Gin Festival Leeds 2016

July 22, 2016

Now, as you can imagine, I love a good beer festival. I've been to a few over the last couple of years, but I didn't know that there were ones for gin, too! When I got an email inviting me along to the Gin Festival at Leeds Town Hall, I of course couldn't pass up the opportunity. I used to hate gin - and I mean, really hate it. The smell would make me screw up my nose in disgust, and I wouldn't let a drop of it pass my lips. Then, one fateful day, Martin made me try some (I can't remember what gin it was but I was assured it was a good one), and from that day on, I was a fan. He even bought me a bottle of Marks & Spencer's Pink Gin for my birthday one year! Usually the best I can manage is Bombay Sapphire, which isn't amazing let's be honest, but serves me well enough on the rare occasion that I fancy a gin instead of a beer. I've been intrigued in the past about all the different variations that are available, but have never really found the opportunity to try them out. Much like beer, I think that gin is having a revival; it was often seen as an old person's drink, and not that enjoyable. But now, it is becoming more mainstream, and there are hundreds of different types available, as well as distilleries all across the world.

Gin sign at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016
Signpost at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016Glasses and 'The Gin Book' at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016
Glass of gin and tonic at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016

So, one Saturday evening, Martin and I went along to our first ever gin festival. Boasting over 100 gins, it's the largest of its kind in the UK and I didn't know what to expect! I hoped, if anything, it would be in a similar vein to the Leeds International Beer Festival, which was held in the same venue. There were definite similarities, but it was overall a bit smaller, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. First of all, when we arrived, we went to go get what we needed for the festival. The glasses were certainly a lot bigger than I was expecting, but I wasn't going to complain! I didn't know this before the festival, but they are stemmed to help keep the drink cool, which when you think about it makes a lot of sense. We were also given a copy of 'The Gin Book' and a pen each, which detailed every single gin that was available at the festival. You name it, they probably had it there - as well as a few more besides, and so many that I had never heard of! The festival required the purchase of tokens before you headed to the bar, which were then exchanged for the drink of your choice. What I wasn't expecting was the way that the drinks were served, which I thought was quite clever. I assumed that once you'd chosen your gin, it would be measured out, topped up with tonic and away you went. Whilst indeed the gin was measured out, the tonic was up to you. It gave us a chance to try the gins neat if we wished, to really get to grips with the flavours involved, before adding the tonic ourselves in whatever quantity we desired. Ice was also added and a garnish suited and recommended to the gin (extremely important!), topping off the whole experience.

Musicians performing at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016
Brockman's Gin table at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016

Of course, a drinks festival isn't just about the alcohol - not in this day and age, at least. Throughout the evening, there was regular entertainment in the form of performing musicians, providing a range of hits in their own unique styles. Martin took a liking to one in particular that was doing a punchy rendition of one of his favourite songs, so that went down very well. There was a 'Selfie Pod' up on the main stage, which you and your friends could crowd together on and get a keepsake picture to take home as a memoir of the event. Aptly named 'Ginstagram' (it couldn't have been anything else, could it?), me and Martin decided not to get one done, but everyone we saw go up there looked like they were having a lot of fun! All around the venue were different stalls set up; one for making gin cocktails, the 'Gin Explorer'; a subscription box for gin, memorabilia such as signs, books and candles, and a few that were showcasing different gins, such as Brockmans and Thomas Dakin. I'm ashamed to say that we didn't spend much time at all at these stalls - but that's because we were having so much fun otherwise! Next time, I would definitely want to try at least one of the gin cocktails, because they did sound absolutely fantastic. 'The Martimes', which was featured in The Gin Book, would definitely have been up Martin's street - made up of Old Tom Gin, Vermouth and Angostura Aromatic Bitters. Something a bit more fruity wouldn't have gone amiss myself, but as it was I was really quite happy with what we did get to try.

Thomas Dakin gin table at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016
Off licence price list takeaway bottles at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016

There was also an 'Off Licence', which allowed you to buy a bottle of your favourite gin and take it home with you to enjoy. There was one gin that we enjoyed so much that Martin did actually go and buy it - it was probably the most he's ever spent on a bottle of alcohol in his life, but it was truly special and it would have been wrong to leave it behind. I'll be telling you which one it was a little further on in the post, so keep reading! Finally, there were a variety of food stalls that were dotted around the venue. Downstairs in the basement were Alimento; Spanish-inspired street food which consisted mainly of platters of meat and cheese. Burgers were also available, although I have absolutely no recollection of who they were by unfortunately. I was a bit disappointed with this, to tell you the truth; at the Leeds International Beer Festival there was a lot of choice food wise, and definitely something for everyone. However, with only two choices of the Gin Festival, I felt that this could definitely be improved upon next year. Upstairs, Edward Street Bakery had some mouthwatering goodies that we just couldn't resist; a box of cakes and brownies came home with us, and I can honestly say that they were absolutely fantastic. Martin also grabbed a bag of Habanero Chilli pork crackling from The Snaffling Pig Co, just because he'd never seen anything like it before. Again, they were really good, but a bit too spicy for me!

Gin bottles at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016
Fevertree tonic bottles at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016

Well, I suppose I'd best tell you about some of the wonderful gins that we got to try, hadn't I? The festival was split into four bars, A-D. We made it our mission to try at least one gin from each - and if I'm quite honest with you, I have no idea whether we managed it or not! I guess that's alcohol for you. However, there are definite stand-out favourites that I took away from the festival. The first of these was the Pink Pepper Gin, from Cognac in France. This stood out to me immediately as it sounded so interesting; peppery notes are often found in gin, but I was curious to see if pink pepper would be any different. It was quite a bit sweeter than I expected, and Martin commented that he found it too floral. I understood what he meant - it was a very perfumed gin, but I loved it. It still had a spiced note due to the pink pepper, but neither element was too intense and worked well with the added garnish of lemon. One of Martin's favourites was Tarquin's Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin, from Cornwall. This was a limited edition gin made especially for the Gin Festival, so of course Martin couldn't pass it up. This one was quite zesty, and had a definite sharpness to it that the Pink Pepper one didn't. The garnish of hibiscus flowers I thought was an unusual one, but somehow it worked well, bringing out an earthy tone to the gin. Lastly, our joint top favourite of the evening was Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin, from Llandysul, Wales. This sounded so unusual, that it was one of the first that we tried. Combining notes of lemon, thyme, salt and pepper, it exploded on the tongue and was so incredibly fresh and crisp throughout. Drinking this was very dangerous, as it was so refreshing that it wasn't like drinking alcohol at all! It was a bottle of this that Martin bought to bring home with us - we've yet to crack it open, but I'm really hoping that we can soon, so I can relive that moment of trying it for the first time again. I can say, with all honesty, that it was the best gin that I've ever had.

Gin books at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016
Gin themed gifts at the Gin Festival Leeds 2016

Me and Martin really enjoyed our time at the Gin Festival, and I'm personally really glad that I took a step out of my comfort zone and experimented with different kinds of gin. It's a really unique experience to be able to try such a huge range all in one place, and not one that I'm sure you can get elsewhere. I'm definitely an even bigger fan of gin than I was before, and will make a point of trying even more as and when the opportunities to do so arise. It's certainly not a drink for everyone, that I am aware of, but going to this event really opened my eyes as to how many ways it can be enjoyed. For example, if you're not a fan of tonic, you can try mixing your gin with ginger ale - something I will definitely be trying in the future! Sadly, Gin Festival won't be returning to Leeds until next year, but if you live elsewhere in the country, don't fret! London, Birmingham and Sheffield are just a few of the cities that the Gin Festival will be travelling to, so head over to their events page to see where your nearest one will be. Don't have one near you? Then you can visit their online store and purchase some of the gins and memorabilia that we came across at the event. I'm pleased to see that our beloved Seaweed Gin is on there; I have a feeling that we will be wanting to buy some more before the next event comes along!

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1 comment

  1. I'm a massive gin lover, so this event sounds too good!
    Bee |