Last week, I tasted Gins that simply blew my mind. There is no better way to embrace September (my month of birth), than an evening spent at The Gin Festival in Birmingham.
When I think Gin, I mostly imagine a classic Gin with over pronounced botanicals, mixed with a Schweppes Tonic and a lemon garnish for good measure. For this reason, I tend to find Gin boring and samey. With that said I still somehow only feel confident ordering a gin and tonic on British Airways flights and it’s always Schweppes and Beefeater, anyway I digress..
Over the years, I’ve found some Gins that excite me, especially when they have cool, funky botanicals such as fresh Summer English lavender or Madagascan cinnamon bark. The options are infinite. As I’m not a Gin know it all, I find speaking to an expert really puts me at good stead and their knowledge can point me in the right direction.
The idea of a festival celebrating Gin is magnificent. You are encouraged to try the Gin by itself and to try it with a recommend tonic, ginger ale, lemonade or lemon tonic. The idea is the brainchild of Gin loving Jym and Marie Harris.
The festival is now in its 3rd year and also takes place throughout the UK, so there is bound to be one close to you. The Birmingham edition is held at The Bond Company in Digbeth.
I was kindly invited by Laura Walsh who works with The Gin Festival, to come and see what it was about. My flatmate and I headed down after work on a Friday and by 7pm it was already filling up nicely.
We swapped our names for a nice large The Gin Festival glass and The Gin Book; and collected some drinks tokens to get us on our way.
Do have a read through the book, as it’ll help you decide what drink, as going to the bar can be pretty daunting as there isn’t an explanation as to what is on offer. The book has sectioned the Gins into their zones and consists of excellent tasting notes, garnish recommendations and paired best with tips. The glass is yours to keep!
The individual bars only take tokens and these are purchased on entry at a flat fee of £5 per token. A Gin and tonic with garnish is 1 token and a cocktail from the cocktail bar is 2 tokens.Simples. I can imagine with just one station the queues building, however we didn’t arrive bang on time so no queues got in our way of Gin enjoyment.
The 100 or so Gins were organised into 4 bar zones. Zone A and B were dedicated to Gins from the UK. I even tried a Gin from Birmingham called Brockmans. Zone C was the International Gin section with Gins from Italy, South Africa and Australia amongst others. Zone D was liqueurs, fruit gins and jenevers.There was a tea infused Masons Tea Gin from Yorkshire and a delicate Parma Violet concoction Zymurgorium Sweet Violet from Manchester.
Reading the book really does helps as I felt that some of the bar staff were not as knowledgeable as they could have been. Whilst some of the staff were really enthusiastic and keen to show their passion for Gins. With that said, all the staff were friendly and attentive.
It was nice to have a sell out event and there wasn’t any noticeable waiting times. It was a mixed crowd of Birmingham dwellers and no pretentiousness in sight. Even the visitors were all in a cheerful mood!
Beyond the 4 Gin zones, there was food, a cocktail bar, live music and a shop for goodies. All the Gins tasted could be purchased and delivered to your home. There were also a few Gin tasting masterclasses.
Whilst impossible to even taste a quarter of the Gins available, a few of the ones I tried really stood out. The Oak Highland Gin from Strathearn as the name suggests is from Scotland. This is the Gin for Whisky lovers, it’s smooth, smoky and oaky with citrus, coconut and vanilla. It’s best served neat. If you sample this Gin and like it, buy it as they make less than 300 bottles! My next favourite was the Brockmans’ Gin, it was fruity with blackberries and blueberries.Pink Pepper Gin was really nice, it reminded me of cream soda. It was aromatic, with notes of pink pepper, vanilla, honey, cardamon and juniper. Inverroche Gin from South Africa and The West Winds’ The Cutlass from the Margaret River, Australia.
It was a really fun Friday evening but sadly all good things come to an end. I wish I had more time to taste the hundreds of Gins on display. It would be nice to continue sampling Gins that I hadn’t tried before and have pocket size ones to have at home before committing to a whole bottle. Now this is where it get’s interesting.
On the night Gin Explorer were showcasing their monthly Gin subscription boxes. For £24.99 you get a box delivered to your home consisting of 4 double Gins, 2 premium tonics, tasting notes and snacks! Any of the ones you like you can purchase from The Gin Festival’s online shop.
The Gin Festival for 2016 is still to come to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Brighton, Leicester and Newcastle upon Tyne amongst others. Exact dates and other cities can be found here.
Who: The Gin Festival What: A light heartened, unpretentious UK festival celebrating Gin. Live music and food can be found at the festival. Where: Throughout the UK. This article discusses The Birmingham Gin Festival