When I heard there was going to be a Gin Festival and that Sussex Bloggers were invited I nearly choked on my Tanqueray. Gin has been my tipple of choice for longer than I care to mention and decades before it became trendy. I was, indeed, the perfect candidate for this gintrepid mission. So, what is this celebration of everything gin? Why had I not heard of it before and would there be a new addition to my gin trolley? Yes, I have a gin trolley. I was clearly super-qualified for this brief. I hopped on the train to Eastbourne to get my gin on.
Gin is in
Gin has become incredibly popular in recent years. No longer is it that horrible stuff that lurks at the back of your Nan’s cupboard. It’s morphed into a super-trendy tipple that’s on everyone’s shot list. Pubs don’t offer just one or two gins any more. There’s an assemblage to choose from and a compilation of tonics to accompany. And now there’s the Gin Festival. The UK’s first and best gin festival started in Leeds in 2013 and has been selling out in venues across the UK ever since.
Eastbourne Gin Festival
The festival took place at the Kings Centre in Eastbourne, a convenient ten-minute walk from Hampden Park train station. Mr. Jones needed no persuading to come along with me.
We arrived to hear the clinking of ice, the chink of glasses and the buzz of a gin-fuelled atmosphere. On the door, we were both handed a pack containing a huge Gin Festival Copa Balloon Glass to drink from at the show. There was also a little bag which it fitted into when not in use and ‘The Gin Book’ – a guide to all the gins on offer at the festival. A mere 147 artisan gins were showcased at Eastbourne.
We started in the main hall, effectively a gin emporium, where there’s a huge bar filing the length of one wall, which is divided into four sections; two for UK gins, one for international gins and one filled with liqueurs and fruit gins. Fever Tree mixers are freely available and each bartender will advise which tonic best suits each gin.
For my first foray, I started with the nearest gin to home that I could find. Pink 47 from Kent with a simple lemon garnish and paired with Fever Tree Elderflower tonic. The smooth, crisp gin was the perfect start to proceedings. Mr Jones went with Leeds Gin White Rose since he hails from that neck of the woods. With our gin glasses charged we gathered around one of the high tables set up in the room and mingled with other ginthusiasts. Live music gave things a party atmosphere and, obviously, the gin helped.
Masterclasses take place throughout the festival and we sat in on the Tinker Gin talk held by Dan from Liverpool. Dan is a seriously funny guy and could easily give John Bishop a run for his money. We heard a bit about the history of gin, the science behind it and how Tinker make their small batch gin.
Food at the Festival
Back in the main hall and time for more quaffing. I chose Fishers Gin from Suffolk and Mr Jones, appropriately, Silver Fox. At this point a rosy glow was beginning to set in so we thought we’d better eat something. Burgers, pulled pork and pulled beef sandwiches and chips were served by women dressed in forties style outfits and hipster guys. The food was delicious, filling and helped soak up some of that gin. Vegetarian options were also available.
After filling up on pulled pork sandwiches we discovered the gin tasting room – my favourite part of the Gin Festival. 6-8 different brands of gin are showcased here and we met the gin distillers in person. Generous samples of gin were handed out whilst we chatted about the different distillations and infusion methods and botanicals that are used. I was delighted to find a Sussex gin distillery in the room.
Harley House Pure Sussex Gin is produced in Seaford by a family run business with water that’s been filtered through the chalk of the south downs. You can’t get more Sussex or purer than that. The distiller suggested that I tried Pure Sussex with ginger ale and a garnish of fresh chillies. It warmed the cockles nicely.
Black Tomato gin, from Holland, is the first gin to be made from black tomatoes. It was very different with just a vague hint of tomato and garnished with juniper berries and basil. We tasted a gin Bloody Mary but if I’m honest I I prefer my Bloody Mary made with vodka.
I found a new favourite in the gin tasting room. The intensely smooth Brockman’s Gin is seriously special and it’s going on my gin wish list. One of the things we loved about the Gin Festival is that the distillers were so enthusiastic about all the gins, not just their own. They were keen to chat about all aspects of gin making and gin drinking. We were in good company.
Rhubarb and Ginger Gin
For our final drink we went back into the main hall. ‘The Cocktail Bar’ has a choice of six gin based cocktails. There were also mocktails although we didn’t try them because, well, you go to a gin festival for the gin. I’d heard a lot about Edinburgh Gin Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur and felt that a sweet drink would round off the event nicely. It was a winner. Warm, sweet rhubarb and ginger has a slight zesty twist and a hint of spice. It’s absolutely delicious and I have a bottle on order.
Before leaving we stopped off at Gin Festival’s own on-site off-licence where you can buy any of the gins with free home delivery and choose from a range of gin inspired gifts. You can also buy from the Gin Festival website.
Need to Know
Admission at Eastbourne cost £15 (prices vary around the country) and for this you get your Gin Festival pack (details in the article) and a token for your first drink. It’s cashless with wristbands which you can load up on-line before you go or at the top-up stations on site. The wristbands are scanned each time you buy a drink. Each 25ml serving of gin plus tonic is one token and each token costs £5. The cocktails cost two tokens.
We had a fantastic time at Eastbourne Gin Festival. It was so much more than one big gin fest thanks to the live music, gin tastings, masterclasses and great food. It was fascinating to chat to distillers and learn about gin from people who are passionate about their craft.
Sadly the Gin Festival has now gone into administration. However we’ve scoured the county and found some local gin festivals that might be to your taste. Sussex Gin and Fizz Festival in Lewes is organised and supported by Lewes District Council to celebrate Sussex produced sparkling wine & gin. Brighton has a new gin festival on 1-2 September this year called Sussex Gin Fest.
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