We waited a long time for Junipalooza 2021 and god it was good! Founder Olivier Ward may have seen compromises everywhere – and yes, it was the show he and brother Emile planned to put on last year, not the one they wanted to put on this year – but all I saw everywhere was beaming faces!
For many, both brands and consumers, it was their first return to big, live events and everyone seemed to love it. Tobacco Docks’ vaults will always be a slightly claustrophobic space with those beautiful – but rather low – exposed brick barrel-vaulted ceilings, but The Spirits Society did a great job of spacing out all the stands, and limiting the number of attendees, so there was plenty of space to circulate and individual stands were considerably less crowded than previously.
And what a selection of stands there was this year! Admittedly the current circumstances severely limited the number of attendees from overseas but it was great to see a few brilliant brands representing the international market including Sweden’s constant award-winners Hernö, Bobby’s Indonesian-inspired gin from the Netherlands and Venezuela’s Canaïma Gin who work directly with local communities in the Amazon to harvest botanicals in ways that limit environmental impacts. Named after, and created using, African juniper (the only species in the Juniperus genus to grow in the Southern hemisphere) Kenya’s Procera was a definite highlight for me. From their new 70cl bottles to their limited edition 2021 vintage Red Dot and their yet-to-be-released under-the-table Green Dot there was a lot to love (although the price tags did leave more than a few attendees looking rather aghast!).
While I do love that insight into what is going on overseas, the Newcomers Zone is the real priority for me; not only is it wonderful to try something you’ve never tasted before, but I simply love meeting makers at the beginning of their journey. First impressions lived up to expectation with these newbies demonstrating just how important beautiful bottles and bold branding has become in this saturated market. But of course they all tasted great too.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Shivering Mountain’s Pink Gin which wasn’t the sweet, fruity number I had expected but a tasty citrus-forward gin with plenty of pink grapefruit up front. Greenwich Gin intriguingly combines British marine and coastal botanicals with ingredients discovered on the founder’s worldwide travels including Lulo from Colombia, Sakura from Japan and Balsam Fir from Canada, while Animal Spirits‘ GIN01 – The Rabbit is a spicier number with cardamom, Sichuan green pepper and Kazbek hops. My pick of the bunch though was Cornwall’s Monterey Gin featuring cardamom, kaffir lime, sea buckthorn, maté and gentian root, and which achieved an incredible 98/100 at the IWSC Awards 2020. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for their new look which is coming soon too!
And that was just the tip of the iceberg! One of the consequences of having more British brands at Junipalooza was more gin-lovers singing the praises of their local distillery which was what persuaded me to visit Big Hill Distillery’s stand and try their Spirit of George Gin which definitely did not disappoint. Having been a big fan of theirs for sometime now, I was also delighted to try Bertha’s Revenge Navy Strength and Sloe Gins and their new yet-to-be-released Crabapple Gin which accompanied my little wedge of cheddar cheese exceptionally well. I also loved chatting all things sustainability with Jim and Tonic and meeting the family behind The River Test Distillery and tasting their Chalkstream Gold which, unusually, uses barley as a botanical. And when I saw The Gin Lord swooning over The Boatyard Distillery’s Old Tom Gin I couldn’t resist getting in on that action either!
But the best bit for me really was catching up with friends on both sides of the stands, some of whom I’d never met face-to-face before. Having first met Jim Mackintosh on their newcomer’s stand back in 2019, it was great to see how far the brand has come, meet more of the family and taste the newer additions to the range as well as that tablet (if you know you know)! Similarly I loved catching up with Ian of Old Bakery Gin and Steve and Sue of Tappers Gin, both of whom had new pink gins to try. And that was just the beginning! I also had a great time chatting to Adam and Claire of Papillon Gin and getting to know their Navy strength gin The Admiral, Anicca from Thunderflower Gin – who had an amazing pre-mixed Fireship 58 Negroni up her sleeve – and Siân and Andrew of Gower Gin who introduced me to their new Welsh vermouth and wowed me with their incredible martinis.
Despite attending two sessions, there simply wasn’t time to visit everyone I intended to, so sadly I missed out on the Negroni Room (although I heard great things) and also failed to catch up with 137 Gin and Hrafn Gin. Next time I promise!
Olivier and Emile should give themselves a big pat on the back for making Junipalooza London finally take place despite so many delays and frustrations, and also for making so many people feel so safe and so happy. Better yet, I know all the delays have given them plenty of time to conjure up some really interesting ideas to switch everything up next year so I for one am already looking forward to Junipalooza 2022. I do really hope I don’t have to wait until then to see you all again though!
With thanks to Olivier and Emile Ward at The Spirits Society for the complimentary tickets.