Last year I raved about Junipalooza London and said the one thing the organisers shouldn’t do is make it any bigger. And lo, this year Gin Foundry promised us “better, not bigger”. Better began before you even stepped through the door, with the promise of an extended Newcomer zone, additional experiential zones and also a digitised show guide to help you plan your visit in advance. And the doors have changed too! Gone is the slightly underwhelming entrance opposite a building site on Pennington Street, and instead people were greeted by the tall ships at Tobacco Dock before passing through the bespoke branded archway.
Inside, the new entrance meant everything was back-to-front compared to previous years, which flummoxed a few of us old-timers, but it did seem to create an increased sense of space (although that could just be because I arrived late!). Technically I think it was also a bit bigger than last year but the additional experiential events, including a free masterclass from Merchant’s Heart, seemed to work well to take the pressure off some of the stands which were generally pretty easy for punters to get to this year. If anything the newcomers corner seemed a little bit too quiet and hidden away but, when I suggested this to the brands, they all reassured me they were very happy with their spot.
I decided to hit those newcomers first and was not disappointed. I was delighted to see ARC Gin, from the Philippines’ first craft distillery Full Circle, and Scotland’s Mackintosh Gin; two gins I already know and admire very much. The other newcomers were also new to me and came from equally far-flung places. It was a pleasure to try India’s Jaisalmer Gin and Singapore’s Brass Lion but it was the other two newcomers which really stood out for me.
Opera Gin, the first to hail from Hungary after a legal wrangle not dissimilar with Sipsmith’s in the UK, impressed me with its passionate people, lovely label – which references the copper pot still and rectifying column in which the gin is produced – and, of course, the quality of their gin. A fairly traditional London Dry, it features Hungarian Juniper, poppy seeds and lavender. What really excited me, though, is their plans for the future which, they told me, include distilling exactly the same ingredients in exactly the same quantities but using different method(s) to produce a very different spirit. Sounds like one for the gin geeks without a doubt!
The other newcomer that really caught my eye was Surrey’s Sandhills Gin (and how could it not in that bright yellow bottle?!). Intriguingly touted as “hybrid distilled”, the heavier and more traditional botanicals, such as juniper and coriander, are distilled in a copper pot whereas the lighter ones, including gorse and honey, are cold-vacuum distilled. Also featuring yuzu, orange and lemon balm, it is an interesting citrus-forward gin with some spicy notes. And having had a sneaky taste from a bottle under the table (that I’ve promised not to write about!) I reckon they are another one worth keeping an eye on.
Another newbie who had a great show, having claimed Junipalooza’s bursary spot, was Downton Distillery (no connection to the TV series, although a gin that does have a link is on its way!). Downton’s Explorer’s Gin is presented in a stunning bottle and the contents more than live up to that first impression. Featuring fifteen botanicals including juniper, coriander seed, citrus peel, lemon verbena, fennel seed, pink pepper, cedar and timur berries, it won a lot of fans on the day and I, for one, can’t wait to get to know it a lot better!
Other highlights for me included Hidden Curiosities‘ Navy Strength Aranami Gin, Brentingby’s Black Edition and their brand-new Barrel Aged Gin, and Duck and Crutch who brought their two spirits, copper still and even their gin shed with them from West London! However, much as I enjoyed the latter’s gin, I’d be hard pushed to justify the Kensington price-tags on their beautiful bottles.
I also really enjoyed revisiting some old favourites, including Greensand Ridge and Dartmouth English Gin, and others who had new additions to their ranges. I was particularly impressed with Doghouse Distillery’s Sidewayz Sloe Gin, Gower’s citrussy GWYR: Rhosili (and their cask-aged Pinwydd Negroni!) and York Gin’s Old Tom.
But if I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be Australia’s Never Never Distilling Co. and, judging by the chat on Twitter, it sounds like I’m far from alone. A range for the truly juniper-obsessed, their Triple Juniper Gin involves the botanical being treated in three different ways: steeped for 24 hours, distilled in the pot and also placed in the still’s vapour basket. Their 52% ABV Southern Strength Gin features elevated angelica root, coriander seed and lemon, and was recently awarded World’s Best Classic Gin at the World Gin Awards 2019 (at which yours truly was a judge!). But it was their navy strength Juniper Freak Gin that truly captured my heart and forced my wallet open. It’s full strength, full flavour and freakin’ fabulous!
As for the event itself, I’m not sure Junipalooza 2019 was better as such – and it certainly felt bigger, almost warren-like in parts – but, as a punter, it definitely lived up to last year’s high standards. That said, I was concerned on behalf of the newcomers that they were not allowed to sell bottles from their own stands, and, while many brands have raved about their experience (online at least) I have heard some misgivings about stock running low (or even out) after only the first session. Also, the experiential events may have been an excellent means of relieving the pressure on the stands, but there is still a balance to be struck for the makers who have invested their time and money in the event, and (having been unable to sell full serves) do need to shift a lot of bottles to begin to break even.
That said, it was, for me, the perfect way to spend World Gin Day; sampling superb spirits, slushys and even Negronis, chatting to gin-makers and owners, and catching up with fellow bloggers and friends. The only downside is that it pretty much meant I couldn’t get to any other World Gin Day events (the kids being the other stumbling block). With Junipalooza now being the international event it is, I do wonder if it wouldn’t be better to move it to a quieter weekend in the gin calendar. And while we’re at it, can we maybe make it a bit smaller next year please? I’m just not sure I can handle the FOMO anymore!
If you missed Junipalooza London this year why not visit Junipalooza Melbourne on 26th & 27th October?
Junipalooza London 2020 will take place on 6th & 7th June. Purchase your tickets here.
With thanks to Olivier and Emile Ward at Gin Foundry for the complimentary tickets.