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.

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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.

 

ADI San Francisco Travel Trip Diary – Day 2: Literature and Protest

I’ve been so very excited for today. The ADI Judging of Craft Spirits schedule begins tomorrow. Today was a day for pursuing my other passions and boy, did I pursue them!

First on the agenda was City Lights Bookstore. I’m a bookworm. I’ve always been a bookworm. I’ve got an overactive mind that needs to be occupied and books just do it for me. This led on to my love of writing, and reading and writing are one of my true passions. So, as you can imagine, this was quite the pilgrimage. City Lights Bookstore was founded in in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D Martin. They were revolutionary. They launched their own publishing house to give opportunity to the aspiring writers that they felt had that spark. That spark burst into vivacious light during the obscenity trial for publishing Allen Ginsbergs Howl and Other Poems in 1956. ‘Howl’ was renowned as one of the principle works of the Beat Generation and once the judge ruled not guilty, 5000 more copies were in demand and the store became home to the Beatnik generation. Just entering the place felt electric. The atmosphere was palpable. 3 floors of shelves create a snaking maze of anything you can dream of discovering. All sorts of incredible reads! On their leaflet they explain how they’ve grown in size but retain the original and anarchic feel. Their staff are heavily involved in picking what they sell, with staff picks dotted all over the place. I spent a little time nosing through the Philosophy, Science Fiction and Fantasy sections. With titles such as Octavias Brood, Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements and Bikes Not Rockets, Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories, I could have spent hours in there. It’s a must for any reader. Go there, feel alive!


Next up I moved just across Jack Kerouac Alley to Versuvio Cafe. Again, this is a long standing feature of the city, and you can feel it. Frequented by the likes of Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan, the walls are smothered with photos, paintings, newspaper pages and gig posters. It really doesn’t take much for the imagination to put you right back in that eruptive era. The magic of that time still whispers quiet sweet nothing’s in the ears of visitors. There were many people that stuck their head in with a camera. I sat down and had a couple of beers while I read. It felt like that right thing to do. I am quite certain that I left there a better person than when I entered.


I could have stayed there all day, but there was something I wanted to do. It was the annual Woman’s March, the third since it began, the day after Donald Trumps inauguration. The march is for a wide variety of values and I felt honoured to cheer the thousands of them on as they went past, so much so that I wept. The singing of the indigenous, the holla of the righteous. The sense of unity was overwhelming. All sexes and races, people from all backgrounds, marching together for mutual values that they believe in. People are so powerful when they come together. You can feel it, it feels like static in the air and the hair on your arms stands on end. I felt it must to be akin to the that flame that flared so fierce in the 60s, when the civil rights movement fought for so much of what we take for granted now. From that brief glimpse, I can’t quite grasp the magnitude of what it must have felt like to be there in that time and I wish I could. It was an eye opening, overwhelming, sad and joyous experience.


There really is a wonderful sense of unity here. After a few hours of leaving the hostel and in just a short time pottering around the city, I started to feel comfortable, dare I say at home? It’s diverse nature flickers, yet everyone I’ve spoken to is friendly. Almost all smiles I have given have been returned. It feels good, wholesome. Diversity in culture is celebrated here. There’s compassion between people, a mutual appreciation of each other, no matter who they are. I’m going to be bold and say it makes home seem segregated, sad. We have much work to do to become this cohesive, and the result will be that we function better. There was a magic today. Capitalism may have triumphed over the heady wave of the sixties, but the civil rights movement has certainly left it’s mark on society. There is a residual essence of community and of rebellion against anything that comes between it’s multifaceted glory. My heart and my mind feel strengthened. But, that’s enough of my other pursuits. Today I travel to Tiburon to meet the incredible collection of people judging for the ADI. Today, the gin begins.

6.35PST, 14.35GMT. Almost time for breakfast.

ADI San Francisco Trip Travel Diary – Day 1: The Journey

It’s 4.57am PST.

Yesterday at 7.00am GMT, I set out on my journey. On the train, I scoffed a prepared breakfast of cheap sandwich and yogurt drink. Anticipating train delays, I left early and still made it to the airport for the obligatory pre-flight drink. I felt rather savvy until I realised I’d left my travel pillow in my checked luggage. 1 sandwich and 2 pints down, we boarded the plane and set off for Kerflavik.

This is the second time that I’ve travelled to the states via Iceland. Initially it was due to the low cost, but after missing the connection last time and spending 24 hours there waiting for the next flight, I fell in love with the place and love the opportunity to catch a glimpse of it, even if it’s briefly, and from the air. Kerflavik airport has improved so much since my last visit a couple of years ago, growing in architectural design, size, and facilities. They’ve gone from a basic food shop to several food outlets, duty free and a mini supermarket. Also, their sandwich fillings are really interesting.

I should note that if you’re travelling through Iceland. Please, please don’t travel with Wow. They are remarkably terrible. 4 months after they cancelled my flights, I am still locked in a dispute with them to try and get some money back. Their service is basic. No entertainment, drinks or food included. Travel with Icelandair. They were the same price, complimentary drinks and free entertainment and Wi-Fi too. Not bad for a budget flight.

Travelling is strangely tiring. 3 sandwiches deep and we’re lifting off from Kerflavik, embarking on a 9 hour flight to San Francisco. I’ve got one of those seats in-between windows. I managed to get some great glimpses of the sky and the earth. The sun was setting as we lifted off and through the journey it didn’t quite dip beneath the horizon, but instead lifted back up into the sky like Atlas heaving the world up on his shoulders. The sun set again shortly after touch down. It was beautiful.

Equally, the scenery was wonderful, and humbling. The mysterious black shores of Iceland disappeared into the clouds as we flew over the North Atlantic. The sea gave way to the rugged, snowy peaks of Greenland. They transformed into Canada. As we flew further south, the white hills softened. Huge expanses of desolate white became a tapestry of icy, winding rivers. The earth was snaking with cracks, as the snow coated the gully and canyons, in similar formations to electrified wood.

An hour before landing and I’m getting excited. I’ve been looking forward to this visit for so long. In the approach the flight soars across the North of the city and curls around from west to east, which gave me the most beautiful view of the North in all its glory, including the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz. The landing was amazing! I didn’t realise how close to the sea the runway is and as the plan dropped down over the water, parallel to the beach, looking out the window it felt like we were going to touch down on the ocean itself.

After a fair and prompt check in through customs, and several questions about gin, naturally, I’m the BART system heading for Powell Street. A cab brings me to the colourful district of Tenderloin and I’ve checked into the hostel HI City Centre Hostel San Francisco. It’s a fab place. Very bohemian in appearance, lots of character and very laid back. Part of Hostels International, they are a non profit organisation and room fees help support the hostels and programs to keep them open for other travellers.

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After dropping my stuff I sat quietly in the bar, sinking a couple of dark beers and contemplating the 19 hour journey, which really was a thing in itself. After a few hours sleep I’m up and about at 4AM and feel the compulsion to write this first entry in the travel diary. No gin yet, I’m afraid people. But that will change today.

I took a quick break from writing this, had a nap and got some breakfast. Cream cheese bagels, donuts, orange and plenty of good coffee for a great start. Now. Lets see what today has in store!

Take Victory – Victory Gin

This article is a particularly special one for me.

I’m an avid reader. I’m sorry if I’ve told you that before. George Orwell’s 1984 is one of my favourite books. I was born in 1984 and I’m fascinated with the various distopian futures we could be heading towards. When I first read it, I felt like it gave some substance to my concerns with society. I felt the same overwhelming connection and understanding than I did when I read Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. It equally gave me the same cold shiver as did Auldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s a very special piece of work indeed.

I love some of the stories that I find in gins. Many gins in recent years have been intrinsically linked to a local story or some sort of history and this is one of the things that has kept gin so close to my heart. Imagine my delight when I first saw Victory gin, a gin taken straight out of the pages of my beloved 1984. A gin that had be handled with the clever amount of creativity and consideration required to take it from a proletariat symbol of totalitarianism, to a class act, totally becoming in cosmopolitan London.

Husband and wife team Max and Máire have not missed a trick. Their processes are focused on conserving energy and reducing waste. Their simplistic, modern labelling is a bold statement. The convenient, recyclable eco pouches, which are available in two sizes, from the 2.1L to 20 litres in size (count me in). Everything about their presentation has been exact for survival out there in the heavily populated gin society. I’ve been intrigued from the get go and finally I’ve got my grubby prole mitts on some.

 

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And, I’ve been very lucky as I was sent a collection of the pouches, including the vodka, gin, bitter and Negroni. They arrived in a cardboard box, with a faint stamp saying ‘Take Victory’. Everything about the presentation is spot on. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”

It was important to try the vodka first. Being the base of the other drinks, it gives a good ground level understanding of the foundation of flavours. The vodka was clean and strong. I was amazed to discover that the vodka base is a little different to most. Victory have set up a partnership with a chap called Rob Dunne, who is the Director of coffee at Old Spike Roastery and Co-Founder of Dunnefrankowski Creative Coffee Consultancy. Rob ethically sources seasonal, unroasted green coffee beans, which form the base of this fantastic spirit. Now, don’t fall into the trap of thinking this vodka will taste like coffee. The flavour really is very fresh, with a savoury nature. I had a simple serving of soda water and lemon. I rarely drink vodka and soda, but I found the flavour incredibly palatable and this simple serving let the vodka do the work. It was really rather lovely.

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The gin is naturally made with the vodka base and kept to a classic recipe, other than the addition of Chestnut, which is a delightfully thoughtful nod to the book. You get an extra 10 points if you know where. “Under the spreading Chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me.” It’s fresh and confident and really, everything that I had hoped it would be. There’s a beautiful play between the woody notes of the chestnut and the warm spice of cardamon. They sit just behind a fantastically sturdy level of juniper and are a beautiful accent. It’s a subtle yet ingenious twist on a classic, well built gin. A classic gin is something to be respected. I’m partial to a bit of experimentation, but we live in times where gin is in a battle to reclaim it’s identity. Gins like this are such a good example of how you can put your unique twist on it whilst still respecting the spirit.

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It wasn’t long before I had a craving for the Negroni. I’m quite partial to a Negroni. It’s a solid, stand on your own two legs kind of cocktail and it has to be done right. All those strong flavours battling it out in a glass need precise levels to reach the harmonious taste of a good Negroni. The Victory Negroni was wonderful. There was a great balance of flavour, a sharp woody edge and a certain volume to the flavour that brings an indulgence to the simplistic nature of the branding.

The bitters are a lovely little counterpart allowing a bit of creativity at home. Aperitvio culture, which was based in Italy, has for many years been providing a wide range of tart, red wine or spirit based aperitifs, originally drank to help stimulate the appetite. From my experience, I see these being mostly used as a valuable ingredient in many cocktails, such as the Negroni, although the Victory literature also suggests a serving of ice, tonic and lemon. I tried it and I may now be drinking bitter with tonic from now on.

I love this gin. I love every detail of it’s conception, manufacture, marketing and of course the products themselves. I find myself weeping “gin scented tears”. But, thankfully, not as Winston weeps. I love what Max and Máire have done with Victory gin. It was an ambitious project to take on. They’ve very conscientiously created something with real sentimentality and I think they’ve achieved something really quite exquisite. Well done and more importantly, from a fellow Orwell fan, thank you.

 

 

 

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – GIVEAWAY TBGC’s Yuletide gin: Terms and Conditions

Terms and Conditions for retweet and win a bottle of TBGC’s Yuletide gin

Thanks for taking An interest in the Twitter competition to win a bottle of TBGC Yuletide gin.

Yuletide Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

A competition must have terms and conditions. If you’d like to enter, I’d ask that you do look at the terms and conditions. If you retweet and enter, I’ll take it that you’re happy with the rules.

  • 18+ UK entry only.
  • Enter by retweeting the competition tweet. You can only retweet once and must not use duplicate accounts.
  • 1 winner will be selected at random, winning a 50cl bottle of Yuletide gin in time for Christmas.
  • Competition will run for 3 days and will run from 9.45pm 12.11.18 – 9.45pm 15.11.18. I’ll be announcing the winner on 16.11.18 and getting in contact for your address.
  • No purchase necessary. No payments to be taken. This is a free bit of festive fun.

GOOD LUCK!