24 February 2015

London Gin Festival

When a few months ago, my my brother asked if I wanted to go to the celebration of gin that is the London Gin Festival, there was only one obvious answer. I've somehow never made it to Ginstock, on World Gin Day, and the festival, which also visits several other UK cities sounded right up my street.

This year's London event was in the Camden Centre and the £10 entitled you to am official Gin Festival glass, badge and gin listing. There were dozens of gins available inside, many of which you could sample, but if you wanted a gin and tonic, you had to buy a gin card, which, for £20, would entitle you to four G&Ts of your choosing. Given that the festival sells t-shirts that proclaim, "Life's too short for single gins", it was a bit of a shame that only singles were served in the G&Ts, but £5 still isn't too bad for a craft G&T in central London.

We all wanted to try Pinkster gin in our first G&T: a dry gin with raspberries. It also happens to be pink, so of course I was keen. The bars are divided into our sections, so you have to consult the programme to find which bar will serve the gin of your dreams. The programme also lists the garnish that will be served with the drink — fresh mint and raspberry, in this case. I really liked Pinkster — it was fruity and a bit different, and the pink bottle would look great on my drinks table.

I really wanted to try as many new gins as possible, but I couldn't resist the Dorothy Parker gin on the list, which I tried in Gin Palace in New York. It's a bit more traditional — with a strong juniper taste and citrus notes. The bottle (second from the left on the top row of the photo below) is also cool.

At this point, we took a break to find some samples and go to some of the talks. It is not a coincidence that most of the talks were by people from the companies who were exhibiting (and I did think there would be more distillers showing their wares), and some of the talks were more interesting than others — focusing on the history of gin and the making of their gin, rather than just running through corporate press releases. One speaker refused to use the microphone so we couldn't even hear her from the second row.

Whitley Neill's African-inspired citrusy gin was great; it also helped that the presenter gave us all two 50 ml miniatures, rather than just a splash in a tiny cup. Brockmans, with its blueberry and blackberry flavours, was really tasty — you could really smell and taste the fruity notes — but I feel like their boring, un-gin-like black bottle will get lost on a lot of shelves. If you like a little spice in your life,  Opihr's smooth, coriander and cardamon notes might make it the gin — I've tried it before in 214's 'nice and spicy' tasting flight.

Then it was time for our final two G&Ts. For my third, I asked the bartender to surprise me and he picked the Sir Robin of Locksley gin, with its notes of elderflower, which came with a grapefruit garnish. It was quite tasty and refreshing, although the bartender seemed confused when I asked if it was named after Robin Hood. Hmm.

For my last drink, I tried St George's Terroir Gin, in honour of my recent trip to California. It's San Francisco and includes locally-foraged Douglas fir, among other botanicals. The gin has a fresh, clean taste and the rosemary garnish worked really well. This was probably my favourite of all the gins I tried, but I did enjoy sampling four really quite different G&Ts throughout the night.

There is a small 'off licence' selling some of the gins from the programme, but the prices weren't really any cheaper than you could find online. I was also hoping that the festival would be bigger and that there were would be a more varied programme of events — G&T masterclasses, mixology and the history of gin, for example. Maybe these festivals work better outside of London where it isn't so easy to find such interesting gins in bars and shops. Also, the website said that there would be food — veggie and non- — but all we found was a hot-dog stand. Still, if you love gin and like to taste numerous new gins in a short space of time, the Gin Festival could be the event for you.

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