In my youth, an elderly gentleman once informed me that I should drink less gin as it was a depressant. Idiot. Although, in his defence he was completely justified in opining that, "cider on beer d' make you feel queer." One out of two is a fair average.
In those days few of us knew any better than a bottle of London dry and your basic schweppes' tonic water (or sometimes diluted with a pint of Somerset's finest). The last ten years has seen a huge revival in the gin industry. It's artisan these days. The copper stills are steam punk beauty, the bottling is pretty and the flavours are modern and crisp. Even the hipsters are taking a break from grooming their beards, to sip on a G&T. Not since the gin craze of the 1700's has gin been so popular. Only difference is, this time around it tastes good.
Every day seems to see a previously unheard of juniper infusion advertised in my inbox. What all these new producers (and the old hands) need is an event to showcase their wares, an opportunity for hundreds of thirsty punters to try several concoctions and find their new favourite tipples.
Well there is one.
We’ve been meaning to get ourselves to Gin Festival for a long time. Various people we know have been to events all around the country, raved about them to us, and still we’ve never managed to schedule it in. And we love gin.
Then a few months ago, we found out that the very first Coventry Gin Festival was going to take place, in the fantastic Cathedral Ruins. We’ve been to a couple of other foodie events at the venue, and as it’s just a short trip to town, this time we committed (prompted by a couple of our Gin Festival veteran friends).
We arrive to a very impressive and sympathetic set-up at the Cathedral. The main event takes place in a massive white marquee, with the four main bars set up back-to-back in the middle. The roof is clear plastic, letting in plenty of early evening light and allowing for a view of the historic walls and spires surrounding the tent. Around the edges are the brand, cocktail and tuck bars, gift shop, band stage and seating. It’s cosy, but not rammed. It’s a strictly ticketed event, and we felt that capacity was spot on for a bustling vibe without feeling like you’re never going to get your turn at the bar.
Upon entry, you’re guided through a smaller tent, where you’re presented with your own Gin Festival branded Copa balloon glass, pouch, brochure, pen, and pin badge. The bars operate a token system, which keeps it simple. Each token is worth £5, which gets you a measure of gin, garnish, and a Fever-Tree mixer. Two tokens will buy you a cocktail.
To avoid free-fire ordering, which could prove costly both to the wallet and to the hangover, it is advisable to peruse the "menu" - a booklet provided in the ticket price, listing all the available gins, their flavour profiles, and suggested garnish and mixers (the full spectrum of Fever-Tree's creations is available) - completely invaluable if one wants to know what one is about to drink, or record one's musings during.
We went as a group, so all selected different gins and sampled one another's - a good way to quadruple your gin tally.
Once alcohol to blood ratios were nicely raised, we attended one of the presentations delivered by a guest gin, inside the new cathedral. Slightly concerned that being chatted at about the glory of juniper berries, by a tweed-suited octogenarian might prove a bit of a downer at 10PM on a boozy evening, we went in, prepared to fall asleep. Fortunately, Brockmans Gin had thought about this, and sent a far more youthful man in a t-shirt. A very entertaining man no-less, not to mention a free-gin bearing man. So, half an hour later, having learned a little more gin parlance, we were still merry and still able to manfully carry on sipping.
As the festival shuts up shop at 11PM, all remaining coupons were gathered up and invested into the cocktail bar. To be completely honest, the cocktail bar is probably a bit unnecessary. The event would not be short of refreshments without it. The drinks are passable, but does an exhibition of over one hundred exciting liquors really require a purveyor of average cocktails?
It was at this point that we realised we were too late to sample the on-site eateries (tragic, as there were tantalising wafts of braised beefy odours on the breeze).
Over post festival drinks in town, we concluded that in future (and there will be a future. Far too good a concept and far too many potions left untasted) we would be sure to attend another talk, try more gins and in essence do what we did, but better. The only problem with the Gin festival is us. We just can't physically drink enough.
N.B. We had already bought our tickets to Gin Festival when the organisers got in touch, but they did give us some drinks tokens to get us started. All opinions are our own.