So Much Gin, So Little Time!

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening then sampling fine gin at a local festival. We’d pre-booked our tickets in January (dry January may I add) as a reward, oh the irony! The festival was being held over the weekend, with two sessions been held each day. We were attending the evening session which started at 6 pm. We boarded the train from Pokesdown and met up with friends in Winchester (Gary and Laurie), who were gin enthusiasts!

The festival was hosted at the Winchester Civic Centre which was a large impressive building. We excitedly climbed the steps to the building, and on entering we purchased our gin tickets, you had the option of buying in books of 4 or 6. We opted to buy the books of 4 which cost £20, this gave you 4 gins to drink of your choice (this was in addition to all the free samples on offer). The aim of the evening (without sounding like I have an alcohol problem) was to try as many samples as possible and then the gins you liked the most, you exchange for one of your tickets. The gin was also accompanied with a tonic / bitter lemon of your choice and you had the option of adding accompaniments such as ice, lemon, raspberry, juniper berry, cucumber, chilli, basil …. the choice was very varied and endless.

On arrival we were given a complimentary ‘gin bible’ in order to research our gins, and our very own glass for the evening. Excitedly we entered into the main hall, the atmosphere was amazing – we were greeted by a throng of merry people, the room was packed with stalls and bars and on every table more bottles of gin you’d think possible. The room was festooned with lights and a live band played music on the stage, (as more gins were consumed, the more people began to dance). On the upper deck a mixologist (posh word for cocktail maker) entertained the crown with some pretty impressive cocktails.


Where to begin? We started by following the stalls anti-clockwise in the hall sampling Twisted Nose, which I really loved but sadly, the gin was not available to try on the evening, a lovely gin called Gen Eva and an array of Manchester Gins. Keen to enjoy a glass of gin we decided to deploy (you can take the girl out of the military …) to separate areas within the hall to the gin tables which were all categorised alphabetically. After deliberation I tried a Manchester Gin Raspberry, which is also affectionately known as ‘Manchester Pink Gin’ accompanied with Slimline Fever Tree Tonic. Loyal to my Northern roots and also loving all things pink, the choice was easy. The gin was absolutely delicious, I am not a fan of sweet drinks but this was quite light and delicately sweet, with just a hint of raspberries.

Moving on, we enjoyed a few more samples of British Polo Gin Botanical, which is 100% organic and vegan friendly and British Polo Sloe Gin, both of these gins were very good, however nothing made them stand out. This was only my preference as the man stood next to me loved his sample and bought a bottle. Then it was onwards to exchange another gin ticket and wander around the stalls. Having just had a fruit gin I decided to try a gin with a little more spice, after sampling a Daffy’s I decided to try a whole measure, it wasn’t a drink I would normally chose as it contained eight botanicals (juniper, Lebanese mint, coriander, angelica root, Spanish lemon and orange peels, cassia bark and orris root) – quite a mix. The recommendation was to garnish with mint, but I had mine served with ice and tonic. I think mint can sometimes overpower the flavour (unless it’s in a Mojito! of course). Whilst I enjoyed Daffy’s, I don’t think it would be the gin of my choice, but as the saying goes ‘Variety is the spice of life’.

Meanwhile, whilst I was enjoying my Daffy’s, Laurie had chosen a cheeky little number called ‘St Clements Liqueur’, it drew my attention as it was lemony in colour and cloudy, like a good lemonade, having had a little sample of this I decided to exchange my ticket and try this as my 3rd gin. It didn’t disappoint; served with just tonic and ice, the drink was really refreshing without been too sweet and citrusy (it’s fresh juniper and fragrant cardamom flavour work well to balance the citrus fruit flavours), that part came from the gin bible by the way, but I agree with the critics!  I would definitely try this gin again, drank on a summer’s evening perhaps with a fish dish or at a BBQ.

So, literally full to the brim with gin, and feeling rather merry we had a wander around the stalls and tried a few more samples, Ragnarok Gin (made in Sweden) was a very different gin made from juniper berries, fresh loganberries, caraway seeds and dill leaves. Unfortunately, this wasn’t for me however I would imagine it was one of those gins you either loved or gave a miss, it had a very distinct flavour of herbs that I didn’t quite enjoy. The last sample I tried was the Malfry Gin which had an infusion of Italian coastal lemons including some from the Amalfi coast (I’m guessing that’s where the name was derived from). I enjoyed a second sample of this, accompanied with an olive. I do enjoy the citrus gins, however as this gin was not dissimilar to the St Clements that I’d already tried I decided against exchanging my last token for a full measure.

As we strolled (or tottered by now) up and down the hall, Laurie spotted a gin called ‘Mermaids Gin’, distilled in the Isle of Wight, and after trying decided it tasted like the seaside (just as our Gin Bible described no less)! Laurie’s daughter loves mermaids, so we bought a bottle as a gift for her birthday. With only one token left each, the pressure was now on to exchange our final token for another really enjoyable gin, decisions, decisions (and as a true Libra I’m terrible at making them), so instead I wandered over to the friendly bar staff and asked for recommendations? As I asked, two chaps propping up at the bar promptly turned around and advised me to try a ‘Smeatons Gin’ and I wouldn’t be disappointed. They looked quite knowledgeable and seemed to know a bit about gin so I handed over my book and the girl stamped my last token. Carrying my gin upstairs, I joined our mini gin-club who were still pontificating over which gin to try. I offered a little sip of mine as I had already discovered before reaching the top of the stairs that ‘Smeatons Gin’ was amazing, everybody agreed that it was a lovely smooth, easy drinking gin – just what we needed after an evening full of exotic flavours.

After the others had ordered their own Smeatons we pitched ourselves half-way up the stairs and sat on a little bench, savouring our final gin. By now the band were in full swing and people danced without a care in the world, the noise of loud chatter and laughter filled the hall. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening, a gin festival (beer, cider or food) is definitely recommended and my limited knowledge of gin has improved no end!

Cheers everybody!!!

And a surprise followed a few weeks later in the form of a package ……

During the events of the evening my lovely husband had entered a gin competition (I was too busy trying out the gin to notice). Two weeks later a Gin Eva gift pack containing two miniature sized gins accompanied with a Fever-Tree Tonic arrived all the way from the Mediterranean Island of Majorca. My husband was a winner after all.

Thank you Gin Eva, you made his day!

Photographs taken by: Leigh (however a couple of these have been used from Event Brite)

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