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.

 

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 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 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!

Happy New Year! – What’s on in January? A lot, that’s what

Good Morning!

This is an usual post from me, more of an update than a feature. I’ve been getting involved in more and more projects, which I love. However, I have found it gives me a little less time to write large posts. So, one of my new years resolutions is to make a concerted effort to post little and often to keep you all up to date with my shenanigans. I’ll still be writing the larger pieces though, they’re my favourite.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year! It’s been fantastic to have a few days off with loved ones, and a bit of a rest too. I also hope you enjoyed opening your Drinks by the Dram and Boutique-y Calendars as much as I did! They’ve really upped their game from last year. I’m consistently wowed by new gins. They keep coming, and with such good quality! The possibilities for creation really are endless.

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The next couple of weeks are going to prove rather busy at Ginfluence central. I’m finishing an article for Gin Magazine, judging at the World Gin Award finals and then wrapping up the first assessment of my MA. Needless to say, I’m feeling the pressure somewhat, but it is so very good to be busy.

On the 18th however, I’m going on an adventure.

I’ll be flying out to San Francisco to judge the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits! It’s a great event and I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the fantastic industry people out there (and taking lots of notes for sure!) I’ll also be spending a couple of days either side of the judging to take a look around San Francisco, to learn a bit of it’s literary history and get myself into some gin bars. Top of the list is Whitechapel, although I’ll certainly be heading for others too.

I’ll be there until the 27th, posting updates as I go, rather than writing a large piece when I get back. Please do get involved with suggestions! It’s my first time in San Francisco and although it’s only a short stay, I’d like to squeeze in as much as possible!

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Happy January, you lovely lot!

 

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.