This weekend I attended my first Gin Festival – I was so happy to be their guest blogger as the event sold out pretty quickly! Held across three days at Tobacco Dock, this was the London edition of the touring festival, which started in 2012 as the brainchild of husband and wife team Jym and Marie Harris.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from Gin Festival, as it isn’t entirely clear from the website, but I like gin (obviously!) so I was excited to give it a whirl! And I was very happy I did, because it was a very enjoyable, sociable and good value evening. It won’t be any surprise to readers of this blog that accompanying me was Luisa of Eat Sleep Luisa Repeat.
Pro tip: Get there early! The queue was long. But it wasn’t all bad, gin drinkers are my kind of people so I made friends in the queue! In fact, it was easy to make friends all over the event. And you will want to get there at the beginning of your session, as you’ll want plenty of time once you’re inside!
On entry, you receive a lovely little badge indicating which session you’re attending (so you can come and go as you please), a great big Gin Festival glass, ‘The Gin Book’ guide to the event (which is now my gin ‘to do list’!), an event map, an order form should you wish to purchase any gins you’ve sampled and a Gin Festival pen. I was pretty pleased with my loot before I’d even tried any gin!
Also at the ‘Welcome & Information’ room you can leave your coat in the cloakroom, have a photo taken with silly props, find out Masterclass timings and, most importantly, buy your drinks tokens!
So, how much does it cost?
Standard entry tickets for the London festival were priced at £10 and included entry only. Pricing apparantly varies based on location so check the website to find the cost of your nearest one.
Drinks tokens were priced at £5 each and sold in sets of four. One token could be redeemed for a 25ml measure of gin in The Gin Bar, or two tokens could be redeemed for a (rather large) cocktail in The Cocktail Bar.
If taking the natural route around the festival, the first room you come to (and, in my opinion, the best!) showcases ‘The Brands’. Eleven brands were on hand to tell you about their gins, how best to serve them and give you a little taster. I didn’t anticipate having the opportunity to have proper conversations with the distillers, or to receive quite so many samples, or how generous those samples would be!
I found the mixture of brands really interesting, ranging from those even non-gin aficionados would know of, such as Sipsmith and Pinkster, to some more unusual ones including one of my favourite new discoveries, Whitley Neill. Here are my pick of my five favourites from the brand room;
As a gin drinker, obviously I’m a fan of Sipsmith! One of my favourite little things about Sipsmith is Prudence. Prudence is a copper still built by Sipsmith when they launched in 2009. But what really makes her special is that she is the first copper still to be launched in London in nearly 200 years. Yep, TWO HUNDRED YEARS. Pretty impressive, right? You can read more about Prudence here.
I love a brand with personality, and Sipsmith have it in buckets. Everything on their stand was interesting, from the small batch sloe gin they were sampling, to the love it or hate it Marmite gin (seriously!). If you’re wondering, I loved the Marmite gin, haha!
Another interesting thing I discovered from Sipsmith at Gin Festival was that they have A Sipsmith Sipping Service on IndieGoGo! I’m quite interested in gin subscription boxes at the moment, and will be posting a bit more about them soon.
Whitley Neill was a brand new discovery for me at Gin Festival, and I think it was my favourite. I loved everything about their stand. It was interesting without being cluttered, the lovely ladies were friendly and informative, and the gin itself was delicious, and a little bit different.
Handcrafted in the UK by Johnny Neill (the eighth generation in a family of distillers!), but inspired by Africa, Whitley Neill gin uses rare African botanicals. It’s very smooth, with flavours of herbs, cocoa and candied lemon peel. It’s the most unique gin I’ve tried.
As well as the love it or hate it Sipsmith Marmite gin, other brands had specials they’d brought to Gin Festival. One of my favourites was Masons Gin Yorkshire Tea Edition, which you can purchase from the Gin Festival site for £40. I mean, what’s more British than a tea flavoured gin?
Masons are a gin I was aware of, but hadn’t previously tried. Their Dry Yorkshire Gin is a small batch (distilled in 200 litre batches) craft gin, traditionally distilled with Harrogate Spring Water, juniper (from their own juniper bushes!), citrus elements and secret botanicals. Each bottle bears its own bottle and batch number. Cute!
At Gin Festival, Adnams had a few gins to try. I’ve previously enjoyed drinking their First Rate Gin, but this was the first time I’ve sampled their Copper House Gin. After looking at the ingredients, it’s no surprise I liked it – it features hibiscus flower, which is a bit of an unusual one. Other ingredients include juniper berries, orris root, coriander seed, cardamom pod and sweet orange peel. It’s quite an unusual, rich, complex tasting gin. I think I’ll be buying a bottle.
I also got to try Copper House Gin in one of the cocktails Luisa had, the ‘Drunken Tulip’. It was good!
Portobello Road Gin has been on my to try list for a while, so I was really happy to see them at Gin Festival. I’ve avoided purchasing it in the past as I was aware it contained liquorice root, which is not a flavour I usually enjoy. But the liquorice wasn’t at all strong tasting in the gin, and I actually really liked it! Other flavours include juniper, orris root, coriander seed, angelica root, lemon peel, orange peel, cassia bark and nutmeg.
I had a nice chat with the guy behind the stand, who told me about ‘The Ginstitute’. The Ginstitute is a little museum of gin – where visitors can sample the spirits as well as learn about the history of gin. It’s located, unsurprisingly, on Portobello Road in West London.
Fun fact: The Ginstitute is London’s second smallest museum!
The Cocktail Bar
Another favourite room of mine was ‘The Cocktail Bar’. A choice of six gin based (obviously!) cocktails, each redeemable for two tokens. There were also mocktails, which I didn’t try, because, well, gin…
Another pro tip: If you get the chance try the Rhubarb Rumble (Edinburgh Gin Rhubarb and Ginger Liqueur, Advocaat, apple juice, lemon juice and rhubarb bitters) – it tastes just like rhubarb and custard sweets. I liked it so much I went back for a second!
The Edinburgh Rhubarb and Ginger is definitely on my must buy list, at only £17, and it is DELICIOUS!
The Gin Bar
On the other side of the event space was the main area, where you’d find ‘The Gin’. It’s basically a big bar, divided into four – two bars for UK gins, one for international gins and one for fruit gin liqueurs and other novelties. You can redeem your drinks tokens here for a 25ml serving of gin, and there are bottles of various Fever-Tree mixers that you can free pour yourself.
It was a really nice set up – attendees could mingle over shared tables, making for a lovely, sociable atmosphere, and the live music was great in the background. With over 100 gins on offer, I was surprised how organised it was!
If you had time between all that gin drinking, there were several masterclasses on offer – I went to the Pinkster one, where their representative spoke about the brand, their products and how best to drink them, and we were given plenty of tasters! Although my personal preference is to be out and about chatting to other attendees, it was nice to have a little break and sit down from the crowd, while learning something about a brand I like.
I may as well take this opportunity to tell you a bit about Pinkster (otherwise I’d have mentioned them as a favourite above!). Pinkster Gin is a pink, small batch dry gin made up of five botanicals, with a hint of raspberry (they hand steep locally grown raspberries in their triple distilled gin).
I’ve actually been a drinker of Pinkster for a while, having discovered the brand at a food fair quite some time ago. And I was really excited to see they now sell Boozy Berries (the raspberries left over from producing their gin).
I’d recommend taking a look at the shop section of the Gin Festival site actually, as they have loads of gems on there!
They also had a selection of gifts (I liked the ‘Gin Festival In A Box’ idea – which includes my top pick Whitley Neill).
As well as being able to take your pick from the gins on offer at the off-licence, you could also sign up to Gin Explorer with a special Gin Festival discount.
Gin Explorer is a new monthly subscription box, which includes a selection of 50ml gins. I can’t wait for my first box to arrive!
There were also artists painting on canvas, live music and a selfie booth (with an Instagram competition!).
On the lower level you could find street food stands (pretty necessary considering the amount of alcohol on offer!) from a new Tobacco Dock street food project – varying from hearty pies to healthy salads.
I went for the very moreish halloumi chips with salt, pomegranate, baby spinach and smoked paprika yogurt, which were £5 from Buttermilk.
And later I had lovely, fresh mixed salad from Vitality Shack, which was £8 for a pint tub.
Overall, I had a fantastic evening at Gin Festival, and it really exceeded my expectations. I had expected it to be just one big gin bar really, but they put on a nicely varied event – it managed to be nice and intimate with a focus on the gin, without it being one dimensional or boring.
I would recommend snapping up a ticket if they’re coming your way, as they seem to sell out pretty sharpish!
All photos my own.
The original (shorter!) version of this post can be found here on the Gin Festival website, as I was their guest blogger for the event.