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Yes, Yes, YES! A whole festival dedicated to my spirit of choice…GIN. Of course I was booked in a heart beat or should I say, quiver of my liver. No idea what to expect (other than copious amounts of gin), off I toddle with my sister to check it out. What I found was an uber edgy location with plenty of charm and a shed load of pretty spectacular botanicals. The Gin Festival tours the UK throughout the year. We booked the afternoon session in London at Tobacco Dock, which ran from 12:30 to 17:00. Plenty of time to try a variety of gins. And with over 100 to choose from the question really was, which one?
So the set up is that you buy tokens. Each token is a fiver and one token buys you a G&T (or Fever Tree mixer of your choice) at any of the bars. Cocktails are two tokens. My tip is be realistic. You’ll only waste time going back to buy more tokens! On entry we purchased our tokens and received a lovely copa glass (perfect G&T vessel), guidebook, event map and (highly important) a handy little bag to keep your bits and bobs in, such as… snacks! So successful was the “snack pack” as we lovingly named it, it may well become a regular feature for a night out. Our G&T’s didn’t need to leave one hand, while the other had easy access to some nibbles! Winner. While we are on the subject of food, obviously I have to give you a little heads up as to what was on offer. It’s not a foodie event, so don’t expect loads of options but there were three street food stalls offering hog and burgers, Spanish tapas and vegetarian falafel. Some might say they were a touch expensive for what they were, but this is London. Short of fast food (which obviously wouldn’t be of the same quality) you’re not going to get anything cheaper. It was enough to soak up some gin when it was all getting too much, put it that way.
The event itself is made up of several sections. The main hall where you find the gin, has four bars hosting over 100 different makes. Two stock all UK gins, one has international brands and finally, the last has fruit gins and gin liqueurs. The cocktail bar is a separate entity and the mixologists looked like the real deal. Finally, there is Still & Stove selling hot gin concoctions, including a white hot chocolate. Smelled lush but to be honest, not my cup of tea.
In terms of learning about gin, there were masterclasses running at various times, with brands telling their stories and giving insights to their market. There was also the opportunity to chat and sample (which if we are honest is what most people wanted) some of the featured gins from the festival. Here we tried a piquant cocktail from Brockmans and also the highly unusual “culinary gin” Black Tomato. This one we tried neat, which gave a real sense of the savoury flavour but also tipped us slightly over the muzzy mark, into, well… pissed!
Back in the main gin hall, there was some live music from a two piece called Northern Epidemic who I thought were quality. Not many live bands can switch from Marilyn Manson to Taylor Swift so smoothly. And so to the main review: The gins. I could give you a full run down of all the gins we tasted but there were quite a few, and being honest, some were more missable than others. So here’s my top 3 plus one for individuality.
Opihr. Paired with the recommended ginger ale and bell pepper garnish, this tasted a bit like the beginnings of a stir fry. It was so savoury and whilst not unpleasant, it was highly unusual. Definitely an acquired taste.
Daffy’s. I have to admit that my recollection of this one is a little vague, in that disappeared quite quickly, towards the end of the session! Summarised I’d say it was very smooth with a slightly sweet edge to it. Don’t get me wrong, it was not sweet (unlike Pinkster which really is) but considering it is paired with mint and lime, there is definitely still a strong hint of fruitiness.
Wight Mermaid Gin. Garnished with cucumber and juniper and paired with Indian Tonic, it was fresh and light and everything I love about a G&T.
Big Boss. Paired with Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic, this gin was my first of the day and I loved it the most. Garnished with pink peppercorns and green apple, it was savoury, slightly spicy but truly refreshing. And way too easy to drink!
So, will I return? Hell yeah! And next year I will definitely pair the festival with a great restaurant reservation.