This weekend we were lucky enough to attend our first Gin Festival which has been touring the UK since its first edition in Leeds in December 2013. The most recent events have been selling out in what seems like minutes! Fortunately, the good people at the Gin Festival, Jym and Marie, granted us a pass for which we thank them. Standard tickets in London were £10 but the ticket price varies from city to city.
As this was our first Gin Festival, we weren’t sure what to expect going in so here’s a quick summary of the setup:
- each attendee receives a great big Gin Festival G&T glass with a booklet listing all of the gins and a pencil and Gin Festival paper to keep track of what you drank
- attendees buy a card for £20 which is good for 4 G&Ts or 2 cocktails
- each of the two side walls was separated into 4 sections to help attendees navigate the 100+ gins
- event staff serve 25mL of the gin attendees order on ice in their glasses with the recommended garnish
- Fever tree bottles are there for attendees to free pour
We heard two primary views from Festival attendees, views we generally share.
On the one hand, we were impressed by the organisation of over 100 gins, the masterclasses and the musical interludes. Attendees we spoke with liked the social aspect of the organization which allowed strangers to mingle over G&Ts at standing tables and while queuing to buy their next gin. The event staff serving were quick and at the door they were very helpful in explaining how the event worked. A table in the middle of the room hosted a few gin brands: Opihr, Whitley Neill, Gin Mare and Colonel Fox were represented as well as Fever Tree tonics. Their ambassadors explained the ins and outs of each which was great for gin enthusiasts looking to learn.
On the other hand, we were a bit surprised at the relative lack of opportunity to speak with distillers or brand ambassadors and to taste their gins with their guidance, something that a number of attendees mentioned to us as well. The opportunity to really taste new gins was limited as each of the £5 gin pours was done over ice with garnish added, not giving the taster a chance to taste the spirit pure.
The format we had in mind is not at all what Jym and Marie have given to the gin-loving UK public. That’s not to say what they have organised is not loads of fun - quite the contrary. Our confusion comes down mostly to a lack of clear description of what the events entail on the Gin Festival website.
In summary, at the risk of sounding old fashioned or perhaps just too into the educational aspect behind each gin, we found the Gin Festival in London not to be a true tasting occasion, but certainly a great social occasion, good fun in a group and a great way to meet people that enjoy drinking G&Ts.