Some opportunities are once in a lifetime and not to be missed. But it’s not always a lesson that I’ve been quick to learn…
To illustrate this point, Lets briefly jump back to 2011. A more youthful version of myself is stood in a Leeds City Centre record store, riffling through CD cases (remember those?!) in search of the latest release I’d had my eye on. As my wife and I approached the till, we noticed a poster declaring an impending gig as a ‘must see’ for an up-and-coming talent that we had recently spotted performing live on ‘Later with Jules Holland’. And at just £10 per ticket, for an event to be held at the Leeds Cockpit (a tiny and intimate venue) it was certainly enough to make us pause for a moment…But concluding that £20 might be a bit of an extravagant splurge on a whim, I made an executive decision that we’d ‘catch him next time he tours’ and we nonchalantly headed out in to the afternoon sunshine.
Well my friends. The act that I had decided was not worth £20 of our finest sterling was none other than Ed Sheeran (one of my wife’s favourite musicians). And I am happy to report that we did indeed manage to catch him during one of his next tours!…It was at Wembley Stadium. At a cost of around £150, not including travel or accommodation. And he was the size of a postage stamp from our nose-bleed-section seating. Brilliant.
The main thing is that my wife has never mentioned it to me again since that day. Not even once…ok, she might have mentioned it a few times.
It’s Happy Hour; Music to my ears…
So when I spotted a social media post from Martini Club UK, suggesting that a very limited edition gin was about to go live in celebration of the very first ‘World Martini Day’, I was scrambling for my wallet before I had even finished reading.
The inaugural celebration of all things Martini will be held on Saturday 19th June 2021 (and the third Saturday of each year going forwards). The brainchild of Julian Vallis, a guru of cocktails and a founding member of Martini Club UK, it is a date for the calendar that promises to ‘stir’ a huge amount of excitement within the gin community. And best of all? It comes with a ‘twist’! Yes they’re Martini based puns…don’t ‘shake’ you’re head at me…(sorry.).
Each year, World Martini Day will invite a distiller to create a one-off batch of something truly special and unique to celebrate the occasion. And it would be fair to say that Vallis has opted to kick off proceedings in style! In collaborating with Sheffield based northern heroes Locksley Distilling Co. a true ‘juniper powerhouse’ has been enlisted to make sure that the true ‘Spirit’ of the day is in encapsulated in a gin of very exciting proportions.
For those that know my writing even a little bit, it will come as no surprise that the news of this particular collaboration had me hooked from the start. Locksley Distilling Co. are one of my favourite distilleries, hands down; fantastic gins, made by an equally fantastic team!
You can find my previous write ups of the teams flagship ‘Sir Robin of Locksley Gin’ and the incredible ‘Very Special Old Tom (VSOT)’ here:
Given that co-founder Cynthia King has recently won the ‘Lockdown Luminary Award’ in The Gin Guide Awards 2021 for her efforts to lift people’s spirits during lockdown with her weekly Friday Night Cocktail Instagram Live events, and the fact that the teams flagship expression itself makes a killer Martini, their involvement is easy to understand.
To find out more about this ‘A-Team’ style collaboration (yes, that’s an Ed Sheeran song title throwback), I sat down with Julian Vallis to learn more about day, the gin itself and his aspirations for the future of World Martini Day.
#WorldMartiniDay Q&A with Julian Vallis
The Gin Shelf (TGS): Hi Jules! People may already be familiar with events like World Gin Day, and a number of other cocktails that have dedicated dates on the calendar (Negroni week, International Gin & Tonic Day etc). How did World Martini Day come about and when is it?
Julian Vallis (JV): In 2020, for Martini Day, Emma Stokes (@GinMonkeyUK) hosted a small event about Martinis in which we joined in as Martini Club. She said a small off-hand remark that ‘today is practically designed for you guys’. She was right!
The Negroni has ‘Negroni Week’, but Martinis had no real event to celebrate it that mattered. Yet the Martini is often called the King of Cocktails. And just like the first rule of royal etiquette is that you don’t “give shade” to royals, in the same way the Martini cannot be in the shadow of the Negroni! So, the Martini needed to have its day in the limelight more organised, more structured and just better presented.
The second thing is that all of the important days are trademarked: World Gin Day, Negroni Week and International Scottish Gin Day. So I got World Martini Day trademarked. It’s not about making World Martini Day exclusive or any one-upmanship – it’s free to use and it’s just about keeping things consistent and the message focused with one goal: get more people enjoying Martinis.
World Martini Day is hosted on the third Saturday of June every year, rather than being a set static date in the calendar. This avoids two problems:
1. A fixed date often falls on inconvenient mid-week days
2. I wanted to avoid the day landing immediately after World Gin Day, which is a thing to protect and behold, not something to compete with
But what’s it about? It’s a day for anyone who hasn’t got confidence ordering Martinis to try one. So #TryAMartini for #WorldMartiniDay is the primary message of the day.
The aim is quite simple; to create more Martini drinkers. And that benefits everyone. Distillers have to keep making seriously good stuff, bartenders have to make top quality drinks for customers, and customers get Michelin quality drinks as a result! Meanwhile the battle hardened Mummified-in-Martini drinkers will also be delighted at seeing more Martinis made available on menus!
And for the industry as a whole, it book-ends a week alongside World Gin Day that celebrates gin and its most magnificent cocktail to hopefully provide a little Christmas-like uplift in June. If Negroni Week and Junipalooza come back to their normal time of the beginning of June, then June becomes a pretty important month for gin, with Negronis, Gin as a whole and Martinis all being celebrated – which can only be a good thing.
TGS: So, tell us all about this exciting very new & very limited gin launch in celebration of the inaugural World Martini Day?!
JV: When planning what to do for World Martini Day, I realised most of our messaging would be directed to new Martini drinkers, or those who aren’t confident about Martinis to be able to experience a good one. Which meant I had a slight issue that I also couldn’t alienate the ‘Martiniani’ who know all about Martinis.
It may sound silly, with it being only the first official World Martini Day, but I also want to create a legacy for the day.
In this spirit (pardon intended pun), I figured it’d be a great idea to create a new spirit every year by inviting a distiller to create a one-off batch, and give them the ultimate creative freedom to express themselves in the spirit without any of the normal market constraints;
– Limited Edition: It’s got be special enough, in limited quantity, and yet reach a sufficiently wide audience. This means we can afford to push the boat out a bit more with ideas and botanicals.
– One batch wonder: In only creating a single batch, we simply don’t need to worry about the biggest headache in designing a gin: keeping the recipe consistent between batches. We just have to hit the marks right once and be done with it.
– Marketing isn’t as big a concern: It rides on the coat tails of #WorldMartiniDay – it just needs to be good in a Martini!
It’s just a great excuse for giving a distiller carte blanche to just make what I call a ‘Yabadabadoo’ spirit as a one-off blast of brilliance without nearly as much risk normally associated with launching a gin that’ll be available forever.
It encapsulates everything I’m trying to achieve with World Martini Day, which is to celebrate all parts of the industry and find the win/win from all sides. With the limited-edition spirit:
– For a distiller, it’s a great opportunity to have both a lot of fun and lay down some serious credibility markers at the same time
– For a collector, they get something completely unique with limited edition cachet
– For spirits geeks, they get something quite startling that raises eyebrows
– For Martini drinkers, they get an awesome Martini out of it
Like I say; win/win!
TGS: Aside from the fact that they’re awesome (!), why did you pick Locksley Distilling Co. to be the first team to collaborate on a World Martini Day special edition?
JV: The trademark registration for World Martini Day only came through at the end of March. I couldn’t really publicise anything until then, and making a gin in 3 months is hard even for the nimblest distillers. Short on time, I had a dilemma:
1. Who is a distiller I knew well?
2. Who can blast out a batch of 221 (221 is because it’s 2021) bottles without too much fuss?
3. Who can I trust will make an amazing gin, as I’m no distiller?
4. Who can just pick this up and run with it in a pandemic without having the ability for me to go to visit to taste and workshop the spirit?
5. Who has enough credibility to help me sell all 221 bottles for the day? I hope to make World Martini Day big, but it’s not that big yet!
The answer was fairly obvious.
We’d been supporting Cynthia with her Friday cocktails over the winter, and built up a great friendship with her and John (Co-Founders of Locksley Distilling).
For them, I think it’s an interesting project. I’m sure they’ll tell you their perspective, but I gather it’s quite refreshing for them, and they were certainly very enthusiastic about it!
TGS: What goes in to the gin, and what makes it special? How did you guys come up with the recipe, and how was the creative process split between yourself and John/Cynthia?
JV: I want to be clear: I’m not a distiller and I don’t want to be. The science, process and chemistry aspects of it are not the type of geekery I enjoy and also, if I did make a gin, it’d be an inconsistent mess as I’d always want to tinker the recipe.
That said, it is fun to be involved in making a gin, but the most rewarding thing for me is working with and helping John and Cynthia, who are now great friends and just creating something tangible for everyone to enjoy.
There were five parts to the brief:
Being part of both Martini & Negroni Club, I’ve had a lot of vermouths. So I asked John ‘can we distill vermouth as a botanical in gin?’… He said ‘You certainly can!’. So, the first part of the brief was to use vermouth as a botanical, as a completely leftfield ‘What if?’ question.
The second part was to use A LOT of juniper and otherwise have a very classic, uncontroversial and solid dry gin backbone. I just wanted juniper and vermouth to be the stars – no need to overcomplicate matters.
The third part was ABV. I believe a Martini needs a gin that has a little bit of welly to it, but not quite Navy Strength. This means a little more duty and all that, but on balance: worthwhile.
The next part is that this gin needs to be a collector’s item, relevant to the year 2021 and be able to last decades. This meant it had to be a fully distilled gin, preferably a London dry.
The final part of the brief is that I wanted this is to be a ‘Locksley’ gin. I wanted John to put Locksley Distilling Co’s logo alongside World Martini Day, and for John and Cynthia to be proud of it. It’s very much a collaboration.
So that’s the brief they got; they ran with it and did all the recipe development. Within days they sent me 4 samples. My feedback to them: I LOVE the juniperiness of Sample #1 and the balance of #4. So, they simply followed the same recipe as Sample #1, using a different type of juniper and adding the lemon from Sample #4. The result is Sample #5, and that’s what you have in the bottle!
TGS: Can you talk us through what people can expect from the gin?
JV: For a gin to get to my heart I need:
a) A lot of juniper
b) Flavour hitting across all taste zones, but in particular a good, strong finish
c) I love mid-palate transitions
The lemon meets your palate, but this gin doesn’t have a lot of it – lemon is necessary as a matador to juniper which is otherwise an uncontrolled raging bull on your palate. You need to focus it a bit, and that’s what citrus in gin does.
But it’s nothing compared to the nuclear explosion of juniper that comes next. It’s got the bed of angelica, cassia and coriander all doing their normal bit to support the gin, but at this point it’s just a very junipery London Dry – which is great, but nothing that makes it… exceptional.
Once the orange ball of the juniper explosion smoulders, it’s only then that you get to taste the vermouth. Compared to the juniper, it’s an extremely subtle flavour. Right at the top of your palate you’ll get some herbaceous florals along with the creamy soothing effect that the grape alcohol in vermouth brings, giving it a unique mouthfeel that is supported both by the cassia and liquorice. It’s such a contrast to the brawny juniper to have the intricate finesse of vermouth just there – it’s an absolute delight. And that tips the balance into exceptional territory for me.
So there you have it. A big bold and gnarly flavour from juniper, tempered by a bit of sophisticated finesse of vermouth. In a gin. Deliberately uncomplicated and classic, to hit all the marks in the right places. I hope you’ll see what I mean!
TGS: Obvious question…clearly this gin has to be tried in a Martini right?! How are you serving yours?
JV: The perfect serve? Of course, it’s a Martini. It’s a properly hairy-chested Martini though. And if you’re using this gin in a Martini, I’m pretty sure you’ll already know what you’re doing!
But my take is that because it has some vermouth in it – not enough for a Martini, but some – I’d serve it a tad dryer than normal at 8:1. That’s 3 shots gin and 2 barspoons dry vermouth.
For those ‘Mummified-in-Martinis’, you can drink it as a full birthday suit Churchill Martini (i.e. drink it neat but frozen) and it’ll still have a hint of normal Martini-ness to it. But that’s for hardcore dry-as-a-bone people only. I think it still needs a splash of vermouth…
It should also work with sweet vermouth-based Martinis, whether using Rosso in a Martinez or Bianco in a Ford Cocktail or Turf Club too. There’s enough juniper to stand up to the sweet onslaught of the big Italian vermouths too, so it should work in pretty much every type of Martini you can think of.
TGS: Any other serves of note that you’d call out?
JV: Ironically yes. Martinis are at the root of the family tree of all cocktails and that if a gin is a true Martini gin, you should be able to use it in pretty much anything.
If you want to add citrus, it’ll make a demonically good Last Word. Equally, in a Corpse Reviver No.2, the juniper will stand up to the absinthe and the vermouth will be enhanced. The 20th Century Cocktail (a Last Word with crème de cacao instead of Chartreuse) should also work well, especially with Locksley’s liqueurs.
It’ll obviously make a mean Negroni, but you’ll lose the subtlety of the vermouth in the gin as it’ll be overpowered by the Rosso. However, it’ll make a potent Cardinale (Negroni with Dry Vermouth) and should work beautifully as a White Negroni.
As a G&T? I honestly haven’t tried. And I didn’t even consider G&Ts as a target drink for this gin. Please let me know!
TGS: What does the future hold for World Martini Day and any future releases? Any sneak preview ideas you can share with us? (AKA where is my money going next year?!)
JV: Hah! For World Martini Day, it’s only just getting started. While World Martini Day 2021 will be small – it’s just me doing it – I hope it makes enough of an impact to gear up properly and build support for 2022.
As for ideas for future spirits, I already have lots of ideas for the next FIVE years…but it’s a surprise. I do hope to announce it a bit earlier, as we’ll have a whole year to prepare rather than three months, but every year I’ll be inviting someone to create a new spirit.
It won’t always be a gin. Martinis are also about vermouth and vodka too! I’m not a gin-focused person, but cocktail-focused (so I do all spirits), so there’s lots of interesting things to explore.
All I will say is each year, the spirit created will always apply to Martinis first and foremost. But I want it to be a series that’s genuinely collectible, genuinely interesting and genuinely celebratory for every part of the industry. My hope is for you, it’ll be something to treasure and enjoy.
Note to reader: Keep your eyes peeled for my Q&A with John and Cynthia from Locksley Distilling Co. for their take on World Martini Day and their part in this special collaboration!
With huge thanks to Julian Villas for his time and enthusiasm! Be sure to follow the World Martini Day event across social media – it’s sure to be a blast and a date that will claim its place on the calendar for years to come!
Facebook: World Martini Day
You will also want to check out Martini Club UK (@MartiniClubUK) – with a range of events throughout the year to celebrate the classic short serve cocktail, it’s a club that you’re going to want to be a part of…
Make sure you’re following my good friends John, Cynthia and the Locksley Distilling story at their website and across social media!
Facebook: Locksley Distilling Co. Ltd.
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!