Many people would raise their eyebrows at the notion of drinking gin before midday, and many more would raise objections to drinking neat gin at 11am. But not the ginthusiasts who descended upon Wapping early this morning and formed a long snaking queue to gain entry to Junipalooza at Tobacco Docks. And if they needed an excuse they were conveniently given one in the guise of World Gin Day.
Junipalooza is now in its third year and promotes itself as a meet the maker event making it distinctive from other drinks festivals. This year sees more international distilleries joining the throng from as far afield as Australia, the States and South Africa as well as closer to home. In addition to free flowing samples of a wealth of gins, there is a wide variety of premium tonics to taste, “masterclass” talks, a cocktail bar and a couple of food vendors.
Junipalooza is clearly flying high on the tales of the gin revolution. Following a chequered history during the times of Hogarth’s Gin Lane, and earning itself a reputation as mothers’ ruin, gin began a resurgence in the hands of Sipsmith who, after much wrangling with HMRC, opened the first distillery in London for nearly 200 years back in 2009. What is special about Sipsmith is that it is hand crafted in small batches producing a smooth yet characterful product. It was, and still is, hugely successful and so began a gin renaissance! Sometimes it feels as if a new distillery opens every week; in my small pocket of East London alone I can count five gin distilleries with a 1.5 mile radius (one of which, East London Liqour Co. is at Junipalooza).
What makes Junipalooza 2016 particularly exciting for a gin connoisseur is that a number of distilleries are making their UK debut at the festival. These include the lavender heavy Pothecary Gin from Dorset as well as Helsinki, Long Table, Sharish and Hope on Hopkins from further afield. Others, such as Tarquin’s, Poetic License, Shortcross and Santamania are promoting exclusive Junipalooza bottlings and/or new portfolio additions. Blackwater are presenting their new Navy Strength strawberry infused gin but with only 50 bottles available (and only 5 of their standard strawberry gin left in the country) it may not last the weekend! Other bottles were also clearly not for opening such as Martin Miller’s barrel-aged 9 Moons and Isle of Wight Distillery’s HMS Victory Oak Aged Navy Strength Gin which retails at a whopping £295!
With over 40 distilleries present, and many of those having 3 or 4 different gins in their portfolio, there is no shortage of gins available though from London Dry gins to Old Toms, fruity gins to herbal gins, pink gins to colour changing gins and even a milk gin from Bertha’s Revenge! Obviously trying them all is all but impossible so one has to exercise some self-control and restraint. I set myself a rule that I would only taste gins I hadn’t tried before, and immediately broke the rule on arrival as I couldn’t resist Warner Edwards’ tempting display and delightful gin! I may also have succumbed to one of my all time favourites in the shape of Makar gin and chili.
In the 4 hours the event lasted I succeeded in tasting approximately 14 gins (and consuming a delicious and much needed lunch from Hot Chick) most of which were new to me. Some, such as F.E.W and Pinkster, weren’t really for me. I won’t join the British rabble criticising American F.E.W for declaring Earl Grey a morning tea but I did find their Breakfast Gin too dry for my tastes and I didn’t get the hit of bergamot either. I’d been looking forward to trying Pinkster too, in spite of their overwhelmingly girly branding, but despite being a fan of fruity gins I found this one lacking; perhaps it would have gone down better with their recommended spank of mint!
Others suffered a bit by presentation having inexperienced people representing the gins rather than the founders and distillers, and I couldn’t help suspecting that one of the chaps from Cask Liquid Marketing had been indulging in a few too many samples too! Other gins were a delight to taste and discuss such as Blackwater and Santamania. Trying Double Dutch’s range of tonics, and meeting the twins behind the brand, was a real pleasure too.
I also attended a “masterclass” which, naturally, included more free samples! It was a fairly informative and interesting talk, and I’ll certainly be playing with double garnishes back at home, but it suffered for being shoved into one small corner of a large noisy room. The Tobacco Docks on the whole made a suitable and interesting venue for the festival – within the low and relatively dark vaulted spaces one easily forgot the early hour it was and without there was space for food, the gin kiosk shop and a smokers’ area – but the masterclasses would have benefitted from having their own room separate from the tasting area.
The organisers would also do well to provide more maps and ensure distilleries have clearer signage above head height to make it easier to seek out specific brands. In addition to this free water fountains would be wise, as would more seating and spittoons or similar to dispose of any unwanted samples (one woman who I am absolutely not related to was even seen lubricating the plant life with a gin or two that didn’t suit her palate!). It would also have been really nice to see a few more distilleries moving away from the Fever-Tree bias (excellent as it is) and offering their gins with some of the other premium tonics on offer – Warner Edwards’ rhubarb gin with Double Dutch’s Pomegranate and Basil tonic was a revelation – but perhaps by the time the festival closes on Sunday evening that will be the case.
Despite some room for improvement I’m confident to say that if you love gin you’ll love Junipalooza; with an unending supply of gin what’s not to love? Happy World Gin Day!
Thanks to Junipalooza for selecting me as a Twitter competition winner of two tickets.