A lot of people joke about being bad with geography. But I am so useless with directions, I literally got lost getting out of a tent once…
It sounds far fetched, I know, but I genuinely got lost with a 2 meter radius and was completely bamboozled by the whole situation.
I was at Redding Festival 2007, fast asleep in my tent, on the notoriously feral last night – experience of having attended annually for a good number of years had proven that even the most sound of mind tended to go a little haywire on the Sunday evening before the inevitable return to reality.
That said, nothing could have prepared me for the surprise arrival of the 5ft11, 12 stone heap of stranger that burst through the top of my canvas enclosure during a popular episode of ill fated ‘tent jumping’.
Having assumed my tent was empty, I awoke to the greeting of said intruder landing directly on my head, followed by the sound of quickly scarpering footsteps as they realised they were an unwanted bed guest!
As I groggily crawled to unzip the fabric door, I emerged to find that all of my friends that I had set up camp with earlier that weekend had gone! I had been deserted. Where a ring of solidarity had once stood, in the form of the tents of my close friends, I was now faced with nothing but open field and a crushing sense of loneliness. Add to that the likely dose of concussion, and I really didn’t know what to make of the situation.
I reckon I was stood there for a good 5-10 minutes trying to work out where everyone had gone, and why I had been abandoned during the chaos that was going on around the campsite. With a distinct sense of rejection, and a potentially broken nose, I turned around to head back in to my tent and wait it out until morning.
It was at that point that I saw all of my friends tents. Exactly where they had been all along.
It turns out that, in my state of dazed confusion, I had clambered out of the wrong side of the tent and had been stood facing the wrong way for the best part of a quarter of an hour.
These days I’m not sure I could hack the music festival lifestyle. In fact, the closest I’ve come to seeing a live band in recent years was the ‘CBeebies Christmas Pantomime’, and the only ‘mosh pit’ I’ve encountered is having to fend off the flailing protestations of a stroppy toddler who refuses to put his pyjamas on! But whilst the warm cans of Carling lager, and questionably cooked al dente ‘Pot Noodles’, may be a thing of the past (thank goodness!) it is time to begin getting excited for a festival of a different kind… one which carries its own sense of ‘Spirit’ amped up to 11, but with none of the head trauma antics. The ‘Christmas of Summer’ is fast approaching; Junipalooza 2022.
With around 60 of the hottest distillers in the world all exhibiting under one roof, at London’s iconic Tobacco Dock, navigating your way through the sea of gin can be an intimidating prospect. Believe me, if you thought a tent was hard work out, then this is a whole other prospect!
So with this in mind, I thought I’d save you the ‘headache’ of needing to worry about getting lost. I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to give my view on a ‘Top 5 Must See’ list to help give you some food (…gin) for thought when planning your route around the Junipalooza landscape.
The Gin Shelf recommends…
In some ways, picking just five distilleries to shortlist from a lineup that is absolutely jam packed with incredible brands, was a heart wrenching task. Yet in other ways, my choices were made easy, and almost obvious, by the awesomeness of the teams that I’ve picked out.
In reality, you’re never going to be able to get around EVERY stand, try EVERY gin and talk to EVERY distiller in your short time at the festival – at least not if you want to make the most of your time or remember any of the experience the next day! But it is my hope that my suggestions will help to give you five gins that you should definitely consider having on your hit list for the big day.
Have a browse, mark them on your map and grab a glass…it is my sincere hope that my friends become your friends and that from my recommendations you will find a gin that you’ll never forget! I’m confident that all of these will bring a smile to your cheeky gin soaked chops.
Never Never Distilling Co.
Say hello to the punk rock of gin, who are continuing to take juniper in new and exciting directions.
When I first discovered Never Never Distilling Co. at Junipalooza 2019 Brand Director, George Georgiadis, had a huge grin on his face when I mentioned that ‘juniper forward gins are my jam’.
His reply? “You’re in the right place my friend”.
Whilst their signature ‘Triple Juniper’ gin, recently announced as ‘Worlds best London Dry Gin’ at the World Gin Awards 2022, will have you reaching for your wallet, be sure to take the time to taste your way through their full range. In doing so, you will be introduced to my ‘gin of Junipalooza 2019’; Juniper Freak.
As the seasonal and Navy Strength bigger brother to the Triple Juniper, it is an absolute powerhouse – and at 58% ABV, this is big, bold and boisterous in the very best way possible.
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. Be sure to head over to see these adorable lunatics from ‘Down Under’.
Try: Juniper Freak. And then everything else!
Visit: Never Never Distilling Co
Created by the Biggar brothers, Stuart and Euan McVicar, Biggar Gin hail from near the (somewhat ironically) small Scottish town of Biggar in the Tinto hills.
Fuelled by ‘Biggar mentality’, which refers to the teams “small scale, rare, batch philosophy” this is a brand whose passion, ambition and taste is as big as its name…
In their flagship gin, Stuart and Euan set out to create a gin that reflected the locality and provenance of their local area, proudly giving a ‘bigger’ voice to the ‘Biggar’ location. But the 2020 launch of their Navy expression, cleverly coined ‘Biggar Strength’, is a perfect demonstration of that ‘Biggar mentality’ ethos. It is also a BIG(gar) middle finger in the air to Coronavirus, which they refused to let scupper their launch plans!
In toning down the citrus, and amping up the spice and ABV, I lovingly refer to the ‘Biggar Strength’ gin as ‘the sock remover’ – as after just one sip, it’ll blow the socks clean off your feet! At home in both a G&T and Negroni, but an absolute MUST TRY in a Martini, you’ll want to seek this out for yourself. Simply stunning.
Allow me to assure you; it is Biggar, and it is very clever…
Try: Biggar Strength Gin
Visit: Biggar Gin
Four Pillars Gin
Literally ANYTHING by the Australian heavy weights ‘Four Pillars’ is going to be incredible. They say that not all heroes wear capes…and when I met the team at Junipalooza in 2017 & 2019 I’m slightly embarrassed to say I was almost a little star struck!
The guys at ‘Four Pillars’ live and die by the pillars that underpin their Gin making. No guesses for how many Pillars there are! (…Four. It’s Four…):
1) The Stills – ‘Wilma’ earlier, ‘Jude’ and ‘Eilleen’ (all named after the three Distillers Mothers)
2) The Water – from the Yarra Valley, of course!
3) The best Botanicals that Australia and the rest of the world have to offer
And it’s number 4 that really stands out for me. These guys love what they do, and so do I!
Try: Check out their Rare Dry & Bloody Shiraz for mind blowing effects!
Visit: Four Pillars Gin
Having opened its distillery doors for trading in 2016, Ireland’s Boatyard Gin (situated on the banks of Lough Erne, County Fermanagh) came to life in the same year as I put the last full stop to my first ever gin review; a very good year for gin (down to Boatyard. Not me).
Started as a family ran operation by founder Joe McGirr, previously of Glenmorangie, Boatyard Distillery takes its name from the disused Boatyard that it’s built on; a fact that makes it just as easily accessible for customers by water as it is by road.
Provenance and locality are at the very core of Boatyards Distillery, celebrating the heritage of the land around it as well as the people that make up the community. Case and point; Head Distiller, Órlaith Kelm. Having been recruited as a labeller in 2018, hailing from literally just down the road from the distillery, Órlaith rose through the ranks to take charge of the Stills.
Whilst Órlaith may be humble and unassuming, from our meeting at Junipalooza 2021, she has become the heart and personality of the spirits produced. And let me tell you…they are some spirits!
The Double Gin, so named because of the ‘double contact’ method of distillation that sees juniper placed at both the start and end of the process, blew me away when I first had the pleasure of trying it (so much so that a bottle left last years festival under my arm!). Their Old Tom is a sumptuous thing of beauty, and for those looking for something a little different…the Vodka is out of this world…
Bringing a little piece of Ireland with them, the Boatyard team are a must on any hit list – go and see what’s the craic!
Try: The Double Gin (and ask nicely whether they’ve got any of the vodka for you to sample!)
Visit: Boatyard Distillery
As I meandered over to the Manly Spirits stand, during Junipalooza 2019, I have to admit to wondering whether I had the ‘credentials’ required. Luckily, as it happens, ‘Manly’ has nothing to do with gender or macho-ness , instead taking its title from the namesake Australian beach from where some of the gins finest botanicals are foraged!
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’!).
Having launched in 2017, after a near two year research and design phase, husband and wife duo David & Vanessa Whittaker have certainly made a huge impression on the gin scene. And if the liquids inside the bottle weren’t stunning enough, then the custom bottles (featuring the Eastern Blue Devil fish – the Manly Spirits emblem) will certainly catch your eye.
Manly Spirits aims to capture “the harmony between carefree beach life and urban sophistication for which Manly is renowned”. Fitting then that their ethos is “Seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care”.
The team have created an enviable core range, from the herbaceous Australian Dry, the barrel aged expression and their own take on the ‘Pink Gin’ category via the Lilly Pilly. But for those who know me, you’ll know that I’m all about citrus, meaning that the Manly Spirits ‘Coastal Citrus Gin’ was always going to tug at my heart strings! With its vibrant and exotic vibes, this is unlike any other gin you’ll have experienced – you have to try it to truly understand.
Try: The Coastal Citrus Gin
Visit: Manly Spirits Co
The Gin Shelf’s Top Tips for Junipalooza
So there you have it. Five incredible brands, spanning just a few of the areas available for you to explore at what I still consider to be the best gin festival in the world.
I really hope you enjoy my recommendations and love these gins as much as I do. I’d love you hear your thoughts once you’ve had the opportunity to sample them for yourselves. And if you do get the chance to say hello to the fantastic teams behind the bottles, be sure to say hi from Matt @theginshelf. It’ll get you no more than a high five, but who doesn’t love a high five?!
And so before I part, here’s a few of my top tips to make the most of you Junipalooza experience:
1. Prep like a boss! Spend a little time reviewing the maps, familiarise yourself with the layout and where your favourite brands are going to be located.
2. Get your priorities in order. You’re unlikely to make it to every stand, so if you have some ‘must dos’ then be sure to hit them up first!
3. Don’t be late. There may be queues and stands will get busy. Give yourself the best chance of maximising your time by arriving promptly.
4. Be polite! The teams are going to be slammed and working their socks off. Sure the gin costs money, but manners are free…
5. Don’t drink & dash! This isn’t lunch time at CostCo. Samples are great, but make sure to stop and learn about what you’re drinking…
6. It’s good to talk. Make sure you take some time to chat to the passionate guys behind the stands. You don’t always get this kind of access to the masterminds of your favourite tipples!
7. Stay hydrated! Remember to use the water stations. If you’re drinking gin for long periods of time, those samples can add up!
8. Eating isn’t ‘cheating’! Fuel up on grub. You’re going to need it!
9. Education. Education. Education! Be sure to take advantage of the the free seminars, to be hosted by Spirit Beacon’s very own Olivier Ward.
10. Enjoy it! Simple as. This is the Christmas of Summer!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates.
Be sure to head to Spirits Beacon/Spirits Society to find out more information and get your tickets booked for ‘the greatest show on earth’ while you still can!
And if you spot me at Junipalooza, make sure you come and say ‘Hi’ & chat gin! Who knows, I may even give you a high five!