Festivals. A quintessential part of the British Summer. And as I sit gazing out of the window to pen this little ditty, I’m greeted by a sign that leaves me in absolutely no doubt that we’ve reached that glorious time of the year…
Yep, you’ve guessed it. It’s bloody raining. Again. Relentlessly! And it’s at times like this that I’m glad I’ve entered the phase of my life that see’s me grow in grumpiness with each passing year, accepting that breakfasts of Doritos and fizzy pop, freezing by the campfire and sleeping in a damp tent really aren’t for me anymore. My festival going days are over.
Or so I would have had people believe…
Because, you see, I’ve got a new Summer hangout that truly signifies the solstice but with a few points of difference…
You give me rain. I’ll give you warm & dry.
You give me a tent. I’ll give you a stunning Grade 1 listed building, surrounded by historic ships (seriously though – London’s Tobacco Dock is absolutely stunning. What a venue!).
You give me a drunk girl called ‘Felicity’ pushing a crate of cider through the mud in a wheelbarrow. I’ll give you a ‘who’s who’ of gin makers, distillers and brand owners flown in to exhibit some of the best gins from around the world all under one roof! In fact, the closet thing you’ll probably find is Gin Foundry’s Olivier Ward running around with bags of ice to top up exhibitors supplies. But he’ll get grumpy if you call him Felicity…
Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink! True enough, but when the gins this good – who’s looking for rain water?! May I give to you Junipalooza 2019, promising to be back as ‘better, not bigger’.
Fair warning – this blog is a bit on the lengthy side (I considered having it leather bound and delivered to each reader personally, but the costs were prohibitive as I’m sure you can imagine). Whilst I make no apologies for this, as it only goes to demonstrate the quality of the event, I have broken the day and brand visits in to bite size chunks. Hopefully it helps you to pick and choose the bits that interest you or allows you stick a virtual book mark in your reading as you come up for air and sustenance…
So if your wrist bands are attached and your glass is in hand, let’s get started shall we?
The main stage
We (my wife and partner in crime) strutted in to Tobacco Dock – oh yeah, you better believe that this Blogger can strut! – to be greeted by the beaming face of Warner’s Gin Tom Warner, who I’d first met in 2017 at the launch of the teams Honeybee Gin (https://theginshelf.uk/2017/09/27/warner-edwards-honeybee-gin/). There was a childlike glee and enthusiasm spread across his face that I think epitomises Junipalooza, and left me in little doubt that 2019 was set to be the best year yet… after a hearty handshake and an excited exchange over Warner’s impending experience event (more on that later) we strutted some more. We were on a mission to the ‘Newcomers Zone’ and could not be stopped!…well, except to look at almost every distraction that caught my attention along the way that is…
We started our day by meeting the lovely team over at Mackintosh Gin. Though it genuinely did feel like this was more of a ‘catch up with gin pals’, having reviewed the gin at the backend of 2018. You know you’re in good company when you’re greeted by ‘here he is!’ and a warm handshake by founder Jim.
A family run operation (headed up by Jim, wife Deb and their daughters) Mackintosh is distilled and bottled in Angus, Scotland. And whilst it may still be one of the gin scenes ‘new kids on the block’, that red & white Celtic style branding is becoming evermore recognisable and sought after. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
I’ll save the detail for the fuller write up, which you can find a link to below. But suffice to say that i’ve not had a gin quite like Mackintosh before. I continue to be hugely impressed by the clarity of the flavours and profile, each one being so distinguishable without being masked by harsh booze. And as a citrus forward, juniper caressing, glass of loveliness…this is right up my street. Well worth seeking out if you’ve not yet had the pleasure.
Next up on our ‘newbie parade’ was Singapores Brass Lion, headed up by Jamie Koh, and so named after the brass lions that look over and protect the city of its conception.
We had the absolute pleasure of excitedly sampling the two expressions on offer. The ‘Butterfly Pea Gin’ had my attention straight away. A heady, dark purple colour emanated from the bottle, only to turn a bright and vibrant pink upon the addition of tonic. Through the blending of lavender and butterfly pea flowers (responsible for that purple/blue hue), with their dry gin used as the base, there’s a beautiful floral and violet feel to the taste.
But for me, it was the Singapore Dry Gin that was their standout winner. This is a classic London Dry meets Asia, which sees juniper and coriander expertly combined with torch ginger flower and lemongrass. This played on my classic gin loving sensibilities, whilst offering ‘something a little different’ to add an air of intrigue. And with artwork this pretty on the bottles, I could have sat and drank/stared at it all day long!
It’s safe to say that the reputation of the legendary Stu McGregor, one of the founders and directors of Australias Four Pillars Gin, precedes him. Supported by his UK compatriot, Joe Worthington, I approached with a gleeful ‘fanboy’ giddiness. There’s a childlike energy and fiery passion for his craft that results in a whirlwind of activity around the stand – with Stu stood in the middle, dishing out samples at an impressive rate. This is a team who care about what they do, and they care about the people who drink their gin; they take time to engage, explain and educate people on a one to one basis, despite the eager crowds.
I like this gin. A lot. And having reviewed their Rare Dry a few years back, and raved evangelically about their range ever since, it was an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to spend time with the team behind the brand. You can read my previous review on Four Pillars Gin here:
The lasting impression from this years Four Pillars Gin exhibit? For me, it was the Bloody Shiraz 2019 vintage. It is tasting ‘on fleek’ (that’s what the kids say right?!). There’s a very good chance that the guys have outdone themselves here…
As I walked away with a complementary pin badge and bottle of their Navy Strength gin, which I consider to be one of the best on the market and highly recommend you get your mitts on ASAP, I smiled in the satisfied knowledge that this team isn’t slowing down. If anything, they’re just getting warmed up!
Sir Robin of Locksley
You can take the boy out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take the Yorkshire out of the boy!…I may have recently moved back to the Midlands from my Leeds based home of the last 10 years, but there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to swing by and see northern heroes (and my pals) over at Sir Robin of Locksley!
As I said in my ‘Junipalooza 2019 Site Map’ teaser piece (https://theginshelf.uk/2019/05/31/junipalooza-2019-site-map-gin-marks-the-spot/), I’ve spent a lot of time with this brand, who’ve helped me out a lot over the years. The reason I am always happy to be associated with such an awesome brand is simple. They’re great people, who make great & passionately crafted gin. It’s hands down one of my all time favourite gins and a real game changer for anyone I can convince to give it a go! (I’ll be honest, it never takes much convincing!).
You can find my fuller Sir Robin of Locksley gin review here:
Hugs dished out to Master Distiller John Cherry & wife Cynthia, I was soon sniffing out the good stuff…I had heard that the team were harbouring a bottle of barrel aged gin, rumoured to be even better than last years VSOT Sauternes Barrel Finished offering. Upon a healthy sipping, I would personally struggle to pick a front runner between the two. Though that’s nothing but a massive complement to the team for their ability to consistently knock it out of the park with their quality and attention to detail. Yes it comes with a considerable price tag, but I assure you that if you can get your hands on a bottle (made in very limited ‘once it’s gone, it’s gone’ batches) it’ll be worth every penny.
For those of a sweeter disposition, it would be remiss of me not to give a mention to the ‘Raspberry & Cardamon’ edition, which I was somehow only trying for the first time?! This was a Mrs.@theginshelf firm favourite from the festival and a definite ‘Must Have’ that’ll be making its way in to the collection in the near future!
Dog House Distillery
Next up, we made our way to the see the team who were, quite literally, the rockstars of the festival; Dog House Distillery (hair metal wig and all!).
I have to admit to being a little taken back by the enthusiastic greeting I received from both Katherine & ‘Head Hydrator’ Braden, and thrilled to be handed my very own pre-prepared complementary goodie bag containing a miniature of both their ‘Renegade Gin’ and ‘Baller Vodka’.
I could have genuinely geeked out with Braden at the Dog House stand all day long, as we nattered about the absolute ball ache that it can be to be a true ‘grain to glass’ distillery, but how they wouldn’t have it any other way! As one of only 15 distilleries across the UK (and the only one in London) who make their gin from scratch, a claim to fame and USP I’m sure you’ll agree, the team see the extra cost, time and effort as being 100% worth it.
Silky smooth, and hedonistically herbaceous (owing to the lusciously leafy inclusion of bay leaf, sage and winter savoury), there’s a piney juniper kick and a hint of spice, that help to make Renegade an ‘insanely sessionable’ gin, which unsurprisingly boasts a gold medal from the San Francisco Spirits Competition. You’re going to want a light tonic water and a sprig of something green to make yourself a banging G&T with this one.
Even the labelling is rock & roll; beautifully dressed in its sepia depiction of the London Skyline, the bottle stands out from the crowd like a hissing punk icon, holding up its middle finger to mediocrity. ‘Renegade’ indeed. In fact, one big regret I have is not having walked away with a bottle for myself, having run out of time to return to make my promised purchase!
Mrs.@theginshelf (Emily. Her name is Emily) was particularly partial to the Dog House Sloe & Damson gins, which I was unfortunate enough to miss out on the basis that once I start talking I can’t seem to stop!
Something I must encourage you to do is attend one of the teams ‘Dog Dayz’ mini festivals, hosted at their Battersea based distillery (hence the ‘Doghouse’ name). They’re the thing of legend, and the dates have so far evaded me. However, I’ll be looking to sync my calendar to rectify that situation ASAP. Look out for upcoming events over at http://www.doghousedistillery.com
For those of you about to rock (erm…drink gin), we salute you!
Having met Hugh Anderson, Master Distiller of Downton Distilleries ‘Explorers Gin’, at a Gin Foundry event earlier in the year, I was thrilled to see them exhibit their gin to the baying masses! Having been awarded the bursary spot at this years festival, they were going down a storm!
Located adjacent to Downtown Manor, and whose story centres on explorer and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh, this really is a stunningly unique gin. Combining classic botanicals and fresh citrus with pink pepper and the standout inclusion of red cedar, it makes for the type of gin where you sniff, sip and then have to take a step back and just say ‘wow! That’s different!’.
The red cedar, one of the few types that Hugh assured me wasn’t poisonous (phew!) adds a whole new dynamic, working wonders against the resinously juniper backbone. And with needles of the said botanical available to chew on at your leisure, you really get a feel for what you’re drinking. It truly is delicious.
Based on the huge buzz that these guys generated, I’m super excited to see what’s next for the team!
Now this may surprise you, but I’ve never been the most macho of gents – I’ve always thought of myself as being more of a ‘beta’ male. So as I meandered over to Manly Spirits I did wonder whether I had the credentials required. Luckily, as it happens, ‘Manly’ takes its name from the namesake Australian beach from where some of the gins finest botanicals are foraged (no joke – they’ve hilariously had complaints from the less well informed!).
In all seriousness, I had come to Junipalooza with Manly Spirits high up on my hit list. And I was lucky enough to meet one part of the founding husband & wife duo, David Whittaker, to chat all things gin (Note to reader: David is the husband part of the duo). I was interested to learn that the Manly Spirits Distiller, Tim Stones, is actually a Brit and ex Beefeater Global Brand Ambassador. Apparently, the life of distilling gin in the beautiful northern beaches of Australia was just too tempting to resist – who knew?! I did suggest to Dave (oh yeah, we’re BFF’s now) that I think the brand would benefit from having a dedicated blogger on their books, based from a hammock over the golden sands. His reaction of laughter and head shaking let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to ‘think about it’.
I was keen to taste my way through the full range, which the team explained aim ‘to deliver expressions that capture the diversity of Australian botanicals’.
I enjoyed the Australian Dry Gin, which is a herbal and warming spiced number, with fruity pepper sensations. I also found the barrel aged gin to be a really interesting take on the genre – on the nose it presents itself as a big, peaty whiskey. Yet on tasting neat, the juniper pushes it’s way to the front to leave you in no doubt that you’re supping on a rather clever gin.
But for those who know me, you’ll know that I’m all about citrus, meaning that the ‘Coastal Citrus Gin’ was always going to tug at my heart strings! Combining lemon aspen, sea parsley, lemon myrtle, fresh corriander leaf and meyer lemon, to name but a few, this is an entirely different take on the citrus gins that I’ve previously experienced. And I loved it! It’s fresh, exciting and delightfully cooling on the pallet. There’s a sense of the exotic to the gin, weirdly reminiscent of retro Opel fruit sweets, that transports you to the crystal clear waters of the Ozzy beaches. It was so good, I had to buy it!
A special shout out has to go to the hidden guest of honour; the Many Spirits Zesty Limoncello. Having heard great things from Katie Hughes at http://www.whatskatiedoing.com I had to sneak a taste from a bottle stashed under the table to avoid causing a stampede. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s not gin. But it’s amazing. I need to, and will, have more of this in my life…
And by the way, ‘the award for best bottle at the festival goes to…’. The Manly Spirits bottle is nothing short of absolutely stunning! And, in my opinion, fit to rival another nautical based bottle that’s been hitting the headlines as of late, that was situated on the adjacent stand.
The custom bottles boast a textured sequence pattern, lusting from a blue glass base to represent the ocean, with the Eastern Blue Devil fish (the Manly Spirits emblem) swimming across the front and proudly jutting from the robustly impressive stopper.
Even the base of the bottle is something to ogle at!
This is an exciting brand, with an exciting future. Though I do feel I should clarify that seemingly having dressed like a member of the team, in my denim shirt, was entirely coincidental (I’ve never felt so ‘on trend’!). And although they did their very best to make me feel like one of the team, my British pastiness was fooling no one. But as I’m now officially ‘Manly’, don’t be surprised to see me rocking my Manly Spirits T-Shirt some time soon!
Never Never Distilling Co.
Now. I’m not too proud to admit that, down to nothing more than my own ignorance, Australias Never Never Distilling Co. was not a planned stop on my lengthy agenda. However… I’m so, so glad that I paid them a visit! If one word can be used to describe their gin, it is ‘Incredible’!
Say hello to the new punk rock of gin, which promises to take juniper in new and exciting directions.
Brand Director, George Georgiadis, had a huge grin on his face when I mentioned in my opening gambit that ‘juniper forward gins are my jam’. His reply? ‘You’re in the right place my friend’.
George started us off with their signature ‘Triple Juniper’ gin, which combines three different distillation processes; juniper is firstly steeped for 24hours, before it’s combined with fresh juniper berries for pot distillation, with yet more juniper then added to a vapour basket to enhance the fresh piney profile. Juniperlicious! I instantly reached for my wallet. But as sold as I thought I was, George reassuringly raised his hand…’wait – I have more’. (He has more?! Oh my).
We work our way up to the ‘Southern Strength’ gin, an overproof expression of the Triple Juniper, which had me wondering just how much further could these guys push things?! The answer? Much further!
Allow me to introduce you to my ‘gin of Junipalooza 2019’; Juniper Freak. This is the Navy Strength bigger brother to the Triple Juniper, and an absolute powerhouse! The team take a yearly seasonal release of Macedonian juniper, from which they create a pure juniper distillate that is added to the Triple Juniper process and they bottle the whole lot at 58% ABV. POW! This is big, bold and boisterous in the very best way possible. The juniper is undoubtedly, and unsurprisingly, huge.
I’ve never had my name written on a gin bottle before, but ‘Juniper Freak’ may be as close as I get. It encapsulates everything I love about gin. Bravo – the 2018 Freak vintage is a triumph and I can’t wait to see more from these utterly adorable lunatics!
It was my great pleasure, on 23rd March, to exclusively announce that Graveney Gin would be appearing as an exhibitor at Junipalooza 2019.
Having tried and loved the gin, I fell in love with the equally brilliant backstory, passionately driven in to existence by ‘one woman whirlwind’ Victoria Christie (Graveney Gin’s Master Distiller). Graveney Gin may be a ‘Nano Batch’ gin in stature, but it has a huge amount of attitude and heart.
You can find my full write up on Graveney Gin, alongside an in-depth two part ‘Meet the Distiller’ interview with Vic Christie here:
It was my even greater pleasure to finally get to meet the face behind the brand! After so much involvement with Graveney in the build up to the event, it felt like I was meeting an old friend – and I can confirm that Vic is just as lovely as her gin! If you’ve not had the opportunity to try Graveney then you are missing out on a real treat.
I’m also very pleased (and relieved?!) that my promises that Vic was coming armed with two new gin offerings was proven to be correct! Phew! With a play on an Old Tom, and a herbaceous heavy hitter to boot, both of will continue to fly the flag for a chosen charity once released. Whilst both are only in the trial phase at the moment, sampled from unmarked bottles, it’s an indication of some incredibly exciting additions to come from the brand in the not too distant future. I, for one, can not wait! Keep your eyes peeled for a future review…
Tarquins Cornish Gin
What an unbridled pleasure it was to have had the opportunity to spend time with the Cornish costal commanders of the gin scene, whose stature only seems to be growing. With a team donned in plaid shirts, beanie hats and surfboard chic, it’s fair to say that I felt significantly ‘under cool’!
Account Manager, Marc Ramage, couldn’t have been nicer as he talked us through his love for what he and the team spend their time creating. We flitted between chit chat on the distillery, botanicals and Cornish scenery that’s all but got us booking our Air BnB for a trip down south!
The Navy Sea Dog was tasting as superb as always, and the fruit editions really are amongst some of the best you’ll find on the market. However, the surprise pick of the bunch for me was the limited edition Rick Stein gin (made for Rick, not using Rick Stein as a botanical). The hard hitting, yet beautifully balanced, fennel provides a warming aniseed finish that made this a resounding winner.
The meeting has done nothing to quell my excitement for opening my barrel aged ‘Weathered Sea Dog’ limited release from earlier in the year (purposely saved for our imminent new house celebration). A distillery visit is high up on the wish list, where I hope there’ll be more gin sampling over a pastie or two (though I’ll be leaving the surfing to the professionals).
Warners Gin Experience
As I mentioned at the start of this (by now) lengthy reminiscent blog, we were fortunate enough to take part in the Warners Gin Master Class.
Led by the enigmatic Tom Warner himself, in the astonishingly beautiful ‘Experience Zone’, this was an overview of the brand, their approach to gin making and their take on the wider scene.
Yours truly even got to throw (technical gin distilling term there) the botanicals in to the still in front of an adoring crowd! A real highlight was looking across a spectrum of different Rhubarb gins to understand what and why Warner’s really are a standout in the flavoured gin market.
Perhaps my one disappointment from the session, if I’m entirely honest, is that we didn’t have the opportunity to bottle and take away our own gin, as I had seen done at the 2018 event.
This, however, was more than made up for in bagging myself a bottle of the brand new London Dry gin, which I simply can not wait to crack open.
And can we take a second to appreciate the gorgeous rebranding of the bottles?! They look amazing, depicting the farmland and countryside of the gins heritage.
We also walked away with some fancy glassware and some miniatures to enjoy the wider range. The Lemon Balm (better known as ‘Melissa’) gin even comes with a natty little packet of botanicals for you to have a play around with. Nice!
Mentions and misses
By now I’ve rambled for sometime and feel I’ve only scratched the surface of our experience. However, there are some notable mentions and heart wrenching misses that I feel obligated to reference…
Duck & Crutch brought everything with them, including their shed! No really, they managed to put up the original shed that they started distilling in as part of their exhibit stand. I’ve been a longtime admirer of the teams branding and it was great fun to meet co-founder and distiller George Brooker. I regret not getting time to pop back for a longer tasting session, though this only strengthens my resolve to seek out more of this gin asap!
Pothecary’s Martin Jennings was on hand to showcase his growing range of fantastic gins, including the 2019 Trinity Edition that has really won my heart. It was great to have the chance to shake the hand of the man who has created a gin that I simply can’t see myself being without. And luckily for gin fans everywhere, I have it on strong authority that this ‘limited edition’ beauty is to become part of the core range in the future (phew)!
You can read more about the Pothecary set up and raison d’etre in my previous reviews here:
I’m not sure there are many better ways to spend your day than sharing a pre-12pm Gower Negroni with Jenny McLaren (from http://jennyinbrighton.com) or chatting to Bruce and the team over at Brentingby Gin with one of the nicest chaps you’re likely to meet, Dan Cox from http://www.ginterestingtimes.com. I even got to meet the by now iconic Gareth ‘Gaz’ Jones, the ‘too cool for school’ face of Schweppes 1783 – I mean seriously, this guy can rock a hat and sunglasses like no other!
However, I hang my head in shame at the brands that I somehow managed to miss. I was absolutely gutted to miss out on finally meeting the lovely team at York Gin, whose ‘Outlaw’ Navy Strength gin is high on my hit list after blogging on the rest of the lineup earlier this year (https://theginshelf.uk/2019/03/09/york-gin-my-first-time/).
In much the same way, I had a moment of horrible realisation that I’d left without the opportunity to sample Hidden Curiosities ‘Aranami’ Navy Strength release, which I’d been salivating over since distiller Jenny Merguro had spilled the beans to me about it over a Christmas Negroni. Brookies Gin, Haymans Gin, Bullards Gin and even the free Merchants Heart Master classes escaped my grasp! I was particularly broken hearted that I missed out on New Zealands Broken Heart gin, which I’ve been wanting after for the longest time!
Junipalooza 2019 final thoughts
This just goes to show that all the planning in the world can’t account for a motor mouth, with a penchant for selfies! That said, we had a blast.
The tag line for Junipalooza is ‘a celebration of gin’. And I can think of no better way to describe what Olivier & Emile Ward and their Gin Foundry team have managed to achieve.
I’m not sure that ‘better, not bigger’ is strictly accurate. I think the event has got bigger; it has grown in stature, reputation and sheer quality. But certainly, in my humble opinion, this was the best year yet. Even only knowing a small portion of the work that goes in to making the event a success, it’s mind boggling how they manage to hit such exacting standards each year without a hitch. Huge congratulations goes to all involved!
Much like the end of the music festivals of my youth, we trudged off through the exit in the sad realisation that THE EVENT of the year had come and gone for another summer. Though rather than clinging on to a weather beaten tent and a hoodie that was never going to have the campfire smell washed out of it, I was leaving with some world beating gins under my arm. And somehow, that helped a little.
Roll on Junipalooza 2020. The count down is already on!
Many thanks to Olivier Ward, Emile Ward and the Gin Foundry, Gin Kiosk & Junipalooza teams for my complementary tickets to Junipalooza 2019. Keep your eyes peeled on http://www.ginfoundry.com for the best in gin related news and upcoming events. And if you missed out on any of the gins at the event, why not head to http://www.ginkiosk.com and remedy that wrong?!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!