Unless you’ve had your head buried in a bottle of Absolute for last 2 years, you won’t have failed to have noticed the upsurge in the UK’s love for gin. Yep, good ol’ Mother’s Ruin – or in my case, Mother’s Ruined – is back and it looks like it’ll be staying a while.
No longer that dusty bottle of Beefeater languishing in the back shelf of granny’s cupboard, the gin of today is more exciting and more inventive than ever. New distillers are splashing onto the scene all the time, pubs are supplementing their gastronomic credentials with gin menus, and everywhere you look those three sweet letters – GIN – are now as ubiquitous as my other love: Wi-Fi. No wonder then that some smart cookie has jumped on the gin bandwagon and created a festival to celebrate this botanical masterpiece.
Now touring the nation, The Gin Festival is growing bigger and bolder and more momentous with every town it stops in. It landed in my stomping ground, Gloucestershire, a few weeks ago and I felt professionally obliged to check it out (aka: I pleaded until they gave me a press ticket) all in the ginerests of folk like you, naturally. Held in the stunning location of Black Friar’s in Gloucester, the festival was a much more civilised affair than I’d anticipated.
On arriving we were given our Copa De Balon branded glass and goody bag by an effervescent chick dressed in vintage garb. She explained the layout of the festival: 4 bars, divided into tidy gin categories – two for British gins, one for international gins and the last one for fruit gins; a token station where you exchanged fivers for tokens (each token bagged you a gin of your choice with a suitable tonic match); and a Fever Tree hub where you laced your gin with the right tonic.
Beyond this there was a gin cocktail bar, a barn with music, as well as a workshop den where you could learn more about gin’s origins and botanical make-up. The set-up was neat, orderly and polite. This wasn’t your typical booze-fest. This was a middle-class gincident-free playground without the exasperating queuing and drunken pushing and shoving you get at some festivals.
To help you navigate the overwhelming number of gins at the festival, you were given a pocket-sized gin explorer book on arrival (forgive me Father, I am about to gin). It neatly espoused the qualities of each of the gins on offer, including distinguishing characteristics and the correct garnishes. Half the fun was browsing the booklet, marking off the next gin on your hit list, then tasting each other’s with either envy or admiration. Think of it as the BEST adult pick-and-mix on offer and you’ll get the idea.
I discovered a vat-load of gins I never knew existed: Black Tomato Gin – produced in the Netherlands and distilled using the black tomatoes that grown nearby. Pinkster – a very British blushed fruity gin with lashing of raspberry flavour. Yerburgh’s Jam Jar Gin – the UK’s first crowd-funded gin that was, and is still, developed and presented in jam jars today. And my overall winner of the evening, Zymurgorium Sweet Violet – gin that tastes like the parma violet sweets I used to devour by the quarter-load as a kid!
Safe to say, after my visit to the Gloucester Gin Festival I have an even bigger and deeper love of gin than ever (sorry, Hogarth). I also have an overwhelming respect for all those creative souls who’ve started gin distilleries alongside their 9-5 jobs, then made it big and onto the shelves of gin fans like us.
The Gin Festival is a fabulous platform for these smaller producers to get their names in front of the gin-loving populace. It’s also a fabulous marker of how our society is altering its attitudes to booze – it’s no longer bargain bins that define us, but gin bling. And I’m so very down with that.
Disclaimer: Thank you for the Gin Festival for my press pass – it was one of the BEST complimentary evenings of my adult life!