in that fantastic event. It was incredibly well organised and it was an honour to attend. Until next year, hopefully. Fingers crossed. And toes.

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 8: Tequila, Mezcal and Gin

It was the last day so I knew I had to make it count.

I wanted to get into Mission. The chap sat next to me on the flight into the city lived in that area and said that it was a nice part of town. I did a bit of research and discovered that there’s a large Mexican community there so I decided to find somewhere good to go for Tacos and Tequila. I had hoped to get along to Mission Dolores Park, but as soon as I arrived at Tacolicious I figured I’d not be leaving there any time soon. There was wonderful array of Tequilas and Mezcals and I was just in time for Happy Hour.

The barman was a lovely chap, proudly from Mexico City and he was delighted in my interest in tequila. I asked for some recommendations and he suggested three types that were favourites of his. He set them up for me and whilst doing so gave me a great education in the drink. Tequila is made specifically from blue agave and it only grows in 4 or so regions. Blanco is unaged, reposado is aged for around one year and he gave me some of a newer style, anjeo, which is aged for longer than one year. I had one that was aged for around eighteen months. As he said, people are always looking for new things, new ideas, new flavours.

All three were served up with cumin sweet spiced salt and fresh lime wedges. A quick education in Tequila. We tend to rush things in the UK, racing to lick the salt, shoot the shot and suck on the lemon to wash over the tequila flavour. When it’s a good spirit, you don’t want go drown that out, right? The preferred method is much slower. No shooters here. The method works in the same order but just much more gentle. Light licks, small sips, cycle round as often as you fancy. The cumin salt has a wonderful sweet warm spice flavour. It really opens up all the spirit and careful now, it’s surprising how quickly you can work your way through the measures.

First up was Fortaleza Blanco which had a really lovely flavour and was very balanced. There was hardly any kick back for a 40%. Then, Cazadores Anejo which was a lovely golden colour, smooth and well rounded. And finally, Don Julio Tequila Reservado which was incredibly smooth and had a great flavour. They were all 40% and the taste was amazing for a mid shelf range.

Drinking Tequila takes some responsibility. For years to us Brits it’s been the ‘one drink too many’ had at the end of the night, sometimes on a dare. This perception could be a little tricky to break, most of us have bad memories of Tequila. However, I challenge you to have an night of tequila and tacos and I’m hoping that that you’ll look at this drink in a completely different way.

Nonetheless. I was needing food, and fast. I was recommended the pastrami taco and it was ludicrously tasty. All the saltiness of the rich meat holds up beautifully to tequila. A squeeze of lime sets it off with crisp red cabbage and creamy mustard manzano aioli. I only had the one, but could have definitely managed more and since I’ve returned, I’ve been researching recipes so I can try my hand a recreating this deliciousness at home.

Seeing as I was there, I decided to try some Mezcal and I asked what the differences were. Other than the agave plant used (tequila using the very specific blue agave and mezcal using any of the other forty odd kinds out there), it’s also about the process. The agave is smoked, which gives the mezcal a wonderful smokey flavour. Served with cricket salt and fresh orange, it was wonderful. After this I must admit, I was feeling a little heady, so I decided to move venue and went to True Laurel, as recommended by Leon at Gin Journies.

True Laurel is a discreet little set up, but had a lot of people there. I am not surprised. The cocktail menu was great. I went for an emerald gem named a Shoop Sour. Uchuva (physallis, one of my Dads favourite fruits), salt & pepper, lime and vermouth. It was smooth and fruity with a zingy pop and salty spice at the end. Ooderlally.

It was time for the big one. Whitechapel. Any gin fan that knows their juniper will know Whitechapel. It’s home to one of the largest gin collections in the world (for a bar), around 400. The speakeasy style and vaulted ceiling really add to the atmosphere and on the night, there were people in full dress doing pre-drinks before attending a ball. I felt like I’d gone back in time! There was a definite magic in the air. The staff were brilliant, assisting my polite, brit demeanour getting served amongst the more forward San Franciscans.

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I had a couple of cocktails and a ginfusion that was out of this world. The gin is infised with orange peel, Ramazzotti Aperitivo Rosato, Pear Brandy and Oloroso Sherry which creates a wonderful sweet, dry, fruity drink. Eventually I found myself chewing the ear off a gentleman about gin, gin history, the cocktails we were drinking. I recommend Piucinque which is one of my favourites and quite a rare find, only available in the UK at the Atlas Bar Manchester right now as far as I know. We had some doubles, then I was quite certain I needed food and bed. It was a great last day and definitely ticked some boxes off. Theres an excellent bar scene there. Something for everyone. I went to sleep a very happy girl.

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 6: The Grand Panel Party

The final day of judging was a blast.

I was asked to join the review panel which was just amazing! The review pane judging began in the morning, to help judge the spirits that had gone back for well, review. It really shows the integrity of the process, I think. If a spirit is brought to a table and there’s a big difference in the scores, for example if half think it should get a gold and half think it shouldn’t medal at all, it’s sent for review and given to another table for a second opinion. The reviews had been going on through the previous day, with a mysterious flight arriving here and there that we weren’t expecting. Some unaged rums some honey whisky, even some cream liqueurs.

I felt honoured to be on the review panel. I felt like I’d really grown as a judge through the few days and I loved the opportunity to debate the merits of some tricky spirits. The other judges were great, we had a lot of fun and we debated the hell out out everything. Listening to jock jams, we worked our way through a lot of entries, managing to settle on an appropriate score for each one, and an appropriate song for the wait for the next one.

After a brief lunch everyone got together for the grand panel. The best of the best! Flights of the gold winners of each category came through and for these we had to pick the top three. The quality of these entries was spectacular! There were some great ideas, some really well executed too. I’d love to tell you about them but I’m sworn to secrecy for now and I kind of like that.

Another quick break and time to get ready for the evening do and the opening of the spirits room. There was a sizzle of anticipation as we ate and conversed about the day. It was all quite relaxed until a whisper circulated that the gold medallists had been brought through. Within moments, conversations politely fell away and plates were abandoned. “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. This is why we do this”, I was told. I totally get it. The excitement of seeing what everything is, of finding out who makes your favourites, of discovering the new gems in the crown of craft.

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That’s how night began, I remember. I was in full on kid in a candy store mode. Everyone was getting into everything with such vigor! Showing ones they liked to other judges that hadn’t tasted them. Singing their praises with the same passion they’d done on the panels. The night was a riot!! We all had glasses and just pottered around, looking at things, pouring ourselves tipple after tipple. The back two spirits rooms were opened up an hour early because everyone was just so flipping keen to get in there. 800 entries all available and in some cases to take the bottle. It was great mingling with everyone I’d only managed fleeting conversations with and although I was a little too pickled to get out on the late night cigar walk, I had a wonderful, wonderful time. My only regret is that I didn’t get many photos of people, which was my intention. I need to remember those beautiful faces. But, I was having way too much fun! There have been photos being throughout by the lovely Bill, so when they’re available for viewing I’ll share a few for you. It’s a night I’m going to remember always.

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 7: Incredible Edibles to Tiki Bars

I have trouble sleeping sometimes, and before I went to bed after the do, a friend gave me and edible, which are legal in San Francisco so why the hell not, right? I fell asleep before I needed it and when I woke up at 6am, I had moved from business mode right back into holiday mode so I ate the small, gummy bear sized sweet, drank the can of 10% Bloody Mary I’d stashed from the night before and decided to get in the pool. The temperature was pretty cool at around 8 degrees at that time in the morning, but the pool and the jacuzzi spa were heated so I went for it.

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Now, I’m not one to include photos of me in the blog. But I can’t help but feel this one with the Bloody Mary and creeping red eye is an exception to the rule.

Fast forward an hour and I’m starfished out, floating on my back, looking up at a clear blue sky and the edible is kicking in hard. Like, really hard. The potency of these little sweets is insane. I’m floating around in the morning sun and I’m just so calm. I’m focused on my breathing, taking a deep breath in and rising to the surface before exhaling and gentle sinking back down. It feels like I’m in the womb, or natures womb, there in the water looking up at the sky. I’m sure people good money for this as therapy. My eyes are disappearing and I can’t stop giggling but who cares? It’s too beautiful a day to care. Well, I began too. I began to care a fair bit. It occurred to me that I had to check out. And, I had to clear my room tab which meant talking to someone which was kind of difficult as I was a giggly, no eyed mess. Action was needed. I went back to the room and ordered room service.

“Room service. What do you want?”

“Like…er…what do you have? Erm, do you have any cooked stuff?”

“Sure! We can do potatoes”

“Yes, er, that would be great.”

“Eggs?”

“Yes please”

“Bacon?”

“Yes! All of that would be…really great…thank you”

“Ok it’ll be there in 5”

I put the phone down quickly, before breaking out into the giggles that had been trying in earnest to erupt from my face. Being stoned is hard work. The food came, I ate the food, I had a coffee. I sat contemplating life for a while, then realised I was falling asleep sitting up. I got up quickly and packed. I had to get out of there.

Check out happened. I did the do, managed to chat a bit, I needed to praise the hotel for being amazing. There was minimal eye contact. I bumped into some friends on the way to the ferry. Quick chat, minimal eye contact. Soon enough I was sat on the shore, waiting for the ferry in the late morning sun. Ooh it was warm. Like 18 degrees warm. The sun was shining down on the blue seas and my red, squinting face as I sat in amazement that four hours later that little gummy was still going strong.

To my delight, along came another ADIer, waiting for the ferry and it was my friend who gave me the edible. We had a good old giggle on the way back over. The views were once again glorious. Off the boat I trundle up Fisherman’s Wharf to have a crab melt and a couple of Anchor Steams while the last of the incredible edible dissipated. Before long I was good go go and headed to the next hostel which was downtown, near Union Square. Once I dropped my stuff I had a little potter around the local area before realising the last few days were catching up with me and I needed a nap. I woke from the nap to a message inviting me to Zombie Village. It was only a couple of blocks away. Sure thing.

The Zombie Village is out of this world good. I’m in Tiki heaven! The decor is overwhelming with huge wooden totems, skulls, foliage and a fibre optic starlit sky. The booths are each built like little huts and the rum and cocktail list has been created from sheer obsession. I went to town on the cocktails. The balance of flavors were sublime and the variation incredible. We were lucky enough to have a tour of the upstairs VIP section where they sometimes put on live music. Honestly, this place has it all. It sparked a discussion in our group that the UK could do with a bit more of this. I’m going to start investigating the tiki scene when I get back. If there are good ones out there I want to find them and I want to visit them. Bravo Zombie Village. It’s a triumph and if you’re in town that has to go on your list.

I came out of that place hungry. We were recommended a Filipino food bar up the road. Gosh it was good. The seasoning was out of this world! Pork spring rolls and for a main I had Longsilog, which are sausages that have a kind of chorizo vibe on the go. All mains are served with garlic rice and egg. Ooderlally. It was a taste sensation and just what was needed to soak up all that tiki goodness. I wobbled back into a sleepy hostel room, crept into bed and fell into a deeply satisfied sleep. One day left! Better make it count!

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 5: I Am A Sponge

Over breakfast I was told that I’d be moving tables.

The comfortability I’d found on the first day dissipated quickly into nerves. I felt like I’d have to prove myself again. I sound over dramatic, which I am lets be honest, and it was very good to move around and listen to what other people were thinking and where they were coming from with their ideas. I’m just well aware that I’m swimming with some pretty big fish here, and I want to do it right. I shyly pottered through and sat at the the table. The pace had been upped, with us having to feedback much quicker. Also the debating had become more in depth, with several instances of having to come back to a gin that had a varied response, to discuss and agree on a score that was more in line with what everyone thought.

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This is however, very much my first rodeo and I’m well aware that this is a great opportunity to learn as much as possible. I am a sponge. I was constantly listening to all the tables in earshot, soaking up as much as possible. And, I was overwhelmed at the knowledge in the room. It’s a very humbling to be sat around so many experts. On the first day, I met a lovely gentleman, Jeff, who writes on rum and tiki. I clicked when he mentioned that he had got himself an office to get him out of the house because he was “losing all social skills he’d once developed”, by staying at home writing. My eyes widened, “I get you!” I can spend days sat at home in my pants writing, it’s like an addiction. I don’t feel I can leave the laptop if there’s more I can do and before I know it, I can’t even look people in the eye when I’m up the shops for a pint of milk.

Before the first drinks came out on day 1, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. The room is full of people from all areas of the industry. Distillers, bar owners, bar tenders, importers, distributors, writers, all sorts of people. I realised my hands were shaking as the plethora of incredible introductions crept closer and closer to little old me. Suddenly it was my turn and the whole room turned and looked my way. Silence. That sizzle of anticipation. I swallowed, before projecting my voice calmly and smiling as I said who I was and what I did. Smiles and nods, and onto the next. Relief washed over me like I was bare feet dug into sand on the shoreline. I will remember the moment always.

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So, I’ve been doing ok the last couple of days. I reminded myself of this, and I summoned up the courage to sit on the ‘Gin 2’ panel. It’s a great little table! Ben from Seattle based Big Gin, Ollie from Sipsmith and Keli Rivers who is everything a gin judge could aspire to be. Her palate and knowledge of flavour is exemplary! The notes she picks out are mind blowing. I was marvelling all day at her ability to taste, “this tastes wet and…hot, almost plastic, like when you drink water out of a garden hose that’s been in the sun”. I am a sponge. I have been and will keep learning all I can.

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Gins, gins, gins all day and something a little bit interesting at the end as we step in to help on honeyed whiskys, then unaged rums and finally cream liquors. The diversity of flavour here was amazing. It really was a marathon of a day but we got through it. On leaving I met up with the wonderful Lara Victoria and we went for some Italian food at Don Antonia Trattoria. I had spinach and ricotta ravioli in bolognese with garlic and it was out of this world! The service was amazing and the wine was lovely too, another great Pinot Noir from the local area. Great choice Lara!

Another solid 8 hours sleep and I’m up and raring to go. I’m bubbling with joy to be sat with a coffee, writing. Having not long finished a BA and now part way through a MA in writing, I have been spending a lot of time writing because I have too. Writing because I’m stressing over deadlines. The last few days of finding an hour in the morning to write because I want to, has been absolute bliss and I’ll go as far to say it’s re-sparked my love for it. I must find a way to continue this when I get home. I need to remember to find some time to write for love, even when there’s writing for deadlines.

Anyway, today’s the final day! Last gins in the morning, grand panel in the afternoon and the big do in the evening…but I’ll tell you all about those tomorrow. Let me at’em!

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 4: The Judging Begins!

Up until now these posts have been more like a travel diary and have been the source for a great joke to tell people, as I’ve had more likes and follows for these than the ones I write about gin. I’m starting wonder if I’m in the wrong business!

Firstly, lets touch on breakfast. A breakfast buffet is provided and to my delight included potatoes, egg, crispy bacon and maple sausages. Ooderally! It was just what I needed after the heavy night before. That, a big glass of fresh grapefruit and a coffee had me bright as a button and ready to go.

Now it’s time to strap up, belt and braces! Because now this business gets serious as it’s the first day of the judging. Having had some training, I knew what to expect and what was expected from me. The ADI is just great. Running for 14 years it’s the second longest running drinks competition in the US and is strictly for craft distillers producing under 750,000 gallons per year, although a lot of the entries are less than this. Feedback is an important part of the competition with distillers not only hoping for awards but also hoping for feedback that can give them guidance on how to improve their product. Everyone conducts themselves in such a professional manner. I was delighted to approach the table and see everything I needed set out and an ADI pin which I have been wearing with pride. The judges are there to focus on the drinks and each table has a steward that takes and brings anything they need. Big shout out the the stewards! They worked their socks of all day and did an amazing job at keeping everything moving.

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The guys I’m on the table with are just great. Absolutely lovely and a mix of distillers, importers and myself a writer. I was told that the tables are set up very carefully to included people from different parts of the industry that will pick up different things to give insightful feedback and collectively, a well rounded score. Use of the spittoon is important and I used the spittoon with every gin. The event at three days long is a marathon and it’s important to pace your palate and be confident in what you’re tasting. There are even alternate judges provided who can step in to take a flight if your palate needs a break. It’s seen as highly professional to request an alternate judge for a flight as there is a pace to keep and it allows the table to keep moving whilst not losing the quality of the judging.

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It was such an enjoyable day. I was in my element! Panels would pour over the smallest details and debate for some time to ensure everyone was satisfied with the final mark being awarded. The discussions were lively and great fun. The whole thing was wonderful for my confidence. There were moments when I was well in line with score and feedback, equally there were points where I would be controversial to the group, and I did it with conviction. This happened with all the judges at points and there were some great comments on my judging. After the first day I felt like I’d learnt to swim and I could hold my own in the water. Let me tell you, it’s a great feeling.

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Judging from 9 – 6 with a brief lunch in between, I was ready for some dinner. A few of us met up and went to a great little wine shop, called Tiburon Wine about 5 mins from the hotel. It’s run by a lovely chap and has an extensive range of very good wines and seating. We enjoyed a couple of glasses while we were there, one a Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz that was absolutely beautiful. Gorgeous earthy notes on the nose built up for a gentle palate that exploded into a natural raspberry finish. It was really special. After a few glasses, we went to the Italian and shared a few starters including calamari and sausage with fondue. For mains I went for Garganelli with Prosciutto, cream and leeks and once against found myself wobbling joyfully back to the my room. What a day!

Its 7.30AM PST, 3.30PM GMT. The travel diary is all caught up. I’m getting ready, going for breakfast and super excited about doing it all over again!

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 3: Islands and Inductions

I wasn’t blessed with the weather that morning. It was dark and wet. I took a cab from the hostel to Pier 39. I knew the ferry left from close by and I was keen to see the Sealions.

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Flying in over the bay, I had caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz, but I really wasn’t prepared for how beautiful the area is. As we pulled away from the gloomy, partly obscured skyline of the city, I realised that the Golden Gate is not the only bridge and there are various suspension bridges connecting different islands. The ferry is a wonderful way to do some sightseeing. It passes quite close to Alcatraz, which even from a distance, seems desolate, the blue water and skies doing little to detract from the dark history.

 

As we came closer to the peninsula across the way, small specks dotted over the rocky and lush green outcrops turned into houses. Amazing houses of different colours and sizes built into the steep sides, on stilts, some right down kissing the waters edge. Putting myself into the shoes of someone who lived there, I tried to imagine what it must be like waking up to such a beautiful view every morning. I don’t know if I can quite imagine the serenity.

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Firstly we stopped in Sausalito, a lovely little spot and a common visit for tourists who hire bikes to ride over the Golden Gate and return on the ferry. Then we stopped at Angel Island, a state park that looks rather beautiful from a distance, although listening in to conversation, I found out that it was used as a quarantine station to screen visitors for the Bubonic Plague in the late 1800s with buildings including a detention centre and leper house. In the early 1900s it served as an immigration station and during World War 2 it served as a detention centre for Germans, Italians and Japanese, arrested from Hawaii as Fifth Columnists. For such a beautiful place, I’ll bet it’s seen terrible things.

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Next stop Tiburon. After marvelling at the beauty of the area, of this cluster of lush, emerald jewels set in gently lapping sapphire seas, I was amazed to see us pulling in to another one of the peaceful settlements and docking. The colours here are so vivid. There’s a sense of tranquility on these peaceful shores. I disembarked from the boat and trotted along to the hotel. Luckily I was allowed to check in early, giving me time to land and get some supplies in before heading down for the new judges induction.

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It was wonderful to see some friendly faces amongst the new judges. I was excited, and nervous. The thing about judging is getting confidence in your opinion. Back in the UK, I am getting to  good level with that as I’ve been doing it a while, but when you’re in the US the goalposts change a bit. What Is looked for in the categories, flavour profile, the quality of the spirit can be different. We did a little training using 4 vodkas, scoring and writing feedback before discussing it on our tables. It was very much a learning curve, especially for myself with less experience with vodka than gin. It was really interesting to see the different things that people were picking up and it gave great insight into what was expected of us.

In the evening a reception was held in the downstairs bar. I had an absolute whale! Being around such a prominent group of people I was a little nervous until I’d had a couple of drinks and the dutch courage kicked in! I began with a St George and tonic as it seemed like the right thing to do, being made in San Francisco. Then I picked up a glass of bubbly rose to join in the celebration and then it was martini martini martini!! I requested 209 gin as it’s another local and boy a 209 martini with a big salty olive is just a glorious thing! As the night went  and the blood moon came out I’d met some really wonderful people. Everything shuts down relatively early around here, so there was just enough time to head up the road and get some Italian food and a final glass of wine before I wobbled joyfully back to my room. It was a great day full of new experience and dipping my toe in to the process of judging, I felt ready and excited to be a part of it.