The Gin Festival 2016


We are in the midst of a gin revolution. The number of distilleries in Britain has doubled in only 6 years and with the huge array of flavours achievable through nature’s glorious palette of botanicals, there’s room for everyone. With distilleries and gin bars popping up like straws out of fizz since the law changed in 2009 and there’s a world of gin out there for the discerning drinker. Now the Gin Festival has arrived, an opportunity to learn as we drink, stopping on its national tour in the Guildhall of our beautiful city.

Lock your doors. The gin fiends are out in force and tonight I walk amongst them.

The queue was full anticipation and it moved quickly. Once inside we had an introduction from Laura, and provided with very own copa glass, gin book, pen and order form, we were ready to be let loose. There were four areas, the main arena with live music and the gin stalls: A&B: British, C: International and D: fruit/sloes/liquors, the cocktail bar with vendor sample stalls, the masterclasses and an outside space with food and a punch bar.

The people were plentiful and so was the gin. The gin books with introduction, recommended Fever-Tree tonic and garnish for each and every one proved incredibly effective for those still learning and took the weight off the staff if they didn’t know an answer about a particular one of the good 100 gins on offer. It was however, very impressive what they did know and it was also obvious that they were enjoying themselves. The bubbling correspondence between them and the drinkers made for a boisterous atmosphere.

We started with Bluebottle, a gin that has won both a gold award in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Gin Masters 2016. Not a bad set of credentials and with such a beautiful and powerful taste including notes of floral and spice it delivers what it promises.

Next up, Dictador Columbian Ortodoxy Premium Aged Gin, a Columbian twist on our favourite tipple. The sugar cane spirit base and ageing in rum barrels gave a deliciously sweet underbelly to its more tart juniper and citrus elements.

It was shortly after this, and still with two gins left, I started to contemplate the possibility of buying more tokens, then how much I would have to spend to try every gin I wanted. I was reassured to realise that the Dictador had already been a brilliant discovery and had made my night worthwhile. This voyage of discovery is precisely the magic at the heart of the Gin Festival.

Time to check out the cocktail bar. With a lovely collection of cocktails such as the Rhubarb Rumble with proceeds going to charity, there was something for everyone and the vendor stalls were fantastic. I just love the opportunity to meet distillers and representatives to talk to them about their gin in detail. I counted Locksley, Masons, Whitley Neil, Copper House, Conker, Pinkster and Brockmans, who were a brilliant collection with lots of variety between them.

Sir Robin of Locksley Gin was a delight. Elderflower and Dandelion with pink grapefruit gives it a wonderful sweetness. In addition, elderflower tonic lights it up into a fresh spring morning of a drink. This was one of my favourites and recommendations of the evening.

Brockmans was gorgeous. The blueberry and blackberry tones came alive with ginger ale. Absolutely made for the Autumn months to warm our hearts, when creeping chills hint of the coming winter and the crackles and smoke of bonfires fill the air.

It was lovely to meet a couple of the guys from Conker. Living in Bournemouth for a while, I’d heard of them bringing out the first Dorset gin for over 100 years. They’ve done so well with a combination of earthy compounds including elderberries, samphire and gorse which they forage regularly in their local area.

It was also good to see Masons there. I’m already a fan of their tea gin (marvellous in a marmalade Martini) and was lucky enough to try their lavender gin which was stunning. Not the heavy floral taste we’d expect, but soft, gentle and sweet. It’s on my Christmas list, which was by that point, growing longer by the minute.

The food smelt incredible and on venturing outside we found two stalls and the punch bar. A nice chat we had just missed the last of a special punch, an unusual milk and citrus marvel that was based on a very old recipe. I would love to go into more detail on this, and fingers crossed that may happen down the line, so watch this space.

Back to the main arena and the music was flowing. Speakeasy style fiddle and guitar from two very talented musicians really got the mood going. I went in for a Strathearn Oaked Highland Gin, on the rocks as recommended by the rather knowledgeable barman. This world has many heavens and one of them is sipping on a whisky gin.

And another would be Tarquin’s Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin Ltd Edition. This absolutely outstanding gin has been made exclusively for the festival. With Tregothan tea Camellia sinensis, kaffir lime, ginger and bee pollen it is both a delicacy and a triumph. Floral notes, warmth and the most wonderful sweetness that lingers on the tongue. I am heartbroken at its passing and live in hope they release a public batch.

Before we knew it, it was time to go and we spilled out into the streets of Portsmouth, clinging defensively to our copa glasses and chattering excitedly about all our favourite findings. It was a big step up from last year. The Gin Festival began in 2012 when Jym and Marie Harris wanted to up the ante on the gin bars they’d visited and that idea has grown and grown. Four years down the line and business is booming. This year there are 28 locations around the UK. Next year it’s looking to be 40.

Since I first discovered the gin revolution it has blossomed into a renaissance, with Artisan distillers putting love, money and pride into creating truly beautiful gins and there’s a local scene blossoming too. With establishments such as Gin and Olive and the Marmion offering very good selections, local distilleries like the Isle Of Wight offering mighty gins such as Mermaids and HMS Victory and now the Gin Festival, maybe it’s Portsmouth’s time to shine and to take on the gin torch that it’s deserved for so many years. Who’s with me? Raise your glasses! Chin chin!

Words: Bernadette Pamplin of www.undertheginfluence.com
Photos: David Scotland 


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