I like gin.
Perhaps I should say, I like gin… now. I didn’t always have such great taste and sophistication.
When I was younger, I remember hating its “soapiness” and twangy aftertaste. So, I put it in the same category as Turkish Delight (wanted to like but didn’t). As a result, I gave gin a wide berth and left glamorous people like Emilia Fox to quaff it in peace at fancy cocktail parties.
However, one day in my mid-20s, everything changed (for the better). On a balmy summer’s evening in the south of France (not as extravagant as it sounds*), I was offered a tall G&T, clinking with ice and garnished with lime… and it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
* I was actually caked in insect repellant and After Sun, having acquired head to toe mosquito bites and a rather fetching shade of crimson sunburn.
It seems I’m not alone in my (relatively) newfound love of “mothers’ ruin.” In 2016, the “drink industry” (who are these mysterious people?) named it “the year of gin.”
You may have noticed a gaggle of gin bars jumping on the band wagon and opening their doors left, right and centre. We’ve got several in Southsea alone (Gin & Olive, and The Marmion and its mobile Gin Emporium). Gone are the days of a Gordon’s, or possibly a Bombay Sapphire, and Schweppes being your only option. Brace yourself for shelves packed with beautifully designed gin bottles, a selection of different flavoured tonics… and often a dedicated gin menu to help you navigate your way through this botanical-laden and delicious minefield.
This renewed love of gin has brought a most welcome yearly event to my calendar… the Gin Festival.
Portsmouth Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, PO1 2AB.
The Gin Festival is exactly what it sounds like: a venue full of everything gin-related! A veritable gin lover’s paradise.
The Gin Festival began in 2013, when husband and wife team, Jym and Marie Harris, launched their first event in Leeds. Their goal was to create a space where gin aficionados could discover a new tipple, learn about the gin-making process… and have an awesome night out. Since its inception, the Gin Festival has grown massively and now tours cities throughout the UK.
Jym Harris says:
“We’re back in Pompey for the third time! This time we have even more new gins as well as different distillers and makers, and some great entertainment.”
On 4 August 2017, Portsmouth Guildhall opened its doors again to the heady, floral aroma of the Gin Festival. There were three sessions over the course of the weekend, with an estimated 3,300 customers expected through the doors, ready to fill their complimentary Gin Festival balloon glasses with their tipple of choice.
This was my second Gin Festival at the Guildhall… and I didn’t need much convincing to return. There’s a great atmosphere, with more quaffable gins than you can shake a juniper bush stick at. On top of that, there’s live music, engaging Masterclasses run by industry experts, gin cocktails, good food, and lots of freebies and not-so-free goodies to stock up on.
The Gin Festival works on a token system, so make your first port of call the token exchange. Prices are high, but roughly around what you’d expect to pay in a nice gin bar – £5 for a single measure, recommended garnish, and Fever-Tree tonic of your choice. Cocktails will set you back two tokens (£10), and food is around £5-8.
What This Girl Drank
With my tokens in hand and my trusty “Gin Explorer Book,” I set about sniffing out my first gin. Of course, I wanted something that I hadn’t tried before… something a bit interesting. With my admittedly limited knowledge of gin, I tend to pick those with intriguing names, labels and flavours that I like!
First on the list was Daffy’s Gin from Edinburgh. Described as, “a fantastically strong bodied, Scottish spirit. Fresh and woody on the nose… a hint of toffee as well as a rather gentle floral fragrance… lively juniper and citrus married to a wonderful range of red, summer fruits and light mint followed by a long, buttery finish.” It sounded good to me.
My glass of Daffy’s Gin came garnished with mint and lime and I opted for the recommended regular Fever-Tree tonic. We were off to a good start! Daffy’s was fresh, sharp, fruity and drinkable – perfect for a post-work aperitif, I reckon. And that’s about as in-depth as my tasting knowledge/vocabulary goes!
Next, I wanted something a little more adventurous. Given my love of chilli and anything spicy, the choice was obvious: Aduro’s Devil’s Tail, from Italy. The description piqued by interest: “… a vibrant, spicy warmth, with a distinctive Mediterranean touch. Use of the world’s hottest chilli creates an aromatic explosion! It opens with cardamom and fiery chilli with a hint of pepper and develops into a warm spicy finish that is totally invigorating.” Count me in!
The tasting notes for Aduro’s Devil’s Tail recommended drinking it neat (eurgh!) or with regular Fever-Tree tonic, so I went with the latter and a simple lime garnish. This was by far my favourite gin of the night. Not quite as fiery as I was hoping, but certainly with a pleasant, lingering warmth. Not your standard refreshing gin, but a really interesting one that kept my tastebuds on their toes.
Tip: You can find out more about all the available gins on the Gin Festival website.
The Gin Festival is a great night out for gin-lovers and for anybody who fancies trying/learning something new. You’ll never be able to try all of the gins on offer, but you’ll certainly find some inspiration to try something a bit different.
It’s a great addition to the food and drink scene in Portsmouth… and I’ll be back again next year, ready to find my next favourite gin.
Price: ££££. (£5 per regular drink, £10 per cocktail.)