Sadly, Junipalooza London, one of the finest events in the calendar for anyone who has a bit of a gin thing, is finished for another year. Junipalooza is the only event at which you’ll find so many distillers and gin fans all under one roof. Organised by the fine people at Gin Foundry, the event this year was bigger than ever with over 65 distillers getting together for the weekend of the 9th of June to coincide with World Gin Day. The concept is simple, it’s a chance to meet the people being producing some of your favourite tipples and actually get to have a chat with them about how it’s made, their inspiration, their passion, and of course to sample their wares. In short? It’s awesome.
I wish I’d had a chance to visit every distiller but unfortunately, that just isn’t possible, even over two days, but I got through a lot of the people I wanted to see and there were some highlights.
This year, there were four “Experiential” zones set up by various distillers, one of which was the first ever live distilling at an event by Warner Edwards.
Apologies in advance to Tom for that photo, but it made me chuckle. Distilling took place live throughout the day, with a great talk from some of the people behind the gin about their production method and ethos, not to mention a chance to stick your finger in the gin coming straight off the still. The session ended with everyone wax dipping their own bottle of the one-off gin to take home.
Locksley Distilling’s Sir Robin has long been one of my favourite gins, so the fact they were in attendance with some brand new offerings made them pretty much my first port of call. One of the new offerings was Morocello, a Sicilian Moro Blood Orange liqueur which was delicious, smooth, citrusy, not overly sweet and very easy to drink. The one that really grabbed me though (and I left with a bottle of) was the VSOT, or Very Special Old Tom. Apparently something of a 1 in the morning decision, it runs along the lines of “Let’s do a navy, and make it an old tom, and why not barrel-age it too?” Genius. They’re doing two different editions of this, a standard one which is a Navy Strength Old Tom, and then varying limited editions throughout the year experimenting with different barrels – this one is finished in a Sauternes barrel. It’s smooth as anything despite the ABV and while barrel-aged gins sometimes don’t do it for me, this one really hit the spot.
Old Bakery – Great gin with an equally great story. Ian, who runs a plumbing business, bought an old Victorian bakery as an office, and after a bit of a legal dispute during some building work, needed to look back at the history of the building. As a result of the investigation, he discovered that the bakery used to sell illicit gin and did what any sensible person would do… tracked down the descendants of the original bakers and found out what botanicals they used to make their gin. How can you not love that? The gin itself is delicious, a nice dry, piney juniper flavour, a lovely sweet lemon to join it and a nice note of spice to finish it off. The second I was told there were only 2 bottles of the navy strength left, I made my purchase on the spot! No regrets.
Probably my favourite addition to the event this year was the Newcomer’s Zone, where freshly launched, or even yet to be released gins can get some air time.
Woodlab Distillery – Symphonia gin is distilled in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland by, a very clever man, Ric Dyer. Ric worked in the Pharmaceutical industry for thirty years, but in 2016 decided he’d put his PhD in Organic Chemistry to equally good use, and apply a scientific method to making gin. Each botanical is distilled individually, under the best conditions to make the most of its flavour. The distillates are then combined to form the final gins. Symphonia has 3 gins, a Dry, Apple and Summer Fruit Cup, all distilled from an apple base spirit. While their dry gin was excellent, with just a hint of that apple flavour from the base spirit, the one that really stood out was the Symphonia No. 2 – Apple Gin. This Gin has Bramley Apples added to the recipe which gives it a lovely golden colour and introduces a real apple kick without destroying the underlying flavour of the gin or indeed making it too sweet.
Brindle Distillery – Cuckoo Gin was another newcomer that probably made the most impact on us out of all of them and it had the honour of being the one that 3 of us all walked away with a bottle of. Distilled from their own barley, it’s made on Holmes Farm in Lancashire by the Singleton family. All the ingredients are either grown on the farm or sourced locally, including the water which is gathered from a nearby aquifer. The one that hit the spot for me was the Spiced Gin. Distilled with clove, ginger, cinnamon, fennel and lemongrass, it does everything for me that a spiced gin should and warms all the right parts – can’t wait to try it in a Negroni.
Procera – Sometimes you remember the gin, sometimes you remember the people, and then sometimes you remember the cheese… and the gin and the people. Procera was a really interesting one, coming out of Africa and the first gin to be distilled from African Juniper – Juniperus Procera. These guys are really early on in their journey so you won’t find too much out there at the moment, but they’re definitely one to watch. They also have the honour of not only being the first distillery to put salt in my gin… and actually make it work! Worth watching the video of their unique bottles being hand blown. The only thing holding me back was the price, which while possibly justified by a truly handmade bottle and artisan spirit, I think needs to drop below the £50 mark to really get out there. Sincerely hope they manage it, and not just because they plied us with that amazing blue cheese.
See, this is the problem with Junipalooza. I’ve probably typed too much already and I’ve barely even scratched the surface of some of the amazing distillers in attendance, including many who had incredible products: Hidden Curiosities, Doghouse Distillery, Six Dogs, Bertha’s Revenge, 6 O’clock… and the rest. If you have even a passing interest in gin, it’s a great event with a really warm friendly vibe, full of people who enjoy the drink and really want to know more about those behind it. Can’t wait until next year? Junipalooza Hamburg is happening in September and Junipalooza Melbourne in October. If anyone is heading over to Hamburg for the Saturday evening session, feel free to throw something at the back of my head while i’m deep in conversation or staring dreamily at a row of bottles. At least I didn’t leave empty handed!