Now celebrating its fifth year, Junipalooza London promised to be bigger and better in 2018 than ever before. And it did not disappoint! With over 70 distilleries, literally hundreds of gins, the inaugural newcomer tasting zone and four experiential rooms, Junipalooza was set to burst out of the confines of the beautiful ground floor of Tobacco Docks.
From the get-go, things have changed this year. Firstly the map was published in advance of the festival, allowing punters time to plan their visit. Then on arrival, attendees received a complimentary bottle of water (with so many gins on offer, hydration is of paramount importance to everyone involved), a branded keepsake glass (partly, one assumes to keep up with other gin festivals out there, but also to try to reduce the amount of single-use disposable plastic glasses used) and also the redesigned festival guide – an informative mini newspaper featuring everything on site and also a critics’ choice section featuring – ahem – me!
Once through the doors, the atmosphere was, as ever, relaxed and friendly (perhaps more so on the longer Sunday session rather than the slightly shorter and more frantic Saturday sessions). Junipalooza has stayed absolutely true to its core ethos of celebrating the distillers and makers as much as the distilleries and spirits they make, and everyone – from established brands and old friends to new distilleries and newcomers – made time for a chat.
Despite attending two sessions this year (!) I couldn’t begin to try, or even write about, all the gins on show, and indeed there were quite a few that I missed out on. But that’s just Junipalooza for you. It’s about quality not quantity and about taking time to meet and engage with the makers. You really can’t hope to taste everything and only a fool would try (and no doubt be promptly removed by security!).
Some of the stand-out offerings from the bigger and more established brands included Lone Wolf‘s terrific navy strength Gunpower Gin, Australia’s Four Pillars‘ Bloody Shiraz 2018 vintage – a grape-infused fruity little number akin to a sloe or damson gin which I’m told is their best yet – and 6 O’Clock’s brand new Jekka’s Edition, featuring lemon verbena, swiss mint, blackcurrent leaf and rose petal from renowned organic gardening expert Jekka McVicar’s own herb garden. Meanwhile micro-distillery 58 Gin also presented a long-awaited navy strength gin in addition to an incredible limited-edition distilled sloe gin (only the second I’ve come across).
The offerings from many of the newer brands were every bit as good, and I could not have hoped for a warmer welcome either. All the makers were passionate, informed and informative, not least Renegade Gin. I could have merrily chatted away to the lovely ladies at GŴYR Gower Gin and Six Dogs all day and night too, especially if they kept serving their sensational spirits! I was also blown away by Twelve Keys – featuring honey, apricot, fig and quince – and Hidden Curiosities – a warm spicy gin balanced with yuzu, pink grapefruit and lime – both of which are graced with stunning labels! Last, but certainly not least, my picks from the newcomers zone have to be New Zealand’s Dancing Sands, whose Chocolate Gin had to be tasted to believed, and India’s first craft gin, Hapusā, featuring Himalayan juniper and delicious dry and earthy spices.
And then there were the experiential rooms too! The only one I made it to was the Warner Edwards live distillation and, while not all visitors got to try all the heads, hearts and tails as promised, it definitely did not disappoint. Following a complimentary G&T on arrival, Tom and his team introduced us to the Warner Edwards range and philosophy before allowing us to sample the neat-alcohol heart direct from the still (a definite highlight of my day) and finally label and wax-seal our very own 200ml bottle of Junipalooza Gin to take home in our goody bags. This experience cost an additional £15 on top of the ticket price but, to my mind, it was very good value for money, especially as the goody bag included a voucher for £15 off at the Warner Edwards online shop.
So, is there any room for improvement? Honestly, I’m not sure there is. Yes, I heard some criticism of the food on offer (but my pulled pork brioche was delicious) and, yes, it was unfortunate they ran out of the smaller bottles of Hildon water on the Sunday (but there was still plenty of water available throughout the entire session). It would be great if they could put a little more effort into publicising all the new releases but realistically, with more than one distillery still labelling and bottling gins the night before, that just isn’t practical! So what can they do next year? I’d love to see the guidebooks sent out electronically a few days before the festival so one can really study it (and I’m not just saying that because I was featured in it!). Beyond that, I’d say don’t change a thing. And certainly don’t make it any bigger. Junipalooza is now a huge international juggernaut but it’s still true to its original ethos and still in very good hands. And I would never want to see that compromised!
With thanks to Olivier and Emile Ward at Gin Foundry for the complimentary tickets.