This weekend I attended my first Gin Festival – I was so happy to receive a guest pass as the event sold out pretty quickly! Held across three days at Tobacco Dock, this was the London edition of the touring festival, which started in 2012 as the brainchild of husband and wife team Jym and Marie Harris.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from Gin Festival, as it isn’t entirely clear from the website, but I like gin (obviously!) so I was excited to give it a whirl! And I was very happy I did, because it was a very enjoyable, sociable and good value (although I was a guest, standard tickets to the London event were a reasonable £10) evening.
Pro tip: Get there early! The queue was long. But it wasn’t all bad, gin drinkers are my kind of people so I made friends in the queue! In fact, it was easy to make friends all over the event. And you will want to get there at the beginning of your session, as you’ll want plenty of time once you’re inside!
On entry, you receive a lovely little badge indicating which session you’re attending (so you can come and go as you please), a great big Gin Festival glass, ‘The Gin Book’ guide to the event (which is now my gin ‘to do list’!), an event map, an order form should you wish to purchase any gins you’ve sampled and a Gin Festival pen. I was pretty pleased with my loot before I’d even tried any gin!
Also at the ‘Welcome & Information’ room you can leave your coat in the cloakroom, have a photo taken with silly props, find out Masterclass timings and, most importantly, buy your drinks tokens! Tokens were priced at £5 each and are sold in sets of four.
I’m a fan of Tobacco Dock for events like these, so it was no surprise to me that the Gin Festival layout was clear and easy to navigate, even without reference to the little map.
If taking the natural route around the festival, the first room you come to (and, in my opinion, the best!) showcases ‘The Brands’. Eleven brands were on hand to tell you about their gins, how best to serve them and give you a little taster. I didn’t anticipate having the opportunity to have proper conversations with the distillers, or to receive quite so many samples, or how generous those samples would be!
I found the mixture of brands really interesting, ranging from those even non-gin aficionados would know of, such as Sipsmith (who were giving tasters of a rather interesting Marmite gin!) and Pinkster, to some more unusual ones including one of my favourite new discoveries, Whitley Neill.
As well as the love it or hate it Sipsmith Marmite gin, other brands had specials for Gin Festival, one of my favourites was the Tea Edition from Masons. I mean, what’s more British than a tea flavoured gin?
Another favourite room of mine was ‘The Cocktail Bar’. A choice of six gin based (obviously!) cocktails, each redeemable for two tokens. There were also mocktails, which I didn’t try, because, well, gin…
Another pro tip: If you get the chance try the Rhubarb Rumble (Edinburgh Gin Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur, Advocaat, apple juice, lemon juice and rhubarb bitters) – it tastes just like rhubarb and custard sweets. I liked it so much I went back for a second!
On the other side of the event space was the main area, where you’d find ‘The Gin’. It’s basically a big bar, divided into four – two bars for UK gins, one for international gins and one for fruit gin liqueurs and other novelties. You can redeem your drinks tokens here for a 25ml serving of gin, and there are bottles of various Fever-Tree mixers that you can free pour yourself.
It was a really nice set up – attendees could mingle over shared tables, making for a lovely, sociable atmosphere, and the live music was great in the background. With over 100 gins on offer, I was surprised how organised it was!
If you had time between all that gin drinking, there were several masterclasses on offer – I went to the Pinkster one, where their representative spoke about the brand, their products and how best to drink them, and we were given plenty of tasters! Although my personal preference is to be out and about chatting to other attendees, it was nice to have a little break and sit down from the crowd, while learning something about a brand I like.
Gin Festival also had its own on-site off-licence (with free home delivery!), where you could buy the gins you’d tried and liked, as well as a selection of gifts (I liked the ‘Gin Festival In A Box’ idea). As well as being able to take your pick from the gins on offer at the off-licence, you could also sign up to Gin Explorer with a special Gin Festival discount. Gin Explorer is a new monthly subscription box, which includes a selection of 50ml gins. I can’t wait for my first box to arrive!
There were also artists painting on canvas, live music and a selfie booth (with an Instagram competition!).
On the lower level you could find street food stands (pretty necessary considering the amount of alcohol on offer!) from a new Tobacco Dock street food project – varying from hearty pies to healthy salads.
Overall, I had a fantastic evening at Gin Festival, and it really exceeded my expectations. I had expected it to be just one big gin bar really, but they put on a nicely varied event – it managed to be nice and intimate with a focus on the gin, without it being one dimensional or boring.
I would recommend snapping up a ticket if they’re coming your way, as they seem to sell out pretty sharpish!
Lissa Evans is a London based lifestyle blogger at Girl At The Rock Show. She loves heavy metal, cocktails, penguins, unhealthy food, Alice in Wonderland and the colour pink, and can usually be found anywhere with good music, boozy drinks and chilled vibes.
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