It is testament to the enduring appeal of, and fascination with, whisky that Whisky Live has been running for 19 years and is now held in over 25 countries. And it’s a measure of the extent to which gin has shot to prominence in recent years that, on 29 and 30 March 2019, the first Gin Live London shared the bill with its well-heeled forebear. Both festivals were held in the stunning grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company; considered the second oldest military corps in the world and, today, a registered charity whose purpose is to attend to the “better defence of the realm” … [insert Brexit joke here]
Gin Live was not, however, located in the grand 18th century mansion that dominates the site, but in a small marquee to one side. In the spring sunshine it actually made a rather lovely venue (if a little too hot at times) but it would have been far less pleasant had the rain been lashing down. The inaugural Gin Live London was also much smaller than the behemoth that is Whisky Live, with just 16 stands compared to 42 within the mansion. That said, there are only so many gins it’s wise to taste in 5 hours and the selection on offer was both impressively varied and manageable. Those in the know (but only those in the know) could also find themselves a few more gins from the likes of Bimber Distillery and Nikka inside Whisky Live, if they could tear themselves away from the main event.
On arrival it was hard to resist the lure of Crafty Distillery’s stunning Hills & Harbour Gin bottles, illuminated by the sun’s rays, and the contents didn’t disappoint either! Based in Galloway, Crafty Distillery make their own wheat base spirit from local grain before distilling with a variety of traditional and more unusual botanicals including locally foraged Noble Fir, sweet mango, salty bladderwrack seaweed, green Sichuan pepper and bay leaves. Two further examples of exceptional Scottish grain-to-glass production were also present in the form of William Kerr’s Borders Gin and The Gael, both of which are made with malted barley lending the spirits a distinctive nose.
There was an equally impressive selection of gins from overseas too including Audemus Spirits’ flagship Pink Pepper Gin and India’s delicious Greater Than from Nao Spirits (also the makers of Hapusā Gin – one of my top ten of 2018). Sweden’s Hernö and Australia’s Four Pillars lived up to expectation as always with their Navy Strength and Spiced Negroni Gin respectively particularly catching my attention. And then there was a brand new brand in the form of Gothic Gin which, despite not yet having fully launched, was awarded World Gin Awards 2019 Gold Medal for Contemporary Style Gin from the United States. The temporary label may not particularly stand out but the spirit – featuring juniper, coriander and citrus alongside eucalyptus leaf and Indonesian black lampong peppercorns – certainly does. Paul from The Gin Guide has already tipped this for great success and who am I to argue with him?!
And then, of course, there were also some fabulous old favourites from (amongst others) Hayman’s, Cotswolds and Dà Mhìle. I also particularly enjoyed reacquainting myself with Edinburgh Gin. Sadly they didn’t have any of their 1670 Gin to sample but, my goodness, their Navy Strength Cannonball Gin is good. And rumour has it they have a few very limited edition gins lined up over the next few months too so, if you’re already a fan, be sure to keep your eyes peeled!
As is becoming the norm, tickets – priced at a pretty steep £50ish per person – included a show guide, tasting glass, unlimited pourings and access to masterclasses. Unusually however, visitors to Gin Live are also treated to a two-course meal as well as late entry to Whisky Live (and vice versa). Lunch was tasty and hearty (and much needed after all that booze!), and served in stunning surroundings but with the canteen-style service and communal seating it was a little reminiscent of school dinners, albeit very posh school dinners!
Nineteen years Whisky Live’s junior it is, perhaps, hardly surprising that the inaugural Gin Live did appear to be rather the poorer cousin (though tickets, I believe, were no cheaper). That said, it was a well organised and enjoyable day with an excellent selection of quality gins which bodes very well for the future indeed. Personally I might reconsider the ticket price and inclusive lunch, particularly if they want to appeal to a younger, more diverse market. However, what I’d really like to see is more of the World Gin Award winners in the marquee. When you’ve got 2019’s World’s Best Gin – Dingle Original – on site it really is a shame if it can only be found in the whisky room!
With thanks to Marianne Fernandez, Events & Operations Manager at Paragraph, for the complimentary tickets to attend Gin Live London.