‘For Fox sake’! I exclaimed with a sudden sense of panic and urgency…
I looked over at my wife with a poorly disguised sense of childish anticipation, eagerly longing for a reaction…
Nothing. Not a flinch.
Perhaps this had something to do with the fact it was only around 2.30pm, and I was already on my 7th fox based pun of the afternoon…Hmmm, ‘perhaps she’s not heard me’ I naively reassured myself. I open my mouth to reiterate my ‘boy who cried fox’ exclamation, only to be cut off at source. ‘Fox off!’ she retorted.
But what’s with all of the night dwelling mammal based banter anyway? My friends, I’m glad you asked! You see, I’ve been invited to attend a soirée with a difference, back in my old stomping ground of the Midlands. The ‘Gin Jamboree’ was coming to Sutton Coldfield and I couldn’t have been more excited! And with the promise of over 100 gins on offer to sample, who was I to refuse?!
Having been established in 2013, Gin Jamboree is beginning to develop a reputation befitting of its ‘Jamboree’ name; ‘a loud, often boisterous, gathering of likeminded people all looking to enjoy their common interest’. The festivals more humble days of low double digit figures of attendees turning up to gin tasting events seem to be a distant memory, instead replaced by all year round sell out events nationwide for hundreds of gin enthusiasts at a time!
Upon our arrival, where Gin Jamboree were making their Sutton Town Hall debut, we excitedly made our way to the atrium. Now they say that a good tradesman never blames his tools…but he does need them! So to ensure I was properly kitted up, our first port of call was the glass collection point. Your entrance fee will get you your Gin Jamboree ‘A-Z’ of the available gin line up, a food token (to which we’ll come on to later) as well as a natty Copa glass that’s yours to keep. And bonus points go to the team for making it an unbranded glass (meaning you can easily pass these off as your own pricey purchases when showing off your G&T making skills to guests at home!).
Glass in hand, menu under arm & drinks tokens primed, we made our entrance…
This instantly felt like a very different gin festival from those I’ve attended previously. The first thing that struck me was the presentation of the gins; 100+ gins lined up across a table set up almost as long as the room itself. My initial fear was ‘this is going to be chaos’ – I had images of a 5 deep Wetherspoon’s bar queue on a Saturday night…but nothing could have been further from the truth! The service was friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. Take your place at the bar and within a few minutes your chosen gin will be presented to you in its perfect serve. A great start I thought!
But it’s when you see 100+ gins laid out in front of you that the decision process can start to feel a little daunting. I mean, where do you start?! Well fret not, as Gin Jamboree have got you covered! Flick through your menu booklet and you’ll find simple yet informative overviews of each gin, alongside its suggested perfect serve. And the really nice touch, that demonstrates both an understanding of gin and the differing flavour profiles, is that there are multiple tonics on offer. This is partly down to wanting the opportunity to educate attendees on the different brands available & how different varieties of tonic can complement different gins. But it’s also a recognition that different people will have different personal preferences, rather than forcing a ‘one mixer fits all’ approach!
The next big point of difference is the layout of the guests. Large round tables are placed throughout the two adjoining rooms, where gin lovers are encouraged to grab a seat and get talking to complete strangers for the evening. A novel & risky approach I initially thought…but then I got it. Let’s take a second to pretend that it’s the 1990’s again and ‘Face Time’ actually meant paying other people some real attention, rather than having your face buried in Facebook ‘memes’ all night. Sounds good right?! I assure you – it is! We met a couple of hilarious guys, and within minutes we were exchanging stories, sharing gin recommendations and trying to remember why nights out aren’t always like this. And as I looked around the venue I was heartened to see that the feeling was embraced by everyone else in attendance – the atmosphere was infectious.
And after a few hours of sampling the impressive array of gins on offer it’s only natural that ‘hunger strikes’. Not a problem! If the regularly topped up bar snacks on the tables aren’t enough to tide you over, grab your aforementioned food token and make your way to the Jambalaya queue, where you’ll find a number of options at your disposal. The fact that my only criticism is that the portions were relatively small is also testament to its quality!
Andrew Wilson, Gin Jamborees creator and talisman, is both engaging and enthusiastic. A ‘quick word’ can easily extend in to hours of entertaining conversation! Having acquired over 35 years experience in the food & drink industry, his knowledge and passion for gin and the importance of creating an environment to share, learn and enjoy new experiences are evident in abundance. Gin Jamboree is also a real family affair, which only adds to the feel good factor of the team behind the event. Indeed, whilst Andrew mills around the venue, ensuring all is running smoothly, his wife and son (Jack) tend to the drinks token sales, whilst other son, Josh, dives behind the bar to keep the gin flowing!
When I put to him the various points of difference I’d noted through the night, it becomes clear that this is a well thought through and conscious effort. Wilson describes having had an ambition to create a festival that was ‘fiercely unique’, a feat which he’s achieved and continues to develop! You need only to look at the upcoming ‘Rave in a Cave’ (sold out!) event on 21st July, which will be held in the chamber of Peak Cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire, to see that the teams ambitions to stand out from the crowd show no signs of slowing down! And with great venues like Blackpool Winter Gardens on the horizon for later in the year, the events popularity and stature continue to grow at a rapid rate.
Andrew then asked me the killer question. My favourite gins of the evening?. So here are the real standouts to look out for at your next Gin Jamboree event:
Boodles Mulberry Gin
Inspired by the more traditional Sloe Gin style, though paying homage to the mulberry, this is the first Mulberry Gin to come out of America. And here’s hoping they’ve got some more where this came from, because it’s brilliant!
Almost liquor like, this is a heavy weight in the field of mulberries and black currents, where you’ll also pick up generous lashings of raspberry. With the additions of sage, rosemary and nutmeg in the mix, there’s just enough spice and warmth to create a well rounded and balanced background to compliment the sweetness on the pallet.
Best served simply over ice, with a wedge of orange, this is a Christmas sipper to rival Sloe Gins in this years stocking filler market!
Designed to represent the creativity and uniqueness of its London suburb namesake, Hoxton gin takes the tropical tastes of coconut and pink grapefruit to produce a gin that’s different to anything else on the market. Macerating juniper, iris, tarragon and ginger (amongst other botanicals) for 5 days before distilling in a 150 year old copper pot still, its then mixed with a premium grain spirit and natural coconut and grapefruit are added.
The result? The coconut flavours are bold and prominent on first taste and pleasantly linger. I almost got the sense of a coconut rum (Hoxton actually promote a delicious sounding ‘Ginacolada’ cocktail, with a juniper twist on the traditional rum classic!). However, the inclusion of the more classic botanical safety net ensure that you don’t lose the perspective that this is still a serious gin. Unique in taste, bold in flavour and cool in presentation, Hoxton was a real standout of the Jamboree for me. A simple light tonic, with a wedge of lemon will go down a treat.
Old School Rhubarb
Created by ‘Old School Wines’, and produced using local Sugnall Rhubarb from their very own walled Garden, this is the first official creation from Andrew Wilson and the Gin Jamboree team (though I’m assured it won’t be their last!).
Whilst punchy tones of sweet rhubarb are very evident on the nose, you don’t get an over powering ‘fake’ rhubarb taste on the pallet that can be present in some flavoured gins. It is supported by juniper and citrus undertones which help keep this rooted as a London Dry, whilst also lending itself to go up against other flavoured gins ahead of the summer sipping season!
Though the perfect serve is suggested as 1724 tonic with a slice of ginger, I think this would also be well complemented by a Fever-tree ginger beer.
As I shook hands with Andrew, thanked him for his hospitality and turned to leave, I remembered I still had one more question…’what the fox?!’ (I didn’t phrase it like that, but in retrospect wish I had). I am informed that the fox branding, lovingly characterised as ‘Sebastian’ the fox, has been designed to represent the cool and sophisticated feel that the team want their gin festival to portray. It’s a fun and memorable bit of branding, which (if nothing else) helps Gin Jamboree stand out as being a little bit different. And I wouldn’t want or expect anything else!
If you didn’t catch my ‘on camera’ vlog on my Gin Jamboree experience you can check it out here!:
Struggling for something to get for yourself & your gin loving pals this ‘World Gin Day’ (10th June)?! Get yourself along to a Gin Jamboree near you ASAP! You’ll be glad you did! All of the details of upcoming events can be found on the official website, http://www.ginjamboree.co.uk, or you can follow the Gin Jamboree team across social media.
Don’t forget that you can also follow me across social media – come and say hi! You can find more blogs and reviews, and we can talk about all things gin!: