Yesterday was World Gin Day and the appropriately chosen opening day for the Gin Foundry’s Junipalooza event at Tobacco Dock in Wapping, London. This was my first visit to a celebration of all things gin that is now in its third year. On my arm, Miss Rose, with whom I share a home, children and, most importantly, gin.
I have been going to trade exhibitions of one sort or another since my father used to have a stand at the annual ‘Statindex’ show for the stationery trade back in the 1980’s. Junipalooza is not a trade show as such, as it is open to the ticket-buying public – but the feel of the thing is very similar and it is a show that invites you to ‘meet the maker’ with forty makers displaying almost 100 different gins for you to try. The problem with having so many gins to try is that you really need a ticket for both days in order to manage to sample even half – or resign yourself to getting very sozzled indeed.
But we had a plan – to avoid what we knew already, and to make sure we took a break to listen to some of the talks and masterclasses. The plan didn’t last five minutes, we entered Tobacco Dock and headed away from where all the crowds were gathering and into one of the rooms well-away from the entrance, where we found Makar Gin doing a Gin & Tonic garnished with Jalapeño and we couldn’t resist.
Conker Gin was a brand that I had at the top of my ‘must see’ list and came away with the word ‘Buy’ next to my notes, and certainly will be doing so. It was excellent just as a sipping gin alone, incredibly smooth. Smooth sipping gins became somewhat of a theme of the day; I am a gin and tonic man, but after tasting the likes of Conker, Shortcross, Herno Old Tom, Hope on Hopkins Salt River and Rock Rose, I am convinced that some straight gins are mighty fine indeed.
One of the most amazing products of the day came courtesy of Nginious – an oddly named but very well presented set of four gins from Switzerland of which we tried two – The Smoked & Salted gin, which is sublime and totally different to any gin I had ever tasted before; then there was the gin that they age in a vermouth cask – so you’re practically drinking a martini. Neither product is easy on the wallet, at £50 and £75 a bottle respectively – but truly fantastic.
Another real highlight was the Hope on Hopkins stand where we spoke to Fraser for quite some time, talking about their South African distilled gins, and again we tried two – the Salt River, with its almost tequila like taste, and the Mediterranean – a wonderfully fresh gin that made for a superb gin and tonic – perhaps my favourite of the day.
At the other end of the scale we also tried an excellent fruity gin with the Blackwater Strawberry Navy Strength that had been specifically made for the festival. This was so far removed from the Salt River Hope or Smoked & Salted Nginious gins and just goes to show that anyone who says they don’t like gin may as well be saying they don’t like fruit just because they don’t like apples. Try a peach, try an banana, try a strawberry infused gin!
Moving around the spectrum towards the floral gins, we both really enjoyed the Pothecary Gin with its Lavender notes – something that to my ears sounded horrible, but tasted lovely, especially with the Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water. The Pothecary people were lovely too, and happy to let you have a nose in their botanicals – I particularly liked the black mulberries, that reminded me of a less harsh liquorice and something I could then really appreciate in the gin.
I wasn’t keen on everything I tried – I was curious about Skin Gin, but when I tried the Skin Gin Blanc, it turned out to most certainly not be for me, and the Pinkster was similarly not to my tastes. We also wanted to see Elephant Gin, but found them to be on far more of a sales pitch than anyone else, and this was somewhat off-putting. The colour-changing Sharish gin was drawing the crowds, but the Portuguese distiller’s standard gin was a far better product, especially once you added a little tonic and a slice of apple – delicious. The Rock Rose stand was our final destination and mixed with both Elderflower and Mediterranean Fever-Trees, one of which worked for me, and other of which worked for my now-quite-tipsy Miss Rose. We decided to end on that high note, and headed for the Gin Foundry stand to make purchases.
I have certainly not mentioned all of the stands we visited, some of which, like Bertha’s Revenge – the Cork based Milk Gin – was so smooth it was one of those we purchased on exit. And you’ll also note that I have not mentioned any of the wonderful master-classes we enjoyed – and that is because we didn’t. Unfortunately there was not enough room in the odd place these talks were given – and if you could get close enough, the acoustics were such that it was hard to understand. I’m guessing if you were in the front rows then you’d have been fine, but it was not quite clear enough what time things were happening. Maps and timetables would have been cheap to produce and very welcome. The little cards that were produced with notes for each gin were great, we took two of each so we could play gin snap when we got home.
Generally speaking the event was well run and very enjoyable – more seats would have been nice, more bins would have been handy – some garnishes were easy to swallow with the end of the gin, but who wants to down a sprig of mint, thyme or orange rind? Also, there was a cocktail bar apparently – Miss Rose noticed it, I did not – which could possibly be me being blinkered, but I would have liked to have a longer drink at some point, so it was a shame I hadn’t picked up on that – again a carry-around map would have helped with that.
Would I go again or recommend it? Without doubt, yes I would, and hopefully by next year they’ll have had similar feedback and it will be a little better organised, very simple things would have made the whole day so much better. But, it was well priced, a great opportunity to meet some wonderful distillers and learn more about the drink I love.
I could recommend at least half a dozen wonderful gins that I had not tried before going to Junipalooza, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. Hope on Hopkins, Nginious, Conker and Pothecary would be top of my list, with Bertha’s Revenge and Blackwater not far behind. I just wish I’d also had the time, and drinking ability, to also visit old favourites like Adnams, Caorunn and Silent Pool as well; next year I might just buy tickets for both days.