Thursday, November 21, 2019

Gin & Rum Festival Ipswich

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Ok, so it’s been a little while and I’ve been a little lax. An awful lot going on in the real world but now all is settling down again and Christmas is approaching, it’s time to get my butt in gear and get some of these posts I’ve had sat here for a while.

A bit of a quickie write-up on this one – mostly because it’s the first Gin and Rum Festival we’d been to and it was interesting to note some of the differences to others. Some months ago (Lax, as I said), we headed over to the Gin & Rum Festival in Ipswich. They kindly sent me a couple of free tickets over, but all views are my own and I was planning to buy tickets regardless since there was a group of us. Luckily, the festival in Ipswich coincided with a nerdy board games weekend that we were having with a bunch of friends, so a few hours of gin and rum seemed the perfect excuse to break up the weekend a bit!

The motley crew

Gin & Rum Festival took over some of the assets of the sadly departed “Gin Festival ltd.” and the events follow a similar layout and theme. Your ticket gets you a glass and a festival guide, and then you buy drinks tokens at £5 a pop with as much tonic as you like. If you’re a hardcore gin fan that has had the pleasure to try quite a wide range, you might find the selection a little more limited than some festivals, due to the fact that half the selection is rum. There’s still a great choice though, and if you’re a fan of both drinks you’ve got 45 gins and 45 rums to choose from. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, one thing we noticed is that the atmosphere was much more relaxed than previous festivals, more seating available, and not as jammed wall to wall with people which meant you never had to queue for long at a bar. At the bars, the gins were well stocked, the staff were friendly, and MOST importantly…they didn’t pour the tonic for you. Nothing worse than going to taste gin and having someone drown it before you get a chance.

One thing it was really nice to see is several distillers represented there. Old Bakery was there with their gin and their new to the market rum – already a fan of the gin so wasn’t going to pass up a chance of a cheeky taster. The other face I wasn’t expecting, but was delighted to see was Dan Walsh. If anyone frequented Gin Festival Ltd. and went to any of the Tinker Gin masterclasses, you’ll have come across Dan who was their brand ambassador. After the collapse of Gin Festival ltd. Dan has developed his own gin, Rascal, and it’s cracking if you enjoy a gin with a fruiter edge to it (passion fruit in this case).

Quick write up as a said, but we spent an enjoyable few hours, nice chilled friendly atmosphere, some good stands to visit and a good range at the bars. The food options were a little disappointing, but I appreciate there are limited options when it comes to what you can prepare inside a town hall. Definitely an event that it’s worth getting a bunch of friends together and going to as the vibe was much more enjoying the drinks, rather than drinking to get drunk. A little depressed that the best selling bottle of the day was a revoltingly sweet marshmallow gin… but ah well! Cheers!

Junipalooza London 2019 Roundup

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Junipalooza London is, sadly, over for another year which means we’re currently in the “Post-Junipalooza Funk” week. Always feels like it’s akin to that week after Christmas. After all the excitement and build up, the event was amazing but now you know you’ve got to wait a year until the next one. And the event was amazing; the Gin Foundry guys did themselves proud this year sticking to their “Better, not bigger” philosophy. 76 Distillers (I think), 4 Experiences, Merchant’s Heart doing some free talks, Stig in his Norwegian Forest nook – all amazing. We went for Saturday Evening and Sunday again this year, and once again although I hit most of the distillers I wanted to see, there were quite a few I’m annoyed I just didn’t get time to get to. All three sessions next year maybe?

What I really took away from this year, as well as the gin, of course, is just how incredible the community is. I can’t think of another event where I’ve spent so much time with a smile plastered on my face just chatting, shaking hands and in many cases hugging people…which as a self-confessed hugger is never a bad thing. I was genuinely blown away by the openness, friendliness, and warmth of both the distillers and fellow attendees. It’s lovely to be able to meet someone you’ve been chatting to over Twitter for the last year and finally put faces to names and get to know them as a person rather than just a handle.

So, some noteworthy mentions. Frankly, this section could run on for pages and pages if I listed everyone, so this is very much a snapshot. Apologies to anyone missed out! As it is, I’m going there enough for me to keep each one fairly short and sweet.

Never Never Distilling Co.: Juniper Freak
I think Juniper Freak gets the award for most talked about gin of the event. When speaking to others about what had stood out to them, almost everyone had something to say about this stuff. Never-Never had 2 big juniper gins, Triple Juniper and the aforementioned freak. Both are made with juniper 3 ways, macerated, fresh and then vapour infused as well. The Freak is the navy strength variant and it’s just incredible. Thick, oily, louches like anything when you add a splash of water or tonic and is pretty much like having your senses pelted with Juniper from every direction. If you want to try the stuff for yourself, at the time of writing I believe it’s exclusive to Gin Kiosk.

Lone Wolf – Zealot’s Heart
When Brewdog rebranded their Lone Wolf gin line a few months ago, they also announced something new: Zealot’s Heart. Luckily, I remembered to ask as they had a bottle or two stashed under the counter. This stuff was delicious. Heavy on the juniper and Citrus and with a lot more depth than the Lone Wolf. Sadly not released for a few more weeks yet. They also mentioned that the Gunpowder Edition (Navy strength gin) is getting a rebrand a relaunch in the coming months too.

Downton Distillery – Explorer’s Gin
The newly launched Explorer’s Gin from Downton Distillery had the honour of the bursary spot this year and absolutely did it justice. Downton Distillery can be found in a Grade 1 listed barn, adjacent to Downton Manor in Wiltshire. The gin built around the spirit of exploration and nods to the links that Downton Manor has to Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth. Macerated and then vapour infused, Explorer is distilled as a one shot. Fifteen botanicals go into the gin but particular note should be given to something quite unique: Western Red Cedar. The charming and ever enthusiastic Hugh Anderson, the man behind the gin (pictured below being mobbed by some friends we were attending with) was handing out little sprigs to taste, and it’s… unexpected. It adds something really different to the gin, rich and piney with an almost mint like finish. Really sets Explorers apart from some of its contemporaries.

Mackintosh Gin
Mackintosh is quite a recent addition to the gin world, having launched only towards the end of last year. A family run distillery headed up by Jim and Deb Mackintosh, it’s a classic juniper-forward gin with a little lift from local elderflower and some fresh grapefruit. Heading down from Dundee, they were one of the six newcomers showing this year. As with last year, the newcomers zone was our first port of call and I don’t regret a second of it. Rather than repeating myself too much, if you want some more info on this one, you can read my previous write up of it here. Cheers to Ginsmagic for a copy of the end of the night selfie!

Graveney Gin
The brainchild of Victoria Christie, Graveney’s master distiller, this gin started life as a hobby produced in a 5 litre still in Tooting. Even now it’s an organic and very small batch gin, produced in just two 30 litre stills. Still keeping it local, they have a nano bar in Tooting Market that is high up on my visit list next time I’m in the capital. Graveney has a lovely fresh nose that combines floral and piney and delivers in the taste in spades – smooth, juniper lead and a lovely earthy, nutty note to end with a slightly peppery finish. Vic was also testing a couple of possible new additions to the lineup and I have to say, a more difficult choice I don’t think I’ve made in a long time, they were both amazing and I can’t wait to see the final result. I’ll round this one off by saying Vic was absolutely charming and couldn’t have been nicer – only sad I didn’t think to get a selfie to follow up the hugs… I’m a sucker for hugs. If you want to find out more, I could do no better than to recommend that you head over to The Gin Shelf and read the interview that Matt did with Vic there, it’s a great read.

Corner 53 – L.M.P
So, Lemon Meringue Pie Gin… no no, hear me out, this isn’t some overly sweet abortion of a “gin”, this is very much still a gin at heart without me needing to do air quotes when I mention it. It’s also slightly batshit in the most glorious way imaginable. They chuck in lemon curd and pastry.. and it shouldn’t work, it really shouldn’t! It does though, the juniper is still there but you get this hit of lemon curd, rather than lemon and then you’re just left with this curdy, buttery aftertaste. Nuts… glorious.

Hidden Curiosities – Aranami
Anyone who knows me will know that Hidden Curiosities sits on high as one of my favourite gins of all time, as it does with most of my family as well! This is partly because the gin is amazing, and partly because you can’t help but love the lady behind the gin. Jenny was at Junipalooza this year to show off her latest creation: Aranami (Raging Waves if you’re not fluent in Japanese). The Aranami edition is an amazing 59% navy that continues to embrace the Japanese influence with 7 of it’s 20 botanicals being sourced from Japan. Yuzu gives it a stunning citrus hit with a difference, and sansho peppers impart an intriguing lemony, mentholy, somethingyness that’s really hard to describe. I could go on If you ever get the chance to taste a sansho pepper, do, it’s a weird and rather mouth-numbing sensation. It’s smooth enough to drink neat, which in itself is a feat at 59%! It also makes an amazing G&T with a real punch to push back against the tonic. Finally, if you’re a Negroni fan… just trust me and try it. One of the botanicals is salted cherry blossom (Hence the Raging Sea name) and it adds an edge to a Negroni that needs to be experienced.

The Gower Gin Company
I’ve been wanting to meet Siân and Andrew from Gower for ages, so they were another distillery it was lovely to finally put a face to after only ever having chatted online. No disappointment, they too couldn’t have been friendlier or represented their product any better Anyone who welcomes me at 11 am with an aged Negroni automatically scores brownie points. Anyone who welcomes me with one of the most delicious Negronis I’ve ever had and the first Negroni ever that didn’t make my other half wrinkle his face in disgust gets MAJOR brownie points. Gower were showing their Rhossili gin, celebrating the younger years of Dylan Thomas. The Rhossili edition is bottled at 45% and includes sea buckthorn and Rhossili gorse flower to give it a twist. It’s a lovely light gin with citrusy notes and a little more kick from that higher ABV. Also, who doesn’t love a distillery with a guard cat?

This is already getting too long, and I haven’t spoken about half the people I’d like to. Bruce from Brentingby who’s a bit of a legend and one with a pink gin that isn’t a horribly sweet fruity thing but a good, proper pink gin! Steven and Sue from Tappers who again were so friendly and informative could have sat chatting to them for ages. Keep an eye out for their upcoming Brightside release which is a distilled version of their delicious compound Darkside gin.

Tappers stand

Duck & Crutch, Seppeltsfield Road, York and their amazing Cacao (which I really want to try in a Negroni). John and Cynthia from Locksley Distilling who have been one of my long term favourites had their new Raspberry & Cardamon concoction which was delicious (Their Anti pink gin pink gin). I could go on for ages, but frankly, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already done well. I’ll leave you with a picture of the haul and a few random pics!

The Haul ™

Tasting: Pothecary Trinity

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I’ve been meaning to write this up for some weeks, but life, doing its thing, has been getting in the way. As such, I’m going to keep this fairly to the point, partly because this is a gin I really want people to know about.

Spoiler: The bottle is now nearly empty, so that should give you a clue as to my feelings if you can’t be bothered to read any further! Trinity is the latest release from the fine gentleman at Pothecary Gin and was kindly sent my way by Martin.

Trinity is a Gin. Note the capital G because this encapsulates everything I love about gin in it’s purest form and is something of an antithesis to all the distilled unicorn sweat and rainbow blended crap that seems to be flooding the market at the moment. We had my parents round for a drink a little while ago and my Dad asked for a “Ginny gin”. I went straight for the Trinity and as far as I know, it went down a storm. Pothecary blends their organic gins, distilling each botanical separately and then blending them in precise amounts to achieve the flavour they want. Trinity is aptly named as it includes only 3 botanicals: Juniper, coriander and bergamot. That’s it, nothing else to complicate things, just a classic gin that achieves what it sets out to do, and achieves it in stunning fashion.

Trinity is bottled at 49%, so it has a bit more of a kick than their original or Thai blends, but you don’t get nearly as much alcohol on the nose as you might expect. Instead, you just get at least one juniper berry shoved forcibly up each nostril with that lovely piney freshness you’d expect. Tasted neat, of course, you get the juniper up front, but more of the coriander carries through than you might expect from the nose, and ends with those lingering citrus notes from the bergamot. At 49%, it’s got a lovely warmth to it, that may be too much for some, but for me hits quite a sweet spot between the usual 38-40% and a navy strength gin, which can sometimes leave your eyes watering a little when tried neat. With a splash of light tonic, as you’d expect it open up rater, and you get more of that fragrant, citrusy bergamot coming to the fore to balance out the juniper.

In a Dry Martini, it does it’s thing again, the juniper at the fore, but with more of those citrus notes than you’d probably expect. The same applies to a Negroni (which was bloomin’ delicious by the way), and the bergamot lifts the bitter orange of the Campari up a bit, making it just that bit fresher. A nice wedge of grapefruit in there finished it off or me… several times.

There are a lot of classic profile gins that have been coming out lately, and while lots of them are very nice, it takes something special to take that classic flavour profile and lift it to another level, especially with only 3 botanicals! I always judge a bottle on whether I would buy it again, and I intend to have a bottle of this on my shelf at all times. So far, one of my favourite gins of the year. You can find more information on their website, and if you’re lucky enough to be headed to Junipalooza, make sure to stop by and try it on Stand #20!

Tasting: Mackintosh Gin

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On the back of my decision to cancel my monthly subscription box, I had to pick a gin to spend that money on (I’d allocated it in my mind so there’s no way I was spending it on something else. It’s like Holiday money, once you’ve exchanged it, it’s not real money any more so you can spend it without guilt!). The choice I quickly settled on was Mackintosh Gin.

Mackintosh Gin is a proper family affair, produced by Jim and Deborah in the County of Angus in Scotland, and even involving their three daughters in brand and development. They started, as I’m sure many do, by getting into the burgeoning gin scene – and where better to do it than Scotland really? I’m more than a little jealous of the quality of the water up there…I say this as someone living in East Anglia which apparently has some of the hardest water in the country! Jim and Deborah’s “Gin Journey”, started the same way as I imagine it did with a lot of us, going to a gin festival and realising just how much there is out there and how many great people there are behind the products. Following that and a little “make your own compound gin at home” experimentation, the seed was planted of creating their own distilled gin. Mackintosh Gin was set up in February 2018, March saw the start of work with a nearby distillery on the recipe, and then 6 months later, they were ready to launch. Jim did say that looking back it was probably a bit of a crazy idea, but I’ve no doubt some of the best ideas start that way, and you can’t argue with the result…

Mackintosh is a pretty upfront London dry gin with a bit of a twist to lift it in a few areas and bottled at 42%. Many of the botanicals are as you’d expect: Juniper (duh), orange peel, lemon zest, angelica and coriander. The two noteworthy botanicals are fresh grapefruit rather than dried, and local Elderflower gathered from nearby.

On the nose, you get welcome, classic gin (no unicorn poop in sight): Juniper there in spades as you’d expect. Tasting neat, there’s the Juniper up front again, with a warmth from the alcohol but not in an unpleasant way. You get a slight hint of the citrus coming in afterwards, but the neat taste is certainly dominated by the juniper. Adding a splash of light tonic mutes the juniper a little, but brings the citrus forward a lot and you get a surprising amount of sweetness come through with the citrus notes. Once the main hit of the juniper and citrus have passed, you’re left with some slight peppery afternotes, but also a lingering hint of the floral elderflower. I’m not sure I’d know the elderflower was there if I didn’t know it was on the botanical list, as it melds well with the overall flavour rather than standing out on its own. Honestly not sure this needs any garnish, but adding a slice of fresh grapefruit just brings that citrus up another notch if that’s what you think might hit the spot at the time. A great London Dry gin, smooth, enjoyable, and going into a Negroni as soon as I restock on vermouth! I know, I’ve run out of vermouth and that makes me a terrible human being.

Fancy trying it for yourself? I’ve got a competition going on over on Twitter, until 31st March, to win one of your very own to enjoy. Click HERE to jump to the tweet.

If you’d like any more information or to buy the gin, you can find all you need over at: https://www.mackintoshgin.com/

On Subscription Boxes

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I hadn’t really planned to write a post on this, but I thought maybe I’d expand on what brought me to the decision beyond the odd twitter post the other week. Helpfully, this also leads me into the next Gin I intend to do a tasting on so, useful segue provided!

I’m not going to name any particular providers, this is more of a short general musing. I’ve been a member of a gin subscription club for the last few years now. It’s always nice to get the surprise arriving at the end of the month, looking forward to whatever goodies might be lurking in that cardboard box, full of potential. I think this is the feeling that a lot of these companies trade on, the excitement.

The last few months though, I found the boxes started to lose their shine a little bit. For me, I’m paying for a gin box, so one thing that always annoyed me a little bit was the constant inclusion of crisps, chocolate and snacks, though I appreciate a lot of people probably love these additions.

The thing that really started to lose appeal for me though, is probably one of the biggest selling points, and that’s the surprise of the gin itself. While there have been some stunning gins come through in the past, there have also been a lot that I found quite forgettable and I certainly wouldn’t consider buying again. While I might still enjoy a gin, whether I would actually go out and purchase it again is always the real benchmark. With anything like this, you’re relying on somebody else’s tastes, and not making an informed decision on what you might enjoy yourself. This was made particularly evident when one distillery, who made one of my favourite gins of the last year, mentioned that their gin had been rated by a subscription company tasting panel as not good enough. Mind blown a little bit on that one as the stuff is, in my mind, unquestionably delicious.

This all added up and nudged me towards thinking I’d be better off just spending the money on a gin of my choosing. There are so many new gins coming to the market these days, and many of them from small, super passionate distillers who are fulfilling a bit of a dream, that it makes me want to support them directly and be able to have a little dialogue with the people behind the product. It also means I can actively avoid anything with a distillation process that involves clouds, rainbows and unicorn poop.

It wasn’t until shortly after I’d decided to cancel my subscription, that a few people mentioned, on Twitter, something I was wholly unaware of. Now I want to make it clear that this isn’t true for all, but I learned that some subscription boxes pay the distilleries very little, if anything at all and their reward is the exposure it gives. While I appreciate it is a decent amount of exposure, it just hasn’t sat quite right with me ever since I found this out.

While I think in a lot of ways they’re a great way for people to get to know gins they may have not otherwise come across, the time felt right for me to move on. As I said at the beginning, a bit of musing really, but it lead me into buying my first bottle with a subscription-free bank account directly from a distiller, so, some tasting notes on Mackintosh Gin coming up next!

Tasting: The Duchess

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“Dry January” is long since over… and Since it’s over, I decided it’s time to post a short tasting on an alcohol-free gin alternative. I’d have posted it earlier but I didn’t want to risk persuading anyone to think about going sober in that long, dark, miserable, month.. you know, the one during which you could really use a gin. Having a month off the alcohol is never a bad thing for your body to recover…I just can’t bear to do it in January with the post-Christmas funk going on! I will be starting on a low carb diet shortly to trim some of the Christmas excesses so this will be sating my need for a juniper hit.

If I’m watching the alcohol, and the calories, The Duchess, makes abstaining for a period much more bearable and is generally my goto. I discovered The Duchess when we ran across the guys who came up with it at Junipalooza in 2017, and then again at the 2018 event when they’d reworked their recipe. It comes to us courtesy of two gents in South Africa, Johannes Le Roux and Inus Smuts.

At its heart, The Duchess is a combination of re-distilled juniper berries, and tonic water infused with various botanicals including orange peel, allspice and star anise. The fact this is basically re-distilled juniper and tonic is what I think really makes it able to hit that gin spot if you’re not drinking. When you smell it, that juniper comes through on the nose, and the spices in the tonic really hit you as well, but with less citrus hanging around than you’d expect to more usually find in a Gin. Tasting is much the same, you start off with that Juniper flavour at the fore, and then the spices hit you. There’s nothing subtle about the spice in this, they’re full on and follow the juniper up immediately which could possibly be a little overpowering for some, but for me is pleasantly warming. I do find a big wedge of Orange or a good bit of zest just gives it an edge more citrus to cut through the spice a little. For those watching the waistline, or those that are a little bit anal with counting their calories etc like me, there’s a bonus to this as well. At just 38 calories and 6.6g of carbs a bottle, you can feel fairly guilt free about having a drink, and thanks to the fact it’s partly sweetened with cane sugar, and party with stevia, you don’t get that artificial sacharine taste.

If of course, you’re not abstaining from alcohol, and you have a gin that you’re not terribly impressed with on the juniper front, the joy of this is that you could quite happily use it as a mixer as well! (Rather defeating the object, but there we are.) It’s got too much going on to go with most gins, but I think if you had a fairly sub-par gin that was lacking, it could do something just to bring it up a notch.

While the Duchess isn’t terribly easy to get hold of in the shops, it’s getting easier and easier to find online at the usual places, Gin Kiosk, 31 Dover, Master of Malt etc. Now, to make the most of the day before the low carb horror begins tomorrow….

Tasting: Gŵyr Pinwydd

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Time to break the unintentional hiatus!  Due to being on a low carb diet for 6 weeks (I know how to have fun!), the tasting has gone by the wayside a bit along with the alcohol in general, but it’s time to get back on the wagon and work through some of my backlog of gins.

First up, the lovely Siân at the Gower Gin Company kindly sent me over a bottle of their Pinnwydd Gin, and since I enjoyed it so much, I felt it was a good place to get back into things.

The Gower (Gŵyr if you’re lucky enough to speak Welsh) Gin Company distils in their MicroDistillery on Gower in Port Eynon and is headed up by Siân and Andrew Brooks.  There’s a strong sense of provenance and really showcasing what the area and Wales have to offer which is always lovely to see.  It was great trying the London Dry for the first time at Junipalooza this year (and their use of Christmas lights wrapped around the bottles!), so I was excited to try this to follow up and see if it could stand up to the original.

Let’s get right into it.  I have a bit of a love affair with the bottle design, it’s really quite simple with the Breton inspired stripes and a simple glass bottle, but it stands out like anything and a love the combination of simplicity and a bit of French “va va voom“. 

The double upshot is that if you feel so inclined, you can dress to match if you happen to have something suitably French/Nautical! (This needs to become a thing I think.) 

The original London Dry Gin is distilled with eight botanicals, including juniper, lemon, pink grapefruit, and both green and bronze fennel, and bottled at 43%.  The Pinwydd (Pine Trees!) edition mixes up their original London Dry a bit bringing the namesake pine flavours into the mix, along with orange, cranberry and pink peppercorn.  On the nose, the first thing that smacks me in the olfactories is the orange.  It almost reminds me of smelling a bottle of Grand Marnier when you first open it, that deep, citrusy, orange oil smell that gives you a bit of a  Christmassy feeling at this time of year.  After letting it rest for a minute or two, the orange eases off a little, and you get some more of those pine notes coming through.

Tasting neat, the gin has a glorious oily mouthfeel to it, with that citrusy orange there are the fore.  Held for a little while, the orange does retreat slightly and you get some of the pine, though perhaps not as much as I expected given the name.  I don’t think this is any bad thing as the pine is there, apparently tempered by the peppercorns, but without being fully in your face like some gins I’ve tasted.

A little splash of light tonic added, unusually, pushes the citrus into the background a little bit more (normally I find it brings the citrus forward).  The orange being muted a little gives the other botanicals a chance to come more to the fore and you get more of that pine, and at the end, more of the pepper and spicy notes coming through which I wasn’t expecting to get as strongly as I did having tasted it neat.  I have to say, on the whole, this makes a really great, easy drinking Gin and tonic for me. 

Garnish wise, I’m a bit all over the place here, and not in a bad way…  I think you could equally garnish it with more citrus to pushing it towards being quite a summery G&T, or indeed add more spice to bring the festive feeling more to the front.  I’d also be remiss not to give it a try in a Negroni, and it works marvellously.  That oily citrus mouthfeel makes for a really deeply flavoured, satisfying drink, with a hit more of the orange to go alongside the Campari.

Overall, I’m really impressed – the core of the London dry isn’t lost, but it’s given a different twist that works in so many different ways.  Very much looking forward to seeing what these guys can do with some future seasonal offerings.

Since it has become expected of me lately, and I am a self-confessed “proud Catdad”, the ribbon that wrapped the bottle was as equally as well received as the bottle itself.

Great British Gin Festival Norwich

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Thought I’d just do a mini write-up/impressions post on this one rather than a full review.

Ever since the very sad collapse of Gin Festival Ltd. I’ve rather been missing something similar, so when the Great British Gin Festival came to my old University city, I thought it was time to have a look.  While GB Gin Festival has been running since before the loss of GF Ltd (moved into abbreviations now), they have very much the same layout and feeling, which is no bad thing.

The event did feel a little disorganised off the bat.  When we arrived, at the start time, there were still lorries pulling up to unload bottles of tonic water, and the door staff wound up just letting people in without checking any tickets because they were having issues.  Once in though, everything settled down a bit.  The layout of the venue was done fairly well, the bars spaced out enough to give people room to queue, but also leaving lots of seating on the dance floor in front of the stage.  Have to say that at no time during the event did I have to queue for more than a few minutes which was a bonus and meant it didn’t feel like there were ever too many people.  If I did have a couple of grumbles, one is that there were a few gins that they were out of from the offset, but that could have just been down to availability from suppliers or distillers.  The other would be that I really miss being able to pour my own tonic, to my liking.  The tonics here are behind the bar and poured by the bar staff, which means if you want to try your gin neat first you’ve got to stand there tasting it, holding up the bar, and then get your tonic poured before leaving.  The bar staff themselves couldn’t have been nicer though and were very friendly and happy to let me taste and sniff away before pouring the tonic.  Gin Festival Ltd. had the tonics on a separate table so you could help yourself as you wanted it which I always thought was a really good way to do it, though appreciate also probably resulted in more waste and perhaps most people are happy to just have the tonic poured.

One of the nicest things to see was some great distillers represented in the tasting room.  Isle of Wight Distillery, Bullards, HMS Spirits, Ely, Whitely Neil and Marylebone and of course the ever-present Brockmans among others.  This room was packed the whole time we were there with people chatting and tasting which was really nice to see.  In contrast, the Masterclasses were rather disappointing with, from what I could see, one from Brockmans and one based on cocktails.  These were shown on a little blackboard near the stage.  Would have been nice to see talks from a few more distillers.

Perhaps, without sounding like a raging gin snob, I’ve outgrown these events a little bit now.  I’ve been lucky enough to try a lot of gin, so there wasn’t a huge amount new to me on the list.  Not knocking the selection itself though, a really good selection of over 100, with something to suit every taste, including some navy gins which definitely perked me up.  While I’d quite happily go back in the future, I think it’d need to be with a group of friends for a fun afternoon, rather than just myself and my partner to try new gins.  Still very enjoyable though, the entertainment was excellent, and there was a constantly nice, fun atmosphere with no “get drunk” mentality obvious.

Where I still think these kinds of festivals really shine is in giving people a chance to try lots of different gins they may otherwise never come across at what I still think is a very reasonable £5 a pop.   Time to get a group of friends together for the Ipswich festival and broaden some gin horizons!

Junipalooza Hamburg 2018

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Ugh, 2 1/2 months since the last post.  That’s Holidays, Illness and two new kittens taking over everything for you!  The kittens are pretty adorable though so they get forgiven.

So, September 2017 saw Junipalooza visit Hamburg for the first time at the beautiful Fischauktionshalle.  The Gin Foundry guys really know how to pick a location, and this one really echoed the feeling of the Tobacco Dock venue in London.  While normally Junipalooza runs over the whole weekend, the Hamburg offering ran Friday and Saturday because guess what happens in the Fischauktionshalle on a Sunday morning?  Surprising nobody, the Fish Market takes place.  I’ve been told on good authority that it’s well worth visiting from 5am on a Sunday for its rather unique blend of people out doing their food shopping for the weekend, and all night party people who have popped in for breakfast and to listen to the live bands.

Onto the gin, it was great to see some local German offerings that I wasn’t terribly familiar with, more than a couple of which made the trip home with me, mixed in with some old favourites.  I went out with hand luggage only, thinking I’d resist the lure of having to pay the £30 to put a bag full of bottles in the hold on the way back… should have known I’d break at some point (damn you Stig).  So, just a few little notes about some of the ones that caught my eye, or indeed came home with me.  Hope to follow up some of these with proper tastings in the near future.  I had intended to take a lot more photos than this, but the night before I left my camera battery decided to snuff it… so that put an end to that idea.  Ah well.

Bareksten – I’m going to start with this one as it blew me away.  Bareksten is a Norwegian gin, distilled at the Oss Craft Distillery by the fine Viking gentleman that Stig Bareksten (Thank you, Katie, for the intro!).  I was already a fan of the existing gin, and this just took it to another level.  Deep, earthy juniper on the nose with some citrus coming through, and then more spice and sweetness when you taste.  Just… yum, and as I mentioned, the one that broke my resolve not to pay to put a bag in the hold on the way back home!  Just to throw it in, I’ve also been in love with the branding of this stuff since day one, the whole black on black, gloss on matt of their materials an bottles just… well… pleases me greatly!

Huckleberry Gin – So, Huckleberry can mean Blueberry, among a few others – who knew?  Don’t answer that, the answer is probably a whole bunch of people and I’m just laying my ignorance out there for all to see.  I think these guys actually had one of my favourite brands of the event, simple but it made me smile.

Two guys from Munich put together Huckleberry Gin, as a tribute to friendship (aww).  Copper pot distilled with 22 botanicals including, of course, Blueberries.  Delicious, fruity and terribly easy to drink with the blueberries leading the charge alongside the juniper.  One I don’t think will be hanging around on my shelf for too long.

Gin Sul – A local Hamburg gin, which seems to have been going from strength to strength (especially if the number of bottles I saw people picking up at the airport are anything to go by!)  Created by Stephan Garbe, a carpenter by trade, after travelling Portugal.  Each bottle proclaims “Saudade distilled in Hamburg”, Saudade apparently meaning a feeling of melancholy, longing or nostalgia – kinda what you get after coming back from a great holiday.  The gin features some of the usual botanicals but also rose, allspice and labdanum.  Floral but without overriding the juniper heart, makes an amazing G&T with some orange and rosemary.

GinT Rubro – I’ve been eyeing this up for a while, but was a little put off by the price without actually having had a chance to taste it, as I would any higher priced overproof gin.  Well, I tasted it and then bought a bottle before leaving which should give you an idea of what the outcome of the tasting was.  GinT is a rather distinctive looking London Dry, Navy Strength Portuguese gin that wouldn’t be out of place in a chemistry class (appeals to my inner nerd).  When we first tasted it, the guys on the stand asked what we could smell and taste.  Both myself and the friend I was with recognised something, but it wasn’t until they mentioned the fig bark that the penny dropped.  The friend that put me up for the weekend is Australian and he immediately clicked it was a fig tree in the garden back home that it reminded him of.  Delicious, punchy, slightly fruity dry gin, well worth the price of admission.

Martin Miller’s 9 Moons – I’ve said on a couple of occasions that I think the big lesson I took back from Hamburg was that I can no longer say, “I don’t normally like cask aged gins”.  There were several that really converted me to the cause, but there were two that stood out, this being one of them.  9 Moons is barrel aged for 9 months (obviously) in bourbon casks in Iceland.  Was really interesting to see what a different the Icelandic climate makes to the ageing process and how much trial and error it took to get this right.  The result is delicious, the usual clean, crisp citrus and cucumber notes of the standard gin is muted somewhat, and the ageing process leaves you with this incredible hit of warm vanilla, followed up by a spicy, cinnamon and pepper finish.  Officially a convert.

Marylebone Cask Aged – Well, after saying how the weekend converted me, I couldn’t mention one cask-aged gin without bringing up the other as well.  I gather I was fairly lucky to snag a bottle of this at the end of the event as it seems the very nice gentleman Johnny Neill only had a couple of bottles brought along for samples… kinda feeling I should have run around everyone at the end of the evening to see what else special was around!  So, if you haven’t tried it, Marylebone London Dry is distilled in London by the Pleasure Garden Distilling co and is a great classic example of a London Dry.  The Cask-Aged variant takes their dry and ages it in Rum barrels.  I think what’s often put me off is that when a gin is aged in whiskey barrels you get a lot of that heavy peaty flavour which I’m really not a fan of.  This, aged in the rum barrels, however, lends it that delicious, fruity, slightly spicy rum edge without overpowering the juniper or all the other notes of the dry gin.  Need to spend some time with this one methinks to pick up all the nuances.

Incredible event overall.  Much more of a chilled feeling than the London event, and a bit more intimate.  Really hope it goes from strength to strength and comes back next year with more distillers and more locals in Hamburg discovering the joy of the day!

My god, I hate having my photo taken.  I look like the joker!

Tasting: Raven Gin – Thought & Memory

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I do love a bit of Norse mythology, always considering them to be one of the most interesting pantheons, so Raven Gin tickled that interest before I’d even started. In Norse myth, Huginn and Muninn are a pair of ravens that fly all over Midgard, scouting for Odin, the All-Father. Roughly translated from Old Norse, Huginn means “thought” and Muninn means “memory”, and some say they served as such for Odin, being projections of his power, or his…spirit (hah!).

Raven Spirits is a new company, founded by two brothers in Royal Deeside, Aberdeen. For their first release, they’ve done two gins, a limited founders edition, and their signature gin, “Thought & Memory”, named after Huginn and Muninn. To Quote, “Raven Gin takes inspiration from Huginn and Munnin. A premium gin, it brings together a thoughtful mix of soft spice and delicate mandarin to reveal a long, warm and memorable finish.

First up, the bottle. A fairly standard glass bottle, but for me, it’s the label that really stands out. The two ravens stand either side of the label, around a bronze embossed centre, over a rather Celtic style background. It probably comes back to the love of the Norse Myth, but I really like the focus on the birds and what comes together as a fairly simple, but well composed and quite striking design.

Onto the contents. Thought & Memory is a “Premium Dry” gin and has the slightly unusual botanical of Mandarin to provide some of the citrus. I don’t think I’d have been quite able to identify exactly what it was, beyond something orangey, but once you know it’s there, you can really smell it. The Juniper on the nose sits back a little bit and lets the mandarin come to the fore with some spice underpinning it.

Tasting neat, it flips around a bit from the nose and you get more of the juniper at the fore with the mandarin following in after, and then as you’d expect, the cassia and other spices rolling in for the finish. Interestingly, the addition of a splash of light tonic didn’t make a huge difference for me on this one, a great G&T, but the same flavours came through in a similar fashion, maybe with a bit more emphasis on the citrus. A nice little slice of lemon peel added in just pushes the citrus even further forward. What I did find though was that after the spice had passed, I was left with just a lingering impression of that mandarin making for a pleasant and quite fresh finish. Bonus marks for the fact I gave my other half a taste while I was writing this and the only response I got was, “Yes please”, which is apparently my cue to go downstairs and get another glass and some more ice.

Good stuff. The addition of the mandarin is something different and gives it a twist without taking it too far from the spirit of a London Dry style gin. Looking forward to seeing what else the guys come out with and whether it continues to appease my little nerdy joy over Norse myth. I tried to translate the runes on the little bottleneck tag at the top of the page, but they confirmed it’s a fairly incomprehensible alphabet called Elder Futhark and… well… it’s just decorative in this instance. At least I don’t feel bad that I couldn’t translate it! If you’re interested, you can pick it up directly from their Web Site.

As a quick extra note, Thought and Memory also just picked up a gold award at The Gin Masters 2018 – not bad for your first month or so out there!

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