There are so many gins out there – anything from variations of classic London Dry, through to fruity and floral gins, Navy Strength, aged gins, gins with unusual botanicals, gin liqueurs and many herbal options. Add to this all the new and old tonic waters with their myriad of flavours, and the world of gin can suddenly seem quite a daunting (yet exciting) place! But that is why we have gin festivals. You can have a leisurely stroll around some amazing locations and sample a wide range of gins, whilst you learn more about the latest brands (or reacquaint yourself with some old favourites).
Whether you are new to gin or a good old gin veteran, there are always a few things to keep in mind before you head over to your next gin event. I asked my fellow blogger Katie Hughes (from the marvellous blog ‘What’s Katie Doing?‘) to share some of her greatest gin tips, being a veteran of many gin festivals and a huge gin lover herself!
Your guide to gin festivals:
1. Do your research
It is useful to read about the brands before the event as the experience can get overwhelming. Not only will there be many other people wanting to taste everything, but also some events have hundreds of gin (and tonic) brands available for you to explore! There is no way you can manage, nor should you even try, to test all of them. Therefore, it will be helpful to read about the event beforehand and decide if there are specific brands you most definitely want to try.
By doing your research you can take notes on the new and unusual gins you would like to try or see if there are any other rare gins you wish to sample. This way you can maximise your experience.
Katie always checks which brands are attending and tries to find out how they are represented – is it the distiller, the brand ambassadors or just bar staff? She prefers to discuss the brands with the people who are most familiar with them. She wants to learn more in-depth about the brand, for example their backstories and their unique selling points, not just the botanical flavour profile.
She also says it’s important to always check what is actually included in your ticket and whether there are any extra add-ons.
2. Remember the point of it all!
Unfortunately, many come to these events with a plan to drink their money’s worth, but that is not the point at all. These events are actually a great way to learn more about gin, how to drink it, the history, and about the great backstories of each brand. The distillers and brand ambassadors have travelled to meet you, to tell you about their amazing products, so take advantage of this.
There are seminars from industry experts and gin masterclasses, which will give you a break from drinking, but also allow you to learn more in a fun way. You can educate yourself about the wonderful world of botanicals, how to pair gin with food, and what difference various garnishes make. These are only examples, and each fair should have its own ways to keep you entertained!
Don’t be shy, ask questions!
3. Water is your BF
Bring a bottle of water with you or make sure you visit the watering stations regularly. It is good to keep in mind you are sipping neat spirits, which can be as strong as 57% ABV (Navy Strength). Take a break and hydrate. Katie says she always takes her own bottle of water as although some festivals have provided bottled water for free, there have been others with no water available, and even soft drinks have been tricky to find. And she pointed out water will keep the hangover away! True that – you might want to recap about this from my previous article here.
Most gin fairs have food stalls for a reason. Have a break and eat to avoid getting light-headed. It is also a great time to sample delicious local treats. If you are not sure whether food is being sold at the event it is a good idea to eat before you arrive at the festival. Food will suck up the alcohol and keep your energy levels going for longer.
5. Enjoy the entertainment
Paying for the ticket doesn’t mean you should drink as much gin as possible. It means you have access to meet the makers and sample, and to enjoy the entertainment. There is often live music, which will give you a nice break from all the tasting. Many gin events have a cocktail bar so you could buy yourself a cocktail, get some food and take a seat, and enjoy the music.
Katie enjoys the seminars and demonstrations most. “I particularly enjoy the cocktail demos when you can try the results, or tutored tastings and talks can be really interesting to learn more about the history or current gin trends,” she says.
6. Take care of your glass
Often you are handed your very own tasting glass, which you can sometimes take home. Unlike at whisky festivals, the gin tasting glass is not usually as pretty, but there is often an option to buy a nicer glass on the day. It is a good idea to rinse your glass occasionally for a better tasting experience. Some gins are more delicate than others and this way you will avoid mixing up the flavours of different gins.
Overall, when you put together all these pointers, the main message is… pace yourself. Drink water, eat, listen and learn through seminars and talks, take part in masterclasses and take the time to talk to your fellow gin lovers. You don’t want to be the person who gets asked to leave, after all…
Below are some upcoming gin events Katie and I would recommend.
Which one would you fancy going to? What do you most like about gin festivals and which ones would you recommend?
Junipalooza, London 10–11th June 17
(Junipalooza is Katies favourite gin event as there you get to meet the distillers.)
Juniper Festival, Glasgow 9–10th June 17 (also in Edinburgh 2–4th June)
Telegraph Gin Experience, London 1–2nd August 17
(This was one of my favourites last summer; the venue is beautiful, and as it is a smaller-scale event, you get more time with the brands.)
Gin Festival, London 25–27th August 17
Gin Festival, Edinburgh 6–8th October 17
(Gin Festival also has events in Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Portsmouth etc. etc.)
Gin Festivals UK, Brighton 15th July 17 (note this is a different organiser from the above)
Gin Festivals UK, St Ives 17th June 17
Gin Festivals UK, Bath 2nd September 17
(Gin Festivals UK also has events in other locations, see their website for more.)