*Our tickets and drinks tokens were provided FOC, however, all opinions are my own as always.
Do you remember the very first time you tasted gin? I do. My first experience was when an older relative offered me a sip of her classic G&T at a family party after I jested about it being an ‘old lady’ drink. As it hit my lips, I was surprised by the fresh, citrus burst and in that very instant, I was converted.
Fast forward fifteen years and I am still enjoying a long-term love affair with this particular tipple. Over the past five years or so, gin has soared in popularity and has undoubtedly seen a new revival. The younger generation is also jumping on board and gin has firmly shed its cliched ‘Mothers Ruin’ label.
Last Saturday (4 March), my friend Claire and I headed to the beautiful Manchester Cathedral for The Gin Society Festival. Now, despite my passion for the stuff, I was actually a gin festival virgin until I finally popped my cherry (or juniper berry) last weekend; how it took me this long, I’m not entirely sure!
I arrived at the cathedral about 15 minutes early (the lure of gin must have made me uncharacteristically punctual) and there were already a few people waiting. By the time Claire arrived a few moments later, the queue was already approx 20 people long; my fellow Mancunians were obviously equally as enthusiastic!
Doors opened at 6.30pm sharp. We were given our very own Gin Society Spanish-style Copa glass to use throughout the night and to take home with us after the event, along with a booklet listing all of the various gins on offer, vendors and other bits of helpful information.
The structure of the festival means that you pay for your entry ticket in advance, then purchase drinks vouchers on the night from the two tills – one for cash and one for card payments – in multiples of £5, £10 or £20. These can be refunded on the way out if unused. (unlikely but it’s always nice to know, eh?)
£5 will get you a 25ml measure of gin, any choice of Fentimans mixer and garnish, with the Prosecco cocktails costing £10 each. This actually worked out much better than the usual format and saved rifling around for cash/trying to remember my pin number after a few too many beverages!
The bars had been split into several colour-coded sections: Fruit Gins, World Gins and British Gins, along with a Prosseco Gin Cocktail, Ale and Soft Drinks bar. There were also light snacks on offer. Claire and I began to flick through our booklets and figure out where to begin. I decided to start with Williams Chase – Seville Orange, accompanied by a simple tonic and orange garnish as Claire opted for an Edinburgh – Rhubarb and Ginger.
Even though the venue was almost full, there was plenty of seating around so we settled down and enjoyed the music and Lindy Hop dancing on offer from the wonderful vintage DJ, A-Train Swing; I was truly in my element! Initially, the thought of getting tipsy in a place of worship seemed like a rather bizarre concept but the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming inside this breathtaking location.
Over the course of the evening, we tried to sample as many gins as we could, but with over 80 different ones on offer, we were never going to get through them all (we tried our best, trust me). With the help of the knowledgeable and friendly bar staff, we managed the following:
Edinburgh – Rhubarb and Ginger
Owing it’s pale pink hue to the rhubarb macerated in ginger and lemon zest before being infused with the original Edinburgh Gin, this warming liqueur is deliciously sweet, zesty aroma and spicy taste.
Williams Chase – Seville Orange
This bespoke gin recipe uses raw oranges rather than marmalade and is infused with eight botanicals, including elderflower and bitter almond.
A handcrafted gin that changes yearly, depending on the botanicals available and harvested in Caithness. The mix includes rhodiola rosea, ronwanberries, sea buckthorn and verbena, Floral and zesty.
Produced using the cold compounding method, in which no distillation takes place after the initial grain is produced, with botanicals like juniper, coriander and orange slice left in the infuse the grain spirit. Voted ‘Worlds Best Compound Gin’ at the 2014 World Gin Awards.
Made with eight botanicals including Lebanese mint contains a balance of citrus and juniper with sweet fruits on the palate.
5th Water -Floral
The infusion of rose and violet petals with a mixture of spices create a floral, mildly spiced aroma. On the palate, it has soft floral notes of juniper and coriander.
An impressive effort if I do say so myself! The beauty of a gin festival is that you get the opportunity to try a variety of gins, without the commitment of buying a whole bottle. This theory backfired for me though and I have now added at least ten new ones to my wish list. Rock Rose and Bathtub in particular, in case you need ideas for my upcoming birthday…
I tried to make my way around a few of the various stalls and learn a little bit more from each brand before the gin made me too wobbly. Thomas Dakin, SipSmith, Zymurgorium, Blyth, Alnwick Gin, The Wilton Street Craft Co (their sloe gin candles are out of this world) and Manchester Gin were just some of the suppliers we chatted to. It turns out that they each have such interesting back stories and products that I really can’t do them justice in a just few short sentences here. Instead, I’ve decided to publish separate, dedicated posts on each of these companies soon so watch this space! (There’s a lot to talk about, you see)
We explored new blends, ingredients and flavours whilst slowly educating ourselves on the various distillery processes. There were also several talks and masterclasses dotted throughout the evening and we had a pretty wonderful time! So much so, that we were some of the last people to (somewhat reluctantly) leave once the event was over. Would I attend a Gin Society Festival again? Absolutely.
Gin Society Festival Dates 2017*
Buxton – 15th April
Chester – 5th & 6th May
Carlise – 19th & 20th May
Bolton – 26th & 27th May
Saddleworth – 2nd & 3rd June
Bury – 7th & 8th July
Southport – 22nd & 23rd September
Manchester – 29th & 30th September
Lancaster – 20th & 21st October
*New dates continuously are being added so be sure to keep an eye on them here.