After missing the Birmingham Gin Festival by a matter of days, we booked tickets for Manchester Gin Festival several weeks in advance. This turned out to have been a wise move on our part as the event was a sell-out.
We arrived at the venue at around 6.50pm, 20 minutes after the start time, and it was already busy, and continued to fill up once we were inside.
The venue was fabulous; an old swimming baths, originally built in 1906 but converted in 2007 into a three-room event venue. The building was full of character and provided an atmosphere which was perfect for an evening of gin tasting. It reminded Jay of spending Sunday evenings learning to swim.
We were greeted on arrival by the event staff, who gave us a brief talk on how the event would run, and provided us with a commemorative glass, a comprehensive event guide and a rather fetching blue badge which acted as a re-entry token should we leave the venue and return on the same evening. The organisation of the event was excellent throughout. Staff were friendly and made announcements over a PA system periodically to give notice of when masterclasses and presentations were about to take place.
For the purposes of the Gin Festival, each of the ‘pools’ that comprised the old baths became an arena hosting one element of the event; The first was a bar area offering a choice of 100 gins, details of which were provided in the programme. The second hosted cocktail making and exhibition stands by the larger distillers, while the third contained food stalls and entertainment. There were walkways and seating on the ‘ground’ level and further seating available upstairs.
The programme was very good quality, full colour all the way through and containing concise tasting notes for each of the gins on offer, which aided our selection process a great deal.
The gin samples were purchased via tokens in a similar way to a beer festival, with single measures costing one £5 token. Included in the price were the various recommended garnishes and tonic provided by Fever Tree, who were sponsoring the event.
The food stalls looked good but we didn’t sample any food, as we had eaten before the event began.
We didn’t attend any of the talks or masterclasses that were also provided but all appeared to have been well attended.
Initially we sat upstairs at a table in the corner of one of the rooms. This proved helpful in drawing up a list of gins to sample, but we soon changed our minds and moved downstairs where the atmosphere was better. The venue was of ample size for the event and we had no problems finding anywhere to sit.
Now to the gins themselves;
Half Hitch *Jay’s Gin of the Festival*
Distiller: Half Hitch
Guide said: Spicy notes of bell pepper and juniper meet citrus notes of sweet orange, nutmeg and a rich black tea.
Jay said: Cor! Two of my favourites in one glass! Gin and Earl Grey. Happy days. It would also be perfect with afternoon tea.
Distiller: Martin Miller's Gin
Guide said: Quite frankly insanely smooth and almost chewy on the palate. Sweet liquorice builds to a mild spicy but not at all edgy mid-palate picked with citrus.
Jay said: Sweet orange fizzy. Nice for a summer evening in the back garden.
Distiller: Ish Gin
Guide said: That Ish juniper start with fresh lime, spicy ginger and lots of zingy lime, inspired by Brazil.
Jay said: Lime: Lots of it! Would be good as a palate cleanser after a big meal.
Few Spirits Barrel Gin
Distiller: Few Spirits
Guide said: Aged in oak barrels, resulting in an increased level of sweetness, complexity and spice. Dark, rich cherries and spices, clove oil, juniper and ginger nuts.
Jay said: Oh! Love whisky: Love gin, but the two together didn’t work for me.
Distiller: Few Spirits
Guide said: Unlike any other gin, this offering from Few Spirits is made using white whiskey (un-aged bourbon). Fresh juniper and citrus peels, thick with sweet vanilla notes.
Jay said: Pear drops: Lots of them. Fruity and Sherbetty. Would be nice on a night out, but wouldn’t want more than one.
Geranium London Dry
Distiller: Geranium Gin
Guide said: Clean fresh palate, rightly led by Juniper, with strong citrus and aromatic tea-like floral notes adding to its considerable complexity.
Jay said: Does what it says on the tin. Sweet, light and fizzy with tonic. A good quaffing gin.
Distillery: Daffy's Gin
Guide said: A fresh and woody nose with smooth and vibrant spice palate. Fine juniper and Lebanese mint (add) to a long, buttery, warm and elegant finish.
Dee said: Clean, fresh aroma of pine. A big hit of juniper but didn’t linger too long on the palate.
Jensen Old Tom
Distillery: Bermondsey Gin
Guide said: Jensen’s Old Tom is a recreation of an original Old Tom recipe from the 1840s. An extraordinarily complex, intensely flavoured gin, with long lasting herbal spiced notes and a natural residual sweetness on the finish.
Dee said: Strong initial aroma of juniper. Intense, grassy flavour. When tonic was added, it unlocked the spicy and herbal tastes, including rosemary and a hint of coriander. It seemed to improve the longer it ‘stood’. A superb gin.
The Exiles Irish Gin
Distillery: The Exiles Gin
Guide said: Traditional pot-distilling method. Skillfully infused with shamrock, red clover flowers, honeysuckle flowers, rowan berries and bog myrtle, the essence of Ireland.
Dee said: A much more subtle aroma than I was expecting, although I definitely got the berries. Quite dry tasting with a slightly floral aftertaste. Took on a little sweetness when tonic was added.
Burleigh’s London Dry Gin
Distillery: Burleigh's Gin
Guide said: Big, robust flavours with an initial hit of dry juniper followed by pine, eucalyptus and citrus. Spicy and floral notes in the background. Long parma violet and eucalyptus finish.
Dee said: Spicy aroma, with eucalyptus very much in evidence both before and during tasting. Another quite dry gin that had a nice lingering finish.
Terroir Gin *Dee’s Gin of the Festival*
Distillery: St. George Spirits
Guide said: You’re in a Northern Californian forest, surrounded by Douglas Firs, breathing in the local woodsy, herbal, aromas!
Dee said: Fantastic initial aroma. Took a while to pin it down but eventually managed to pin it down: Bazooka Bubble Gum. This gave way to a much drier taste; The rosemary made its presence felt and there was an added taste of pine needles. No tonic needed. This was fabulous and my gin of the festival.
Bathtub Gin Old Tom
Guide said: Noticeably sweet, liquorice allsorts, light juniper and orange TicTacs.
Dee said: Juniper and Citrus on the nose. Sweet tasting. Made a lovely, fresh summery drink when the tonic was added.
Plus a couple that we both tried
18th Century Gin
Distillery: Eccentric Gin Co.
Guide said: This gin was a special guest, so wasn’t listed in the guide, but was recommended by the bar staff as being good with a sliced of cucumber as a garnish.
Dee said: A strong liquoricey aroma, followed by an equally strong woody taste. I enjoyed it without any garnish. Because of the intense presence of the liquorice it was fine as it was.
Jay said: Very smooth. A drink for the end of the night.
Distillery: Blackwoods Gin
Guide said: Floral notes on the nose are balanced with juniper. Rich mouthfeel with pleasant citrus flavour followed by a long dry finish.
Dee said: This was the strongest gin of the festival, and also came recommended by a couple of fellow festival attendees so we decided to give it a go. It had a surprisingly fresh initial aroma, helped along by the mint and lime garnish. This paired nicely with the strong taste of juniper, which had great staying power. I decided not to add any tonic as it was nice enough with just the garnish.
Jay said: Dangerously drinkable. I’d enjoy this as an alternative to a mojito, somewhere hot while the sun goes down.
In conclusion, this was a great event, full of atmosphere and character. It was exceptionally well organised with opportunities to sample a broad range of gins. Highly recommended for anyone who loves their gins. We will certainly be attending again.
Reviewed by Dee, 31st March 2015