Batch Innovation – March and Garam Masala

And I almost missed it.

Have you ever tried Batch Gin? It’s quite wonderful. Their classic gin was actually the first gin I was ever sent to review . Which you can if you so fancy, read here. So naturally, it remains rather close to my heart. And yes, I do still have the bottle, despite it having been empty for rather a long time. I remember first tasting the classic, being stunned by the unusual flavour profile. Frankincense and Myrrh. Fabulous earthy notes and the warm spice of cardamom really brought out it’s exotic nature. Batch have always been innovative and look to push the boundaries with flavour profiles.

So, it makes sense that they’ve recently launched Batch Innovations, a monthly special available on subscription. Creative and collectable, they’ve made a great space for going wild with their creations. They recently sent me out a bottle of March’s offering Garam Masala. Packed with savoury and sweet spices, it’s a popping expression, inspired by India.

Now, we all know someone who loves a spicy gin. You’d better give that person a nudge to get their hands on a bottle. March means March, so it’s almost gone. It may even be too late to get this one! I feel partly to blame for this short notice as I’m choka with gin at the moment (which is fabulous), and I’ve been working through them in order of them being received. Now in most instances that would be fine. But, when you’re working with a March edition, it’s only right that I say my piece in March whilst it’s still valid. So, I must apologise, Batch. I wanted to write a follow up from my previous review. I wanted to update everyone on what’s been happening for the last 3 odd years. However, time is lacking. I have not long returned home from Gin Live and a busy weekend and it’s important that I get this up now.

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Garam Masala Gin is wonderfully warm. There are so many rich spices coming through. The heat of tumeric and cumin amongst many. Sweet mango and cool mint. The complexity of the spices are a real triumph and a wonderful testament to how Batch takes an idea and turn it into a genuine, well thought out product. The spice is huge in flavour, but it doesn’t stop this from being a gin. The juniper is still forward and dances amongst the clouds of spice, spinning and twirling and throwing colours in all directions. Colours, that group together in rich yellows, oranges and reds, mingling in a haze illuminated by a golden, setting sun. This gin would be an absolute delight to those who like their spice, those who like Ophir, Monkey 64, and Poetic License’s liberal use of cardamom.

So, I do hope you excuse a slightly shorter review than normal, Batch. And please keep me updated as to what other expressions you do. Now, I must dash. Tonight I’m playing catch up.

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Quaker Gin – Quintessentially Craft

I recently discovered, shock horror, that I was running particularly low on gins to write about do I did a shout out on Twitter. One of the first ones to get in touch were Little Quaker Distillery. I must confess, they had not be on my radar previously. And, with the humble bottle design for Quaker Gin showing an old fashioned photo of Darlington being all I had to go on, I said yes, but didn’t really know what to expect.

The bottle arrived within a few days. There was a printed cover letter addressed to me, and the transcript of a recent interview which gave lots of extra information. It’s a really helpful thing for bloggers like me, who love to tell the story of a distillery, as well as the drink.

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And, their story is an endearing one. On a first flick through the interview, there were a couple of details that initially caught my attention. Most notably that the distillery is one of the smallest in the country at 2.1m x 1.6m sq and also that amongst some local botanicals are petals from a rose bush once owned by Paul’s dearly departed Grandma. It’s a lovely notion. And, these small details were just the beginning.

Paul and and Leanne Colman, the husband and wife team, do everything from distilling to bottling to marketing and selling; the whole kit and caboodle. The project is quite simply the quintessence of craft distilling, which has been a hot topic of recent. What exactly is ‘craft’? There are varying definitions and rather blurred lines. I would suggest, humbly, that operations like this are about as close as you can get. 70 bottles a batch, though it’s not always the size that matters, but the process, which in this case is transparent and genuine. There is a very personal and eclectic mix of ideas forming this gins identity. It’s very different to the well planned cohesion of a gin created by companies that focus on a brand. Admittedly, this confused me a little at first. Nowadays we are so used to gins that deliver exactly what they suggest from the name, the bottle design and the sales pitch. However, what they have created here is quite the triumph, and it has an extra element. Because, no one else was ever going to think this up, this haphazard collection of name, of style and idea. It’s absolutely original, it’s a little bit of them in a bottle.

Factory Manager Paul and Account Manager Leanne were inspired after being members of the Craft Gin Club. They decide they wanted to make a gin. After various courses, research and product development, they had a product that they were happy with and found that they had reached a point of no return. After some discussion, they decided to “take a step into the unknown”, registering the business.

They needed a name. Proud of their Darlington heritage, of “a market town that was vibrant on on the front of the industrial revolution”, they wanted something close to home. “Darlington”, Paul explains, “is the birthplace of the railways and its forefathers were pioneers and entrepreneurs. That said, the townsfolk of Darlington are typical of a North East town, warm and friendly.” To represent this, Paul used the nickname of the local football team, to create Quaker Gin. Leanne added the ‘Little’ to the Distillery name to represent the size of the operation. And there’s a notable element of community spirit in it’s reception too, with kt being stocked in many bars and restaurants in the local area, including 5 star Rockliffe Hall. “We could not have had any more support  from the local council, the police, the businesses and the general public”.

We started out raising funds through crowdfunding so people are on the journey with us and we keep our overheads low whilst maintaining out full time jobs with the hope that over the next year at least one of us can run the business full time as we set out to show people that dreams can come true if you work at it.

On the nose the gin is sweet, almost buttery. Folded into this biscuit sweetness is a tang of citrus and subtle hints of floral notes, lavender and rose.

The palette is truly spectacular. first thing that hits is it’s creaminess. For the last few years, creamy is an adjective that’s been creeping in to describe gin that’s smooth, with little harshness to the flavour and a generous mouthfeel. I think those who try this gin are going to rethink that use. This gin is thick with a silky, smooth creaminess that far outweighs most other gins I’ve tried. It’s become a solid characteristic, rather than an adjective. The smoothness dissipates into the a zing of fresh fruit and the juniper keeps rolling along, the vast wave carrying this incredibly generous offering of botanical complexity. The finish leaves notes of spice mingle with the florals.

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Despite having a very definite flavour, the gin works with many serves. In a G&T, it’s natural sweetness makes it incredibly palatable. It works with tonic, although Paul suggests Mediterranean. Garnish wise there is a wide variety, although grapefruit works and strawberries and raspberries are the recommended serve and they work so beautifully with the floral and creamy elements. Another suggestion is an elderflower tonic to pull out the fruits and tone down the citrus. But, as Paul suggests “It’s personal choice and we wanted a gin that would allow people to be able to experiment.”

The gin itself is something really special. And I could leave this here, but I really do have to touch upon Paul and Leanne. They exude a genuine love of what they do. They also have a good knowledge of what gin needs to be,

“We have lots of people asking us about flavoured gins and that’s another conversation for another day on when a gin is nothing more than a flavoured vodka. For The Little Quaker Distillery our gin should be heavy on juniper which is important.”

This is such an important thing in today’s times and it makes a very important point. There are some people out there that believe there’s not much room left for new gins. It’s a saturated market and that aside, the surge of gin liqueurs have really made their mark. Quaker Gin, is a solid beacon to new gins and anyone who has the fire in them to start up and make a new spirit in the current climate. It is completely it’s own, born by the love of it’s creators. The industry has been calling for transparency in process and integrity in idea, respecting the nature of true gin. All of these elements are fast becoming essential to the discerning drinker. And, Little Quaker Distillery, a tiny operation run by a couple in Darlington, has it all.

For information on events and to buy, visit their website. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook

 

 

Brentingby – Surprise! It’s the Black Edition!

Surprise! Brentingby gin released a new gin: the black edition.

It’s probably one of the finest perks of doing what I do, the opportunity to try gin that is special, rare, or in this case top secret and unreleased. It really is quite the thrill when a distiller sends you something with the specific request “Shhshhsh, not yet”. Laying my eyes on the design for the first time, it’s sleek, matt black bottle with trademark Brentingby font in metallic rose gold, is for want of a better word, somewhat of a luxury. The first two releases have gone down very well with gin fans and fellow bloggers who’s opinions I very much respect. So, when they got in touch to ask me if I’d like to try their new top secret launch, I jumped at the chance.

The third release is described as ‘stunning’ by Brentingby and I couldn’t wait to try it. Lime, ginger and meadow sweet are the key botanicals here. It’s a fantastically zingy combination. At 45%, it’s quite strong to try on it’s own, but this is something that will surely please the traditionalist and this is part of Brentingby’s style. “Combining contemporary with traditional”, their aim is to produce gin with just the smallest twist of elegant modernity. The black edition is certainly modern, with the bottle displaying the statement “True gins are like diamonds precious and rare”. The diamond idea seems to have a little mystery behind it so I’m curious to see what that turns into. But more importantly, how does it taste?

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Neat on the nose, the warmth of the ginger mingles with the freshness of the lime and this combination is smoothed over by the meadow sweet which gives the sweetness from it’s name, a hint of almond tone and a delicate floral element. At it’s abv, it naturally carries a certain heaviness to which the lime gives a certain sharpness, an accuracy, if you like. The flavours work really very well together, neither one outshines the other, rather creating a very specific flavour. The sweetness comes through really nicely on the palate and with the lime it gives a desert type element to the flavour with the ginger burning brightly towards the finish, muddled with notes of liquorice. It’s very much in a dry style. True to traditional gins.

I spoke to Bruce about Brentingby and the new release.

Our mission is simple: to bring uncompromising London dry gin back to the forefront and adhere to the way it was always made, we are continually striving to influence how people enjoy drinking gin while continuing to craft our gins with passion for your enjoyment in our distillery.

With today’s focus on the issue of gin that’s not gin, this is a very noble cause and Brentingby do it well. And naturally, they’ve been building a loyal following in the process.

Tom Nichol and I discussed the market and to try cover a broad pallet range wanted to change it up a little, also design gins that can be garnished with most back bars garnishes and that would combine well together, black edition is to keep in line with our branding and relating to the diamond mystery coming.

I’m very intrigued by the diamond mystery! What could it be? Answers on a postcode, or maybe in the comments? I also asked him what the biggest challenges with producing the gin were.

The biggest challenges are getting the balance right and in effect doing everything perfectly or as close to as possible; temperature control, speed at which it comes off to ensure we get the right amount of botanicals through.

There are 10 botanicals in total, listed on Difford’s Guide as juniper, coriander, angelica, birch orange peel,  meadow sweet, lime, ginger, liquorice root and hibiscus, which is starting to become quite a popular botanical in gin. It is a gin for a G&T I think, and will certainly lend itself well to certain cocktails, making a striking Gimlet. I tried it in a G&T with a standard tonic and a slice of lime to bring out that fresh element of the gin. It was really lovely and gave me a similar lime satisfaction of Tanquery Rangpur. The flavour profile of the three key botanicals is really well constructed. They all bubble through in a multilayered harmony. They work really well together and in that sense a describable drinker can really pick up on the craftmanship of this distillation. Brentingby’s Twitter announcement this morning points towards 31 Dover for purchases but I’ve had a little look through and it doesn’t seem to be up there just yet. So I say keep your eye out for it, after all, it really is very new.

Sloemotion Hedgerow Gin with Rhubarb and Raspberry – Modern Pink Gin Done Right

I first discovered Sloemotion at a Gin Festival. The stand was manned by the lovely Adam Cook, who had previously worked for Masons. I was immediately intrigued. One of the many gin companies to explode out of Yorkshire in the last few years, their essence is not just whimsical, it’s really rather charming.

Sloemotion are a family business, run by Brothers  Joff and Jules Curtoys. Based at Greens Farm, Barton-le-Willows in North Yorkshire, the Yorkshire countryside is the fertile soil in which their ideas are grown, as well as the sloes and hedgerow fruit that embody the concept of their gins. Beginning with liqueurs over a decade ago, in 2017 they put this idyllic thought into a gin, utilising local botanicals such as rosehips, crab apples and sloe stones to give a rich fruit and elderflower, nettle leaf and wildflower, to add a floral element to the classic London Dry ingredients. Hedgerow Gin was born.

I love their integrity and the romanticism in the inspiration. I could liken it to Cotswolds Distillery. I visited them a couple of years ago and fell for them rather heavy indeed. You can read about that here, although I will add they have done an extraordinary amount in the last couple of years that was still a glimmer in their eyes when I visited.

Sloemotion have a lot to boast. They’ve won 11 Great Taste gold stars, one for each year in business, which is a great achievement. There are also medals from World Gin Awards, Yorkshire’s White Rose Awards and the International Spirits Challenge. So, now I’ve laid that out, I’m sure you can appreciate my excitement at receiving their latest creation and second gin in their collection of products. Now, please remain calm, quiet at the back. It’s pink. It’s 40%. It’s Sloemotion Hedgerow Gin with Rhubarb and Raspberries.

We were keen to champion this iconic Yorkshire product; so a gin with rhubarb was an obvious step forward following the success of our Hedgerow Gin” said Joff Curtoys – “We have been careful not to overshadow the gentle flavours of our Hedgerow Gin with the rhubarb; the result is a delightfully light taste, with a pleasant  fruitiness – just perfect with an elderflower tonic.”

The design of the bottle is exquisite, drawing a lovely response when posted on my Instagram. Designed by Leeds based team Zeppo Creative, it comprises a hand drawn sketch of the Blackthorn blossom that lines the lanes and fields in early April and a 6 pointed label that reflects the original 6 hedgerow botanicals in the Hedgerow Gin.

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I have high hopes for this. Everything that comprises a good gin to me is singing from their page. Integrity of concept, transparency of process, and gosh, the appeal. The boom in pink gin has been troublesome to some. Originally pink gin was gin (often Navy Strength), with bitters, which gave it the pink hue. So, this newly evolved sweet and colourful cousin that has been flying off the shelves to all those that love a bit of pink, has seemed a cheap idea based around profit to some of the more traditionalist drinkers. This gin, to me, has real potential to take this and turn it into something real, something sincere. As I write this, my fingers tremble at the thought of the industry turning away and narrowly avoiding the iceberg of gimmick that it was heading towards. They may also be trembling because I’m excited about trying what could be a wonderful gin.

I always start neat. As a spirits judge that’s my go to, to get to the heart of the spirit before anything else is added. Pouring it out into the glass I am really rather taken aback by the colour. It’s very delicate, loyal to the flavour. On the nose there is the gentlest whisper on the breeze, a suggestion of the flavours that exist under the surface. Subtle juniper notes, sweet fruit and delicate floral. On the palate the flavour pops open in the mouth. A budding flower unfolds it’s petals to reveal fresh rhubarb moving into a tart raspberry, playing footsie with juniper as it lingers on the tongue. The deliciousness eventually dissipates away with the gentle fizz of sherbert.

So lets try it with some tonic. The recommended serve is with elderflower tonic, raspberry and mint. Lordy. I would probably suggest adding the tonic slowly and testing it to make sure you get the right balance. When a gin is this delicate it can be lost if not careful. I went with apple garnish and it worked great. I can see this in a big pitcher with apple, raspberry, mint, topped up with sparkling water. Bring on the summer.

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This is a very specific gin. The clever thing, is that this is a very specific gin that will appeal to a wide audience. The juniper is present, and holds its weight amongst the fruit. However, it is subtle. We must address that. There’s no big slap of pine that some gin drinkers twitch for a hit of. However, if there was, then this rather gorgeous creation wouldn’t work. The whole thing is in harmony, the levels of the flavour buzzing around like the birds and bees pottering around the flowers in a lazy sun. Everything is as it should be, subtle, gentle and natural. Those gin drinkers out there that are being led wayward into the realm of brash colours, flavours and sugar have something beautiful here that can return them to the quiet country lanes and to a place of earnest gin. In the new world of pink gin, this gin has shown what is possible. It’s set the bar. It’s a landmark for it’s style.

Sloemotion obviously knew I was going to like this before I tried it, as they’ve organised something a little special for you lovely readers, a discount code ‘GINFLUENCE10’ that gets you 10% off an entire order from their site www.sloemotion.com. The offer is running from today until 28th February. Obviously Valentine’s Day is around the corner and the pink colour would make this a great gift for any gin fan, the gin itself, more so. Bravo. Sloemotion. Bravo.

 

Hubbards Casino Blend – Stylish Simplicity, Cocktail AND Gin

I was very pleased to receive a bottle of the new Hubbards Casino Blend gin through the post last week.

First impressions? It looks stylish. It sounds stylish too, Casino Blend. The mind immediately conjures panning shots of a busy casino floor. The whirring clicks of the roulette table, the rattle of coins in the slots. In the heat of the action, a suited player on the brink of winning or losing everything. It’s the place where dreams can be made or broken.

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The design is really well put together and perfectly reflective of the concept, a gin inspired by the Casino cocktail. And, a cocktail that featured in Harry Craddock’s infamous Savoy Cocktail Book, first published in 1930. The Casino cocktail is stylish simplicity, with gin, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters and lemon juice. Served the same fashion as a Martini, it demands a certain standard. I was very keen to see how Hubbards had translated this idea into their gin. So often you see a creative idea get lost in translation and suddenly, the gin is not a gin anymore.

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The colour is beautiful. A rich, translucent cherry red. In the glass it looks classy, not faux. On the nose the juniper bursts through in a wonderful fashion. There’s a gentle mingle of citrus and woodland floor, with just the gentlest temptation of cherry fruit in the distance. The juniper persists as we move onto the palate, dancing with the rich flavour of maraschino and more subtle almond marzipan notes. It develops into the brightness of the citrus and on the finish the maraschino comes back in, along with that juniper and back into that musky sense of woodland. It is as if we’re dreaming and have been lifted off that floor, for just a moment, and up into a tree, bulging with the fruit that once hung there, befoe it was plucked, sweetened and preserved. Juniper through and through, this is one for people looking for a legitimate, yet inventive gin. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

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The information Phil sent me is certainly true to the idea of a genuine gin. He was inspired when out for a meal with friends. On settling on an inventive gin, he noticed that “[He] could certainly smell the main fruit ingredient but someone had forgotten to add the gin!!! [He] decided there and then that [he] was going to create [his] own flavoured gin which actually tasted of gin”.

And I feel the need to address an ‘elephant in the room’ that’s been growing more and more amongst gin fanatics. I feel the need to do this as more and more people will be asking the questions and I like things to be clear. Not only is Phil straightforward about his inspiration, he is honest about it’s production, and that it is made by a third party. As a lot of us know, the gin industry has been hijacked in recently years by people looking to make a quick turnaround from a booming market. This has led to some gins lacking in being a genuine product, crafted with love by a distiller. People are waking up to this and are becoming more discerning when looking for gins. I personally think there is room for a third party, if it’s done right. Phil explained that the gin is made by Union Distillers. However, his passion for creating this drink shines through in the research, how he involved himself with the distillery and the process to develop the gin.

“So the journey began and what a journey we have been on. We experimented with so many recipes over a 6 month period but that special recipe kept eluding us. We wanted to be different so that we would stand out from the crowd. Following further internet research of the history of gin I stumbled across the 1935 Savoy Hotel cocktail list which included hundreds of classic cocktails. This was my eureka moment. Why not create a gin which was inspired by a classic cocktail. I came across the Casino cocktail which used an Old Tom Gin, Maraschino liquor and Orange bitters. I deconstructed the orange bitters to reveal the main botanicals being quassia chips, cinchona bark and gentian. I had already decided on my London Dry gin recipe using 9 botanicals. What I needed to do now was to bring in the professionals to see if this recipe had legs. I worked closely with Union Distillers who are an award winning distiller in Market Harborough. They started experimenting with my botanical list and firstly developed my London Dry Gin and then blended it with the remaining botanicals including cherry to create the Casino Blend. Once I had my samples I carried out various tasting tests with friends and family and several local pubs and wine bars. Everyone loved the Casino Blend so much that I immediately engaged Union Distillers to start production.”

Phil talks about the process with such warmth, and with pride. I think he has a right to be proud of this gin. It’s a wonderful ode to a classic cocktail, but it doesn’t at all step away from what it really is, gin. Learning the story of Hubbards Casino Blend has given me some more hope for the industry. Phil has proved, to me at least, that even if you don’t distill it yourself, you can be passionate about your idea. And, you can involve yourself with the process. I think, personally, if someone is having it made, rather than setting up their own distillery, this is the only legitimate way to do it. Bravo Phil.

Now I’ve said my piece, lets get back the to gin. I confessed a short while ago that with the amount of tasting I do, I’ve grown rather found of drinking gin neat. For a neat gin, this is a real doozy. There’s a sweetness there that will appeal to a lot of people, but it’s offset nicely with the juniper and earthy notes. If that sweetness does prove a little too much for you, a twist of lemon will cut through that. Yes, it works great with tonic, if that’s your bag. And, it would be great in a number of cocktails simply because it’s got so much character and would be able to hold it’s own with other spirits and allow you to make some really creative drinks, although I would probably suggest that it’s character could limit the cocktails it’s put in. On the whole though, for me it’s simply about ice and citrus. I’ve gone with lemon in this instance but will certainly be trying it with orange next.

Phil’s clearly ambitious and wants get things moving, including Hubbards growing on social media. Do give him a follow, it would mean a lot to him, I’m sure.

Hubbards Gin Twitter Page

Hubbards Gin Facebook Page

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!