Junipalooza

As one or two of you may have heard, last Saturday the 8th June was World Gin Day. Not only that, but it was the start of Junipalooza, the holy grail of Gin festivals.

Not only that, but it was my birthday (ok the day after my birthday, but I’m claiming the whole weekend).

Mrs Raven and I had already planned to make our way down from Yorkshire to London to celebrate both our birthdays (hers is a couple of weeks after mine), go to an exhibition, see a show, and have a lovely meal or three (plus she had tickets to see the Dior exhibition at the V&A which alas I could not make it to as I was busy poking my eyeballs with cocktail sticks). So I was somewhat delighted to discover that Junipalooza was on the very same weekend! We made our plans and duly bought tickets as soon as the bloody trains were available! Excitement!

As the event grew closer and many of the Ginny Twitter folk I follow began to talk about it, I gradually became more aware that this thing was quite a big deal, and indeed I was a damn amateur for only booking tickets to one session (!!), still for my first time I was happy just to see how it all went!

Eventually more details were released and the final lineup confirmed, so I began to make a list of the gins and makers I most wanted to meet and sample. With around 60 producers there, it was going to be a tough call, but I managed to pick seven or eight and decided I’d go from there.

Then, the big day rolled round… and it was absolutely brilliant. I had an amazing birthday!

Then the next big day rolled round!

Set in Tobacco Dock, a short walk from where we used to live (Junipalooza started pretty much the year after we left London which is pretty rude but ok…), we rocked up a few minutes to opening time and joined the much larger queue than I expected! However it didn’t take us long to get inside, and from there the fun began!

Now, I had every intention of taking photos, making notes, and generally being a very well organised boy… but alas as stated, I was a rank amateur in this hallowed place and all that went out the window within literally the first ten minutes. However, I am rather pleased to say that the reason I didn’t do those things is because I was having such a good time actually chatting to the makers! It was absolutely fantastic! When I saw the queue of people I thought it would be busier than it was (despite the organisers making it clear they wanted to make it better, not bigger, and deliberately limited ticket numbers in order to allow people time and space to speak to the people who make the gin) but I am really pleased to say that there was never a moment when it felt crowded!

And so… from memory alone, I shall lead you through my journey, and tell you about the gins I tried and the people I met. Get ready for lots of vague emotional language with a sprinking of actual information!

First off, as we were getting ready, we found ourselves right in front of the Bullards stand. Rory talked us through the gins and botanicals, in particular the tonka beans they’re now using, and how the addition of tonic brings out the almond flavours. I was on a mission to try lots of Old Tom gins so was keen to try theirs and it didn’t disappoint! Their foray into the ‘flavoured’ market is their Strawberry and Black Pepper which was by no means a liqueur-esque liquid we all know many of them to be. It had a pleasant, natural strawberry flavour, but wasn’t really to my taste.

Next it was on to ‘the ol’ Tappa Tappa’ as my wife and I are wont to say (in homage to a youtube cook) where we met Sue and Steve of Tappers Gin. I had been wanting to try Darkside for some time now as I’ve heard nothing but good things and it was here that I got my first buzz of being recognised as a Gin Blogger and Twitter-er-er! OK so just two days before I had basically tagged everyone I wanted to visit on Twitter and attached a photo of my scruffy mug, but it was still cool to hear the words ‘Are you Quaffed The Raven’! Anyway I had a great long chat with both of them about how they do what they do, and thought they were wonderful people. And I can say that Darkside did not disappoint! What a remarkable gin! So full of herbal, medicinal flavours, it’s like a ‘tonic’ in the old sense of the word! Very interesting!

From there our friends arrived and met us, and I became the official pied piper of Junipalooza, with three other people who were only too happy to follow my lead!

Our next stop was Renegade Gin. Braden was kind of difficult to miss, not just because the stand was in the entrance to the room, but because he basically just swaggered around pouring gin like the world was ending! And what a great gin the team have on their hands! Full of bold, rich, spiced flavours, I had been wanting to try it as soon as I read about it a few months ago and was not disappointed! I chatted with Braden about his future plans for the distillery, all of which sound really exciting, and ended with a sample of his pride and joy: Baller vodka. One of the best vodkas I’ve had in a long long time!

Next was a brand I knew very little about, but in the run-up to the event had really caught my attention with lashings of high praise from other gin drinkers: Pothecary. Martin is a small batch distiller who blends his distillates to make his organic gins. My first taste was of the limited edition ‘Trinity’ gin which frankly is ludicrously good. Made with just three botanicals: juniper, coriander, and bergamot, it’s a real gin lovers gin. His original blend was another favourite of mine and is also absolutely crazy good. I had such a wonderful long chat with Martin, everyone abandoned me for another stall!

Into the next room and it was time to meet the folks from Hernö Gin. I bought myself a bottle of their Old Tom a couple of months ago as I was keen to try it given it had won World’s Best Gin in ’17 and ’18 so was very excited to sample the rest of the range. First up was the Juniper Cask gin. I wasn’t sure what to expect really, but what I tasted was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever had. The flavour simply has to be tasted to be believed. Utterly, utterly incredible. Johan was only too happy to talk me through everything, and the rest of the range was incredible too, with the Navy Strength my preference over the original. We even tried the Jolie Rouge which is basically a one off experiment (of 849 bottles) marked as the first in their ‘Interpretations’ series. Jolie Rouge is the original gin aged four times in rum barrels and it was absolutely stunning, but a little too pricey for me!

On to the next room and to a relatively local brand for me: York Gin. I’d heard good things about them and was extra excited as they were releasing their Old Tom this very day! I chatted with Emma a bit about the gins and distillery, and their new shop which sounds like it’s doing incredibly well! The gins were fantastic too, I really enjoyed the cocoa gin, and the Old Tom was very nice, but it was the Outlaw (their Navy Strength) that was the stand out one for me. Absolutely delicious.

By this point, I was most definitely feeling the effects of the numerous samples I had tasted! But there were only a couple of stalls left on my hit list, so I felt like I was doing ok with about an hour to go till the end. I’d begun tweeting my whereabouts in case anyone wanted to find me and so I tweeted that I was on my way to bbbbbb Brentingby!

One of the larger stalls, and quite busy, I joined in and got chatting to people before finally introducing myself to Bruce, who admitted that when he saw me he had worried we’d already met and he’d forgotten my name! As I passed around samples to Mrs Raven and our friends, I was also caught up by Twitter-pal Anthony (a.k.a Brim and Tonic) which was very much a bonus! I’d spotted another Twitter-er in the queue to get in but hadn’t managed to find her, and had only heard whisperings that others were about!

Back to Bruce and his wonderful gin where of course I sampled everything he had! The original gin is beautifully smooth and subtle, making it insanely easy to drink, the Black had a little more kick with lime, ginger and meadowsweet and was equally lovely, as was the Pink with it’s South African botanicals: rooibos and baobab. All were delightful, but there is another I need to tell you about: Brentingby’s barrel aged gin.

This gin buckled my knees. It is a marriage of my two spirit loves: gin and bourbon. Aged in bourbon barrels for over three months, it has all the bright, floral and citrus notes of a gin, with the sweet caramels of bourbon. I was utterly blown away and immediately bought several bottles (at least one of which is a gift, I swear!). Sublime. After a quick selfie with Bruce, I was dragged away by my friends who decided that I had spent quite long enough there and it was now time for a quick stop at a stall they had visited while I was ‘networking’!

Brookies is an Australian gin that’s all about the environment. The Brook family began their rainforest regeneration back in 1988 near Byron Bay, and I chatted briefly with Eddie Brook about the gin. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the liquid itself, or the botanicals (many of which come from the local rainforest) but I do remember it tasting delicious! I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for it as I really liked the gin and their ethos.

Finally it was near time and I just had one last stop to make, so off I went to meet Jim, the man behind Mackintosh Gin. This was another of which I’d seen many a rave review and had let know I would be paying them a visit! I confess by this time I was well and truly on my way to being drunk (I imagine if Jim reads this he will raise an eyebrow and nod), but that didn’t stop me appreciating such a wonderful gin! Another simple, subtle, but smooth and inviting taste, this is another I will most definitely be keeping my eye out for!

So… what happened after that was mostly just running around trying to find people, lamenting the fact that I had run out of time and hadn’t made it to the BYO stand, briefly fawning over a few of the beautiful bottles, joining the queue for the kiosk with not a clue as to what I would buy when I got to the front, deciding it was probably a bad idea and heading for the exit, where the rest were waiting for me (and holding not only my bottles of Brentingby, but several of their own!).

I can confirm that the moment I stepped outside, drunkeness descended like a wave crashing on rocks, and frankly the next few hours were not the most productive! But still, I had an absolutely amazing time! I’m already planning to attend next year’s event, and will most likely do both days (though not the evening session!).

My thanks to all involved, especially Olivier and Emile of Gin Foundry, who created the whole event! Apologies to all of you reading this for any errors, and indeed for managing to write so very much with so very little detail! I hope it was worth it and thank you if you made it this far!

See you next year!


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