SF Day 2 – Chinese New Year, Cheers and Coco Bang. Day 3 – the Hangover

I’m doing this in a slightly higgledy piggledy fashion this year, due to snatching times to write. Last year gave me a little time in the mornings to sum up the day before, this time I’ve got more people to see, which is a great thing, but that means less time to write. The plan is to cram it in here and there and after the event I’ll have a couple of days to get back on track.

So, where were we?

I took a stroll downtown for the Chinese New Year Parade. San Francisco is just amazing for the sheer size and scale of their events. The Chinese Lunar New Year Parade is massive and the largest of it’s kind outside of Asia. Seeing the community come together to enjoy the parade was wonderful and the bright colours and rich smells of Chinese food really brought life to the culture and it was beautiful.

I posted up in a little bar called Sutters Saloon, waiting for my friend, Kristy, to get down from Pier 39. Little did I know that this would be the start of a whirlwind adventure of a day, and an evening that would change the course of the trip. We get chatting to some people in there who were visiting from Philadelphia and Florida. The drinks started to flow and over a few hours I had tried my first White Claw (hard seltzer), Mezcal Old Fashioned, a Limonchello that tasted like lemon meringue and several St Georges (which had to be done, obviously!)The staff there were so hospitable and I thoroughly recommend stopping in there. These good times were intermittently interrupted by my dashing outside to watch parts of the parade that was passing right outside the bar and took about 3 hours to pass it completely, it was huge!

Golden dragons danced around the large blasts of firecrackers. The firecrackers were incredible! Enormous explosions echoed off the walls of the downtown high rises, bouncing down the streets and up into the sky. Music played over the noise, and the relentless beating of drums kept a rhythm that carried the parade of floats and dragons and dancers along. The efficiency of the operation was mindblowing, with huge streets being shut from downtown traffic for the day, and the procession was followed by street cleaners who returned the streets to normality as if nothing had happened, whilst firecrackers continued to explode in the distance.

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By this point we were all a little woozy, so took a trip up to the Owltree Bar which is a great little spot for a cocktail, and before long the group we were in grew and we went across the road to Coco Bang for some Korean fare. Korean food is fab! It’s really popular here and it’s no surprise with the rich, aromatic flavours. Those lovely people who invited us to tag along, thank you so much for your hospitality! It was really kind of you to take us under your wings and show us a good time. At this point we were drinking beer with Sojo (Korean rice wine) bombs. And this apparently, was the beginning of the end!

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After a great night I began trotting home then had the terrible realistation I did not have my phone or my purse. Now, as a youth I was terrible for losing things, and intermittently I still will now. However it has been quite a long time since the last incident so I’m not beating myself up too much. Losing those things overseas and only 2 days into the trip could really spoil things if I let it. But hey, I’m a pretty resourceful girl so I got directions and found my way back to the hostel, and after another great night of late conversation with residents there, I managed to get three hours of sleep. A lovely lady promised to watch me if I rested my head on a sofa in the common room as I was nervous that without my phone that I’d miss breakfast. So, I got some sleep, with the intention of hatching a plan in the morning.

So, Day 3, and time to sort out day 2.  Let’s just call it ‘the Hangover’ After breakfast I got online to chat to Kristy and discovered that there had been another bar after Coco Bang and no one could remember the name of it. You’ve got to love a mystery. I found a most excellent trick on google ‘find device’ and confirmed my phone was still in Coco Bang! Hooray! I checked out and went out into the City, armed with a map. I had some money from room deposits etc, so I made my way down Kearny Street to the beautiful Yeubu Gardens and the Samovar Cafe, where we had brunch. Eggs Royal had to be done and the smoked, flaky salmon that sat underneath the dreamy, creamy eggs was delicious. Kristy was a babe. Not only did she sort me out with getting things and my transferring her money, we got some bits we needed at target, and had a G&T at her hotel and she made me feel a hell of a lot better for my troubles. A friendship has been forged for life there. We’d arranged to meet someone at Coco Bang at 4pm. It was all coming together. At 4pm we went and discovered they had my phone, but not my purse! It was a rather crushing disappointment. At this point we had to take a lyft over the Golden Gate Bridge and to Tiburon. Now armed with my phone, I froze everything and checked through the transactions of the cards looking for clues. Aha! The name of another bar! I rang them and they were closed but I spoke to the owner last night, he’s going to check with the staff if they’ve had it handed in. If so I can totally grab it in a few days. Just knowing its safe would be great, if not, hey, these things happen, no one has spent anything on my accounts and I’m surrounded with good people at the ADI who have offered to help me out with taking money out for me if I transfer it. Essentially, we are all good here.

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So, on arriving here in Tiburon, I was overwhelmed with joy at the comfort and indulgence of the room, the huge bed, the private bathroom and the coffee. After the fun of the hostel it’s great to have somewhere to relax and get some catch up time. I rushed to get ready and sat through some vodka training. It is such a great group! It’s a lovely little family of people with a real passion for spirits and such a warm reception too. We had a little soiree with a free bar and nibbles including potato and mozzarella croquette bombs that were absolutely incredible!! It was great catching up with everyone over a few cocktails and there are some wonderful newcomers this year too. It’s such a great event. A late night chatting next to the outdoor fire drew to a close and I put myself to bed in earnest, only to awake at 3.30am. I thought I had a handle on the jet lag this year but oh no, it’s is pretty fierce! Last year I had a few more days before the event so it had settled quite well. This time, I think, I’ll be a little out of sorts for a few days and probably settled in time to come home.

And here we are. The first day of judging. it’s now 5.30am here, 7.30pm at home. I’m going to get up and get ready for breakfast. What does today have in store? Who will I be judging with? Will I find any great spirits? Will I find my purse? Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.

San Francisco Day 1 – Flights and Flip Cup

I’ve been so excited to come back to San Francisco. It’s such a cool place. If you’re not been, put it on your list. It’s a place that everyone should experience at some point. Although the revolutionary mentality of the 60’s counter culture gave way to the roaring force of Capitalism, there remains a residue of liberalness and ease. The mindset of the people here is just lovely.

Always up for a bargain, I booked no frills basic flights with Norwegian Air. No food or drink and carry on luggage. But, for £300 for a return from Gatwick to SF, it’s great deal and one that makes travelling here much more accessible. Plus, it included a charge to overset the carbon footprint which is a grand thing. The flight took 9 hours direct and my plan to tire myself out and drink a fair bit before the flight worked wonders. And bonus, I booked a window seat on the back row, which people don’t really like, so I had the row to myself and was actually able to stretch out and get some sleep, a first for me as I rarely sleep on transport and get too excited to sleep on flights.

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SF is 8 hours behind the UK. I’ve often said I’d love a ‘Bernard’s watch’ in my life to pause and catch up here and there. The flight was a great opportunity for that as we left a 2.20pm UK time and landed at 4.50pm SF time. The warm temperature (18degC which is gorgeous compared to the chill at home) easing off into a pink and purple dusk sky, set against the mountain ridges was beautiful and I immediately found my love for it again. The Bay really is a beautiful place.

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I took the BART system to Montgomery and took a nice stroll to the hostel. Travelling light is great. No dragging around of wheeled cases. Everything I need is in a large backpack (overhead sized), and it makes getting around much easier. I’ve got enough in there for 5 days and I’ll hit a launderette half way through the trip. The hostel I’m in, the Green Tortoise, is based in North Beach near City Lights Bookstore, which is somewhere I’ll visit every time I’m here. The strip is very colourful with a lot of nightlife, bars and lap dancing clubs and it’s a great place to go out. The Green Tortoise is somewhat of an institution, a family run hostel that’s been going since the 70s. Unlike the hostels I visited here last year, there is a wonderfully social aspect and within minutes of getting here I was greeted with a free meal and sat with a group of ladies who were all travelling alone, as a meet and greet. There was such an interesting array of characters! And, before long we all signed up to partake in an event called the Beer Olympics.

Having played beer pong once in my life, and thoroughly enjoying it, I was keen to get involved. It was a really well organised event. Reigning in 30 wildly drunk youths took some work, but everyone played really well! I captained my team, ‘Mint’ and played four games, beer pong, beer bingo, beer paper scissors and flip cup. My, do I love flip cup! It’s been a long time since I played drinking games and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Flip cup is definitely coming home with me. Flip, flip flipadelphia!

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The hostel is pretty cool, there’s a huge ballroom with seating, ping pong, and a stage with instruments so people can jam. You can drink your own alcohol here so we brought back a few drinks and sat up having big chats about the meaning of life until the early hours. There’s always so much you can learn from talking to people, it’s such a mind opening thing. On the other hand, I also locked myself out of my hostel room in my pants, and woke the poor girl in there with panicked knocking at the door, ”let me in! Let me in! Please help me!.

Due to the evenings frivolities, I overslept and missed breakfast. But, I got a recommendation and hit up a great little place called Brioche where I had Eggs Benedict and marveled at the eggs, which were some of the best I’ve ever had. The yolk had the consistency of a cream, the hollandaise sauce was slightly orange and it tasted amazing. Honestly, the food here and the coffee is so damn good. Plus, the soda. American soda is crazy calorific (280 calories in a bottle of grape fanta), but it’s so good! Whilst I write this, I’m indulging in my guilty pleasure – Mountain Dew.  I used to love the stuff when we had it in the UK years ago. They stopped selling it at some point, probably because it’s sweetness breached food standards (170 calories in a 355ml can). We do have Mountain Dew Citrus blast, which I think is marketed as some sort of energy drink, but it is just not the same! So, it’s always first on the list to seek out whenever I’m in the US.

So, here we are! I’m all caught up and getting ready to head out for the Chinese New Year parade, which is the largest celebration of its kind outside of china. There’s an enormous golden dragon, firecrackers and all sorts of delicious food. I’m pretty sure I’ve already exceeded today’s calorie count but hey ho, I’m super excited to try some great food. It’s a gorgeous day here, and it’s time to put the laptop down and get out there to enjoy it.

ADI Judging of Craft Spirits 2020 – Registration Open!

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For those of you who remember, I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco earlier in the year to judge for the ADI, in their Judging of Craft Spirits. Luckily for me, they like what I do so I’ve been invited back for next year.

I’ve recently had word that registration to enter your spirit in the competition has opened!

As director of the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits it is my privilege to tell you that registration for our 2020 competition is open. The Judging of Craft Spirits is the oldest and most respected spirits competition dedicated to producers of craft spirits. We accept US and International entries in all classes and categories of distilled spirits, RTDs, cocktail bitters, aperitif & fortified wines from ADI Members as well as non-member small and medium-scale producers.
Medals for both the spirit and packaging are awarded only to those judged worthy of recognition. All entrants will receive written feedback with comments from the spirit judges. And, all entrants are evaluated to see if they meet the standards for ADI’s Certification of Craft Spirits at no additional cost or paperwork. Award winners will receive physical awards as well as a digital renderings of all applicable medals, awards and certifications.
For any international spirit not yet exported to the US we also provide a free online COLA Waiver application which allows you to legally ship samples to our competition that do not have a certificate of label approval from the US Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. December 22, 2019 is the last day to apply for the waiver and all spirits registered before December 29, 2019 will automatically receive our early-bird discount, and save $50/spirit entered.
For more information, please go to www.distilling.com/judging, feel free to contact me directly, or click the link to Enter Today!

As well as this, I’ve had a further email offering discounts for certain spirits.

In addition, we have created a few discount codes for international producers who may not be members of ADI. If you know any international spirits that falls into one of the below categories please feel free to share a discount code with them.
Code Group
2020BNIA Armagnac
2020BNIC Cognac
2020IBRAC Cachaça
2020PISCO Pisco
2020AGAVE Mexican Spirits
These codes discount the entry fee for non-ADI members by $100/spirit, which is in addition to the $50/spirit early-bird discount if producers register before December 29, 2019.

I’ve been donning my judges hat at a few competitions now. And, the ADI Judging of Craft Spirits is one of my favourites. There are a fantastic crowd of industry people there, some top spirit connoisseurs. And, not only is it carried out professionally, but it’s friendly and really fun. I would thoroughly recommend checking out their site and considering entry. They receive entries of many different spirits from all over the world, and last year it was our very own Cotswolds Gin that took the gin title.

If you’ve got any questions, do feel free to ask. And, if I can’t answer, I’ll certainly put you in touch with someone who can.

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 7: Incredible Edibles to Tiki Bars

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

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

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

“Room service. What do you want?”

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

“Sure! We can do potatoes”

“Yes, er, that would be great.”

“Eggs?”

“Yes please”

“Bacon?”

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

“Ok it’ll be there in 5”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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


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


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


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

6.35PST, 14.35GMT. Almost time for breakfast.

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

It’s 4.57am PST.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!