Passion and Business – Junipalooza and Imbibe

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

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

Junipalooza

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

20190608_1759038450016167002721165.jpg

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

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

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

fb_img_1560085894139505664338620763446.jpg

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

fb_img_15600858565713319945686633875981.jpg

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

20190702_150348681863874289380858.jpg

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

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

20190702_1513093305136394087611590.jpg

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

20190330_150209729820294687826630.jpg

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

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

20190330_134019932192083644449593.jpg

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

20190330_1409586133685463821341644.jpg

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

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

20190330_1358517094410254428580181.jpg

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

20190330_1354375899820962848237946.jpg

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

20190330_1324185640018535174106570.jpg

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

20190330_1455591860064558441583683.jpg

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

20190330_1440478816091457094823919.jpg

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

Gin Magazine – A Hard Copy of Gin’s Success

With so many gin blogs out there and so much information to be found online, do you ever get the craving to hold the information in your hand? That traditional desire to sit and read a magazine rather than trawl through a lit screen? If so, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Paragraph Publishing have launched a magazine dedicated to our favourite tipple.

With the continuing rise in gin’s popularity, Paragraph Publishing decided it was time the drink had it’s own dedicated magazine. Responsible for publications such as Whisky Magazine which launched in 1998, they clearly know their stuff when it comes to readers with a dedication to distillation.

The first issue of Gin Magazine was launched on 17th November 2017 with a fabulous launch party in London’s Merchant House. It was wonderful to meet and greet some of gins finest and make some new friends, as well as catch up with some familiar faces in what is in my experience, one of the most friendly industries out there. The evening saw us tasting the 22 featured gins of the first issue, including spectacular gins such as Isle of Harris, Elephant and Swedish lovely Hernö, who I covered last year. They aim to continue this generous amount of reviews, with the magazine keeping to 22 gins every quarterly issue.

img_20171114_163715_636819236695.jpg
22 delicious gins to taste at the launch at The Merchants House

As well as reviews, there will also be interviews and articles on producers as well as botanicals, production itself and naturally cocktails that you can make at home. (I do so love a home project!) Plus, it’s aimed at gin enthusiasts at all levels so it’s sure to be a brilliant way of keeping up with the gin world with something in there for everyone.

Where can you get your hands on a copy? Well it’s available from Waitrose as well as W.H. Smith. It’s not just limited to the UK though and is also available in the US from Barnes and Noble. It’s also available online through https://gin-mag.com/ and there are print and digital subscriptions though https://ginmag.imbmsubscriptions.com/. If you’re looking to subscribe, good news! Right now, if you subscribe then the first issue is free. If there’s any of you out there thinking you’d like to advertise then you can contact them through commercial@paragraph.co.uk.

Gin Magazine is a quarterly publication with issues to be released in February, May, August and November. The next issue is due on the 16th February and I’m pleased to say that I’m contributing a little something so keep your eyes peeled. It will also contain details of the winners of the World Gin Awards 2018, an award which I’m lucky enough to be judging with some amazing people tomorrow. Needless to say I’m ecstatic to be getting involved with such a fantastic publication and wish it all the best for the future.

Sipsmith and Portobello Road – Two staple gin related London landmarks.

Friday 24th February, I went on a lovely jolly up to London with the illustrious David T Smith and delightful Cherry Constable, in order to research for a new book. It’s a hard life, I tell you.

First up was the monumental Sipsmith Distillery. Now any discerning gin drinking will know the importance of Sipsmith. Back in 2009 they successfully completed a court process to allow small batch distillation again and set up the first distillery in London for approximately 200 years. Due to this, they are arguably the forefathers of the ‘glorious’ revolution we have been experiencing the last few years. They are essentially the gardener who pulled up the paving slabs and let the flowers grow.

With this in mind, you can perhaps understand my overwhelming excitement at visiting their distillery with new bar. It’s an interesting thing, discovering where the magic happens. The entrance to the distillery is purely functional, looking more like a garage for your MOT than one of the most successful and established gins in the artisanal range. As soon as we get inside however, it is apparent that the humble exterior is concealing all sorts of delightful surprises. A beautiful copper bar sits along the right hand wall with members of staff to run through the gins and give the all important tastings.

img_20170315_121512_934.jpg

We were lucky enough to have a tasting session with the man himself, Master Distiller, Jared Brown. We began with their sipping vodka, the 40% spirit used to make the gin. The taste is sublimely smooth and sets a good standard for the quality and flavour of the gin. ‘Sipping vodka’ is an extremely adequate name.

We slowly worked through the range. Beginning with the London Dry a classic soft pine, sweet citrus “dry meadow flower warm spice, lime grass with pepper in the long finish”. During distillation a narrow heart is collected and there are differing opinions on filtering, Jared putting forward the good point that filtering can remove qualities as well as impurities. When it comes to the recipe they had a mission: “In the absence of a bench mark we set out to create a bench mark, a dry gin made in London”.

img_20170315_172134_582.jpg

The tasting session was full of really delicious and interesting and information on the distillation process. or example during the production of the Lemon Drizzle, fresh fruit was used plus hand squeezed peel. That’s a lot of work and a lot of love in every bottle. I thought that it tasted good, and now I know why.

We also tried the VJOP (Very, Junipery Over proof), London Cup (a punch using the London Dry) and the Sloe, all fabulous gins indeed. The wall to the left of the bar is covered with large round bottles of experimental flavours. It’s quite clear that Sipsmith do strive to create spirits of quality with a specific, almost scientific approach but that creativity is still thriving. I’d definitely recommend a visit there. It’s a fantastic place and the people are lovely. Well done guys and girls!

img_20170315_121855_511.jpg

Feeling considerably light headed, we then moved on to ‘The Distillery’, the Portobello Road Distillery with Gintonica bar and hotel. What a beautiful place that is and a fantastic idea to boot. The decor is gorgeous with deep blues and greens on the walls with huge sash windows giving a beautiful sense of decadence to the building. There was something romantic about it, as if it had the capacity to transport us back in time to the days of the true gin palaces. It really is a lovely place.

img_20170315_122719_488.jpg

The Gintonica Bar is equally special. We were lucky enough to meet James, who is responsible for writing the cocktail menu, a fantastic twist on the growing popularity of Spanish serve gin and tonic in copa glasses, a halfway house between the gin and tonic and the cocktail. There were some fantastic options, my favourite being one including Nordes  Atlantic Galician Gin with hibiscus, orange and ginger.

Portobello Road have also been experimental with their flavours. I was lucky enough to try their ‘Butter Gin’, the sweetness was strong and very nice, making this a prime base to use with cocktails holding any sort of peanut butter or chocolate flavours. They also produce a ‘Director’s Cut’, utilising the unusual botanical of late season English Asparagus. The flavour is wonderful and very unusual.

img_20170224_165423.jpg

Finally getting to visit the Sipsmith Distillery was a fantastic experience and one I’ve been waiting patiently for, for so long now. It feels ever so good to finally tick it off my list! As for the Portobello Road Gin Hotel, what a beautiful building. Their Gintonica Bar is 100% worth a visit. Lots of interesting gins as well as there own variations and their cocktail menu is gorgeous. Thank you for having us!

Half Hitch – A double exposure of past and present

I’ve had a soft spot for Camden since I was young. It reminded me of Brighton, where people were colourful and inventive and most importantly didn’t judge each other. It’s been my favourite pocket of London for as long as I can remember. As it transpires, under that bright and bubbly surface lay a deep history of distillation of one of my favourite spirits. At the age of 15 I can remember looking down the canal. Little did I know that buildings I saw and the surrounding landscape once housed a 20 acre goods station complete with gin distillery, set in motion by illustrious Brothers Walter and Alfred Gilbey. The site handled everything from distilling to bottling to shipping all over the world. Almost lost to the sepia pages of an old history book, the story is being continued and brought back to life in the form of a small batch gin, handcrafted in a micro distillery in a humble but prominent premises in West Yard, Camden Lock. The premises was once the blacksmiths, where the shoes were made for the horses that pulled those gin bearing barges some 150 years ago.

104174_bdad8567
The view from the canal. Gilbey House, the white building on the left was once the distillery. Dead Dog Hole is under the Interchange Building on the right.

Founder Mark Holdsworth’s love and pride of his work is difficult to describe. Despite his 16 years previous experience, including with brand giant Barcardi, it’s still a brave thing stepping foot into the world of gin, setting up a small business and swimming with the big fishes. Even with this, he’s not the only one, but he’s got a very good idea. Being a local man (he worked at Camden market when he was a teenager), his knowledge of the area is comprehensive and driven by a genuine interest that most historians will understand. On arrival we go for a walk around the market, gin in hand, to the bridge over the canal, where he points out the old W & A Gilby distillery building and the Interchange Building complete with Interchange Basin known as ‘Dead Dog Hole’, created to take six horse drawn barges a time for loading (the half hitch knot being used to moor them). There was even the Gilbey Express railway that used to export gin to the dockyards and all over the world. Mark must also take credit for the introduction to the website which explains with a kind of magic how ‘those who walk the surrounding cobble stones are blissfully unaware of its history”.
(View from the canal photo credit geograph.org.uk)

The botanicals used continue to allude to the old photographic scene developing in my mind, the smell of key botantical single estate Malawian black tea, with pepper and Calabrian bergamot, the smoky air smelling faintly of English wood and hay fed to the working horses. The shouts of people hard at work, in an era that slowly drifts away from our current day, leaving the staunch remnants of architectural wonder, museums and period drama. Still, the distillery is a beautiful homage to those times as well as now; fusing modern distillation techniques with the old. Half Hitch use a combination of tinctures, a traditional column still and a vacuum still (the sight of it really took me aback when I arrived), a wonderfully new and scientific approach as overseen by Mark’s resident distiller Chris Taylor, formally of COLD who holds a brilliant scientific knowledge. A chemistry graduate from Warwick, he also has a professional qualification from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

boutiquebarbarshow.com
Mark with vacuum still to the left and traditional copper still to the right

The vacuum still is a fantastically futuristic piece of kit. Reminiscent of school days in science labs, the ability to lower the boiling points of botanicals allow more fragile flavours to be released. It’s only able to process a small amount at any one time, but by doing this to add to the traditional distillation and blending with tinctures gives a whole extra level to the flavour spectrum to play with. Tinctures are a lovely homage to old (a traditional process for medical purposes of using alcohol to extract the flavour of more delicate botanicals such as the tea). Half Hitch are indeed, incredibly experimental and have the set up to facilitate it. I was lucky enough to try a little of the ‘pickled onion monster munch’ variety. The preservation and balance of the flavour was mindblowing from what was in essence a packet of crisps and it had me immediately thinking of all the other flavours there were in the world to play with. Mark explains their ‘ethos is using the right production technique to get the best out of each botanical’ and they are very proud to use high end botanicals too.
(Mark with vacuum still to the left photo credit Boutique Barbar Show).

The gin itself is just wonderful. I love the colouration taken from the tea as this further alludes to the sense of days of dirty faces, smoky clothes and old letters blowing in the streets. There is fantastic complexity to the earl grey type flavour that I can’t help but imagine the Gilbey’s celebrating. Orange is a key garnish to both cocktails and G&T’s as it naturally coaxes out the woody notes and bergamont citrus. If you need some more ideas for drinking then check the cocktails page on their website which has a few twists on old favourites. Bottles can be ordered online direct from the Half Hitch site or from a number of stockists and are even available in prestigious stores such as Selfridges.

bottle_3

Mark first stumbled across the history through his daughter who is educated locally. Further to this he discovered further information from local heritage campaigner Peter Darley, founder of Camden Railway Heritage Trust. Walter and Alfred Gilbey began their enterprise after being discharged from the Crimean War and returning to London. They started with wine, moving to the Camden premises in 1869. Camden was a particularly good location due to the London Birmingham Trunk Railway (built by Robert Stephenson and the first of it’s kind in the world to enter a capital city) and setting up their gin distillery in 1871. During this time the landscaped changed with basins being enlarged and buildings being changed however was fit for purpose. A lot of this can still be seen today and it’s an important part of the local history that is too often missed. (I’ve linked most pages in this article, but further information on the history of W & A Gilbey can be found at various sources, most notably the Gilbey page on Peter’s website, with additional information on  the Gilbeys on a local history page and Camden’s Railway Heritage from the Friends of the National Railway Museum). It’s this history that Mark appreciates and it occurred to him that it had been 50 years since 1964, when the Gilbey industry had moved to Harlow and with that he decided it would be a nice idea to start making gin there again as an ode to its monumental past.

the_camden

This mix of old and new is to me, the heart of Half Hitch. Many gins allude to their history, but it’s nice to see one where history and its inevitable future wrap around each other and start to grow into something else. The foundations of idea lay as they’ve done since 1869, and history is revived through that mix of old and new, creating the giddy glory of taste and smell achieved through knowledge and techniques that would have had our gin making ancestors as fascinated as we are when something allows us to see back in time. As the years go on connections to our past are lost. But with people like Mark creating quality gins based on an lost history, he is inadvertently bringing those eras together and tying them tight with a round turn and two half hitches of a rope knot.

 

 

City Of London Distillery

Amidst the hustle and bustle of London City, nestled quietly down Bride Lane and just out of reach of the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral; sits the humble entrance to COLD or to those in the know, the City of London Distillery.

img_20160612_142009.jpg

The distillery opened in late 2012 and was the first within the City of London Square Mile for 200 years, (the Victorian gin craze has a lot to answer for). The Square Mile, or ‘City of London’ is a city inside a city, with their own Mayor and police force…so it makes perfect sense that they should have their own distillery.

So how did COLD come about? In 1967 a gentleman called Jonathon Clarke was a 16 year old dishwasher in the golf club/bar that previously occupied the premises, living on £32.50 a week. He would go on to purchase the freehold in 1997 and at 50 years old would get into gin and tonic, eventually becoming Master Distiller of COLD.

Descending down the stairs away from the close heat of outside, the understated and subtle entrance hides a beautiful speakeasy style underground bar that opens up into a blissfully relaxing space that feels a world away from the busy streets just above. Today I’m meeting Alfie Amayo, Brand Ambassador and COLD know-it-all for a distillery tour and tasting and boy, does he know a trick or two! Despite being not long back from a business trip to Switzerland, he’s excitable and engaging, with his torrent of knowledge being broken down into sizeable chunks by pausing to ask questions, keeping me well on my toes. He’s full of fantastic gin related tit bits such as the ancient medicinal uses for juniper, including its use during the bubonic plague and as a contraception (not to be tried at home ladies and gentlemen, there is little proof it worked).

The distillery

The distillery is a beautiful set up and it spotless. Approximately 9ft x 14ft in size, it’s made up of Jennifer and Clarissa, 2 x 140L copper pot stills and named after the 2 fat ladies. Also a fabulous 7 level column still, which really is very clever indeed. The first step is cleaning the spirit. White spirit, which can be made from starchy materials such as grain or potato is brought in, (it’s actually quite rare for a distillery to make their own). In this case it’s wheat based and through Jennifer it’s cleaned to remove as much of the methonal as possible.

img_20160612_143507.jpg

The spirit is mixed with water then heated by an electric coil (as we know alcohol is incredibly flammable and despite the bomb proof glass surrounding the equipment, we certainly don’t want a explosion). It’s made up of methanol (the bad stuff) which evaporates at 67.4deg, ethanol (the good stuff) which evaporates at 74deg and water, which as we know evaporates at 100deg (all Celsius). During this process the sulphites react with the copper, making copper sulphite (surprise) which needs to be cleaned from the walls of the still regularly. This over time thins the metal, meaning a full replacement is required very 10 years or so. Not a cheap endeavour when we’re talking highly sought after German Carl equipment. In fact, in just 3 years, public demand means the waiting list has soared from 4 months to 18, which is perfect testament to the fabulous gin revival that we’re lucky to be living in, well I feel blessed for certain.

The 7 plate column still then filters, as the vapour rises it hitting the metal sheets, cooling it down and separating the methanol and ethanol by condensation. Ethanol comes out at 95% and Alfie explains the finer details that it will always react with the environment to be at 95%, higher levels are only achievable in a controlled environment.

img_20160612_144744.jpg

Once the spirit is clean, the single shot distillation can begin with Clarissa. Micro distilleries such as this, producing 200 bottles per batch can use the single-shot process; the botanicals, alcohol and water being distilled into a liquid where only water is added. Companies making larger batches need to use the multi-shot method, where are the gin ‘concentrate’ is created through distillation and then watered and sugared down into it’s final form.

img_20160612_144322.jpg

It’s this single shot method, that requires full attention and care from the distiller. A distillation has to be watched at all times as the changing pressure can alter the times and volumes and each batch must come out perfectly. There is just no room for error when there’s no way of altering the final taste. The botanicals are put in the still with half alcohol and half water. This is to prevent them from getting closer to the coil and burning as the alcohol evaporates as this would impair the final flavour. He admits after playing with different waters to see how it would affect the final taste, they prefer to use water that’s been purified through a reverse osmosis machine. It’s interesting to note that pure water is actually quite dangerous for us, but when it’s mixed with alcohol it’s ok, thank goodness.

Of every 80L, the first 500ml distilled will be the methanol, or the ‘heads’, this is collected in a jug and discarded by a company in an environmentally friendly manner (there are different methods such as it being sold on to make nail varnish remover), the next 63L is the ethanol or the ‘heart’ and is collected in large, metal churns. The ‘tails’ left over from the process consist of broken down compounds and are not used in the gin.

The gin

Alfie takes me through a room full of mini stills (for gin making classes), to the tasting room which is stacked with different gins and small jars full of different dry botanicals. Here we get to grips with the individual smells and tastes of piney juniper, coriander to add spicey and citrus notes, liquorice to sweeten and angelica to give the flavour a good earthy base. These are the base flavours for City of London gins and there are different varieties that have their own twist. All are made by forefather, Jonathon Clarke, bar the Christopher Wren gin, which I have read good things about and incredibly eager to try. The bottles are new, designed especially for COLD and take inspiration from their neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.

img_20160612_143856.jpg

No1. City of London Dry – 41.3% – Amongst the base 4 botanicals, there is a wonderful combination of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit which gives a lovely zesty finish. It’s a delicate dry gin with a superb flavour and winner of the Silver Award for the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015.

No2. Christopher Wren – 45.3% – Created by Tanqueray distiller Tom Nichol, this was the one I’d been eager to try, with the addition of sweet orange, the flavour is divine. Named after the architect responsible for rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of 1666, this gin proves itself as an architect of flavour by winning Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.

No3. Old Tom – 43.3% – I’m a fan of Old Tom gins. As well as a bit of history (you can read more on this in my A fantastical history of gin), my palette likes a sweetened gin if it’s done right. Distillers have to be careful. Sometimes they can be too thick, almost syrupy in flavour and consistency. I have to say, this Old Tom is brilliant. Really delicately flavoured and on the nose with balance of cassia and cardamom spice and a slight hint of sour from zesty orange and lemon.

No4. Sloe gin – 28% – Made with Blackthorn berries, this is an excellent example of a sloe gin. A slow gin has to be sweetened as it’s just to sour on its own. Again, COLD have delicately sidestepped over sweetening with a well balanced sloe gin that leaves a tingle of tartness on the tongue. This is not surprisingly, the winner of Silver-Outstanding Award in the International Wine and Spirit Competition 2015.

No5. Square Mile – 47.3% – Similar base to the dry gin, but with a little tweak and some extra strength. Coriander is used to give additional citrusy flavours as too much citrus would make the drink to oily and cause it to turn milky when added to tonic. This gin is a well deserved tribute to the home of COLD. Winner of the Gold San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.

After a few drinks I was comfortable and heady so I stayed talking all things gin with Alfie for quite some time and to be honest, I could have stayed longer. COLD is a beautiful place, steeped in history and passion from the people that work there. Everything alludes to their love of gin, from the delicacy and complexity of flavour to the constant homage to their history. Through Alfie’s time and patience I probably learnt more of the technicalities of craftsmanship than any of my meetings to date. I can’t recommend it here enough, at minimum for a drink or ideally for a distillery tour/gin tasting because it’s a brilliant experience that’s fun and oh so interesting. And please, please do yourself a favour and seek out the Christopher Wren. It’s gorgeous.

 

 

A fantastical history of gin

Have you ever heard of the term dutch courage? Well a little birdy suggests it comes from gin.

Gin, or genever in its original form, was being used for medicinal purposes in 17th century Holland. Being a rather nasty tasting alcohol, it was flavoured by a small berry called Juniper (all important to classify a drink as gin). Troops fighting in the war 30 years war were sipping it from small bottles on their belts and sozzled, were fearlessly running into battle, hence the term ‘dutch courage’ was born. Our troops picked up on this and before long were bringing it home, where it was being distilled and sold in chemists shops. For a time it was only the ‘worshipful company of distillers’ that had the right to distill in the 21 miles surrounding London.

This was to change with the return of William lll from Holland in 1698. He dropped the tax on gin and deregulated it. If a public notice was put up and left for 10 days, anyone could produce gin from home grown corn. This led to one very drunk London! 1 in 4 households were producing very low quality gin in their bathtubs and 7000 spirit shops sprung up. With gin being a safer alternative for the poor than disease ridden water, it was thought that the average adult would consume 65 litres of gin a year. This led to to the decline of society and dark times for morality. There lot’s of truly terrible stories from this era.

Thousands were dying from gin consumption and something had to be done. The government tried introducing the Gin Act on 29th September 1736 with a £50 license fee. People were up in arms and riots quickly broke out of London. Over 11 million gallons were still being produced and only 2 licenses had been sold. This prohibition led to the creation of ‘old tom’ gin. This gin, with deep, sweet tasting liquorice was sold illegally wherever a black cat was on display. Alternatively, your drink could be procured by putting a penny into the cat, so a shot would come out of the paw. Arguably this is one of the first vending machines and was testament to the hold gin had over the masses.

The act was recalled in 1742 and a new policy was drawn up with influences from the distillers, that formed a similar model to what we work to now. Production became more respectable and higher quality gins were being produced by emerging manufacturers such as Gordons and Tanqueray. The invention of the column still in the 1830s also led to the creation of London Dry Gin, one of the highest qualities of gin production.

Beer shops and gin shops were the original public houses, somewhere you could feel as comfortable as home whilst enjoying a drink. The decor relied on the clientele and with gin’s biggest supporter’s being the lower classes, most of these were slums. However, with the increase in quality of spirit, gin palaces began popping up to serve the higher society and there were over 5000 of these by the 1850s. Attitudes were changing though and with the temperance movement mid 1830s over time things became a little more balanced.

There were no new distilleries in London from 1820-2009. The founders of Sipsmiths had a desperate passion to make gin and embarked on a 2 year process to change the law. They opened the new distillery on 14th May and with this the opportunity for for small batch production for artisan distillers. With adventurous mixes of botanicals and a watchful eye over quality we are currently in the throws of a revolution and I, for one, am very happy to be here in this part of it’s rich history.

I’m sure it goes without saying, there is so much more to the story than this. I’ll be sure to be posting snippets of history here and there to add to this rather colourful tapestry.