Last weekend my friend Zosia and I went to the Gin Festival in Cambridge. I was lucky enough to be given a press pass (which was very exciting in itself), which meant free entry (usually £7.50) and a cool lanyard that made me feel very important! Sponsored by Fever Tree, the festival started in Leeds back in 2012, and now runs annually with events all over the UK.
On arrival, we were presented with our own glasses, a badge, a pen and a gin book, which was to be our bible throughout the day! It contained notes on every gin at the festival (including their recommended garnish and tonic), and divided them into four categories (two for UK gins, one for world gins and one for flavoured gins), which were reflected by four separate bars within the venue. The bars don’t take cash, but work on a token system: you pay £5 per token when you arrive, and one token will get you any kind of gin along with the appropriate garnish. There were free bottles of all the Fever Tree mixers on offer, so you could first try your gin neat before topping it up with your choice of fizz.
Within the hall was also an off-license (where you could purchase gin and related products to take home), a food stall and eight stands belonging to various gin brands. Several brands were also showcasing different products, so it all added up to quite a lot of alcohol! Everyone was happy to chat about their gin, and offered numerous samples with and without tonic. One lovely lady from Adnams also taught us how to taste gin properly: pour a small amount into a glass, and begin by smelling it. Take a small sip and allow your palate to get used to the taste, then down the rest in one!
We tried 17 gins between us, which I think was pretty good going! I find picking a favourite far too hard, but the discovery I was most excited by was Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin: Tea Edition. I absolutely loved it, and it certainly fulfilled its brief – it was gin that tasted like tea! A glorious cross between comfort and sophistication, and definitely one to add to my drinks cabinet. Zosia also tried their lavender gin, which she said was ‘as far from little old ladies’ underwear drawers as it’s possible to get’, and described as ‘clean and crisp, with a hint of English country garden’. Another great one was Williams Seville Orange Gin: I’ve been gazing up at bottles of it for years, but couldn’t justify buying one without trying it first! On my first sip I was initially unsure, and worried my longing had been in vain, but I soon changed my mind. As the ice chilled it down, it transformed into something amazing. The orange flavour is subtle, rather than a zesty punch, but that’s no bad thing – it’s beautifully summery and refreshing. As I drank it I could imagine myself lying on the grass somewhere, gin in hand, potentially also wearing a large straw hat. Zosia’s favourite was Silent Pool gin, which I believe she initially went for because of the beautiful bottle, but was pulled back for a second glass by the flavour! It was light and refreshing, with lavender and citrus flavours, and Zosia boldly declared it to be her ‘favourite gin ever’!
VL92 was another stand-out gin for me – it was almost whiskey-like, and had a good kick to it! Old English Gin, too, was a beautiful classic gin: it had a slight liquorice taste, and was almost dangerously easy to drink. Another great one was Dodd’s gin, which Zosia was particularly keen on. It was strong and warming, with a distinct flavour of the London honey it’s made with, as well as undertones of bay and cardamom.
As well as drinking as much gin as we could get our hands on, we also attended masterclasses run by Fever Tree and Brockmans (which was also a lovely gin, and unusually sweet and fruity with strong blueberry flavours!). They discussed the history of tonic and gin respectively, as well as talking about their own brands. The lovely guy from Brockmans also gave us his top tips on making the perfect gin and tonic! So here they are:
The perfect gin & tonic
1. Use the right glass. Apparently the best type to use is called copa de balon (see photo below), as the stem helps to keep the gin cool while the balloon shape allows you to properly appreciate the botanicals and layers of flavour.
2. Use large ice cubes. Smaller ones will melt much faster, and will thus water down your drink!
3. Chill your tonic. This is more important than chilling your gin, as it also helps to retain the tonic’s effervescence. So if you only have fridge space for one, choose the tonic.
4. Pour your tonic carefully. You should pour it slowly over the back of a spoon, to help keep the fizz and flavours.
5. Consider your garnish. Many gins have a recommended garnish, and this is deliberately matched with the flavours and designed to highlight them.
Interested in heading along to the Gin Festival yourself? You can find details of events here, or follow them on Twitter for news. In the meantime, why not try out my gin-based Hibiscus 75 cocktail, or try making your own infused gin?