Should I or shouldn’t I, I asked myself? Should I A) Be a good student and work on WSET diploma, or B) Pop along to Birmingham’s 1st Gin Festival? I toyed with the idea for a good few seconds and convinced myself that as the diploma has a spirits module that the latter option was wisest!
Arriving at The Bond Comany, I was greeted enthusiastically by the organisers and handed a complementary glass, badge and gin bible. I purchased 3 drink/gin tokens (I was after all going to be good and go back home and work on my diploma) and headed to the bar. The sight that greeted me was something a kin to the closing scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as there was row upon row of gins in optics with a little trough of the correct garnish underneath. The range was astounding not just gins from the UK but from Denmark, Germany and the USA. All styles were well represented but some of the more interesting gins featured in the flavoured section, such as dark/ruby chocolate, strawberry & mint and star anise. Some other notable mentions included (Edible) English Garden Worm Gin, which contained a real earthworm in the bottle! Seaweed gin designed to complement sea food dishes, and the strongest drink of the day at a whopping 60% abv, Blackwoods Gin from Shetland.
A gin mixologist was also on hand making cocktails, but that would have eaten up my token allowance in one foul swoop. As it was I had done a little bit of research the night before and had made a list of 3 gins that I wanted to try. So to kick things off, a King of Soho served with a garnish of lime, a lovely crisp citrus gin complemented by the tonic and garnish, definitely for fans of Bombay Sapphire who are looking for that little bit extra. G&T in hand I wandered over to the Langleys No.8 stand, and before I knew it I had a mini shot of gin thrust into my spare hand, so much for I will just stick to 3 gins today. This was swiftly followed by another mini shot, this time served with tonic and a garnish of orange peel and basil. Aromas of juniper, with citrus that turned to subtle lavender notes, one word, delicious! I was then ‘treated’ to a gin based Bloody Mary, made with yellow tomato juice, not my cup of tea at all, but I could see how it would appeal to some.
It was now time for the first seminar (It wasn’t all about drinking I promise) held by a lovely lady representing Ish, and show casing their Ish London Dry and Ish Limeo. The standard Ish with predominate juniper notes, gave way to some citrus and had quite a spicy finish, and the Ish Limeo inspired by Brazil, was a nice twist on a London Dry style, with added lime and ginger. A quick segment on correct glassware and garnishing concluded with, experiment don’t just stick to the recommended garnish, crushed red pepper corns and pink grapefruit is one way forward. However the trump card was the introduction of 1724 tonic water. It’s name comes from the altitude at which the quinine (that’s what gives tonic water it’s taste) is harvested at in the Andres. This was extraordinarily sublime, and could easily be drunk on its own, and did not overpower the gin, well the Ish range at least, move over Fentimans (my usual tonic of choice) we have a new champion!? Unfortunately it’s only available online, and quite pricey for a single 20cl bottle around the £6 mark. One seminar finished another began, this time by Fevertree, which essentially was a very interesting history lesson on tonic water, it’s medicinal properties, and the company.
Back to the bar . . . this time for a Rock Rose, the most northerly distilled UK mainland gin, served with a sprig of rosemary. A very new gin having only been released at the beginning of August and selling out almost immediately, they had just produced their second batch. The bottle alone was worth the £34 price tag, a gorgeous opaque milky white with an art deco design overlaid. A perfumed herbaceous gin with floral notes that I thought was predominately lavender, initially I liked it. . .
Wandering over to the Fevertree stand, I had a sniff of some their ingredients including 3 different types of ginger, and sampled their Mediterranean and Elderflower tonic waters; they were just as good if not better than their normal tonic water, again making great non alcoholic stand alone drinks. Better than 1724? Price wise yes and more readily available! Next door to them was Chase distillery, where I sampled their Seville Orange Gin, weak amber in colour dominated by luscious orangey notes, which I thought would be lovely neat over ice, and their Extra Dry gin had a moorish spiciness. My compliments on their gins paid off as they invited me on a trip round their distillery. . . YES PLEASE!
Venturing back out into the sun and after sitting for a while I was disappointed to find that my Rock Rose's floral/lavender notes had combined with the rosemary, making it so over powering on the nose and palette that I could not bring myself to finish it. So the only thing to do was to use my last token. The third and final gin on my list was the premium D1 gin, which boasts the reversible floral skull made famous by Alexander McQueen on its bottle, and is infused with nettles. The theory was I like nettle tea, so logically I will like this, and boy did I. This gin had quite a body to it and the nettles gave a non citrus crispness that was just divine, and the garnish in this case was just a single mint leaf, perfection.
The final seminar I attended was by Brockmans, whose very smooth gin was infused with blueberries, and reminded me of premium flavoured whiskies, this was by far the most fruit driven gin I tried all day, without it being a flavoured gin, and became even more heavenly when mixed with ginger ale.
And so my afternoon drew to a close I drank the last of my D1, and headed to the gift shop where I brought myself a bottle of The King of Soho and a rather whimsical slogan t – shirt, and headed off back home.
Five gin tips I picked up . . .
1) The perfect G&T should be 1/3 gin to 2/3 tonic
2) Serve your gin in a goblet style glass, like wine and Belgium beers this helps concentrate the aroma's.
3) Make sure the glass is filled pretty much full of ice. This helps keep the drink cold, the ice won’t melt as quickly, and it preserves the carbonation of the tonic water.
4) Experiment with garnishes; find what works best for you.
5) If possible use a Spanish twisted gin spoon, to pour your tonic water over your gin as this will help keep the tonic carbonated.
And just in case you were wondering, no I didn’t do any of my diploma work when I got back home, whoops!