Enjoying a well-crafted cocktail in your favourite bar is the perfect way to unwind after a busy week, but I am often amazed by the creativity of professional mixologists. At a recent event I was astounded by the sheer number of local gins available behind the bar and after asking the bartender where they sourced them, he let me into a little secret - festivals.
The rise of gin has been meteoric and as it has gained popularity, the general public has become more interested about the craft behind the tipple. As more distilleries have sprung up all over the UK, the need for an event to show off their talent has created a trend, and other spirits and drinks are jumping on the bandwagon, thus the drink festival was born.
I spoke to Olivier at the gin foundry, the online home of all things gin. He told me about the positive role these festivals can have for industry professionals and the public alike:
“At their best, drinks festivals can help educate and inspire by not just showcasing brands and how to use them, but also by explaining how spirits are made, who they are made by and the ideas and creativity that has gone into each bottle. For example, gin isn’t just loved because of an inherent love of the flavour of juniper, what gets gin fans talking is as much the spirit of the maker and the story that has gone into creating the liquid, as it is the spirit they have made. It is a combination of flavour and context that is the reason that the best brands are adopted and loved. The best drinks festivals, where you can go to meet the owners and the makers in person, give people the opportunity to connect with that side of the drinks world.”
The Gin Festival
Why gin has captured the public’s imagination quite so thoroughly, remains a mystery. It may be the spirit’s refreshing nature, or the hundreds of garnishes that allow for an element of control or customisation, but either way the humble gin has not seen such popularity since Victorian times.
The Gin Festival began with a husband and wife team who wanted an event that allows people to find new gins. Now it has grown almost beyond recognition, touring cities all over the UK and introducing both industry workers and the general public alike to new gins and interesting combinations.
Any gin connoisseur should visit this event, with over 100 different gins displayed, each paired with the perfect garnish and tonic, you are sure to find your favourite beverage. However the best thing about this festival is the passion. Ask any one of the stall owners or go along to a talk and you will know every detail of the tipple. This is great for those with their own bar to stock. Being able to pass on the heritage of the drink really adds an element of care and attention that is often lacking.
I spoke to Tom Grummett, an expert at The Gin Festival and he explained the ethos a little further:
“As a spirit, Gin has spent most of the last century sat in the back of cupboards or behind bars dominated by one or two large name brands but over the past 10 years the number of Gin distillers (not just in the UK but around the world) has increased dramatically. Our events offer customers the opportunity to experience a selection of these gins in an environment which caters for both industry professionals as well as people who simply enjoy a nice G&T. With such a massive range of gin available over the bars, our bar teams are all given specific training about the gins they'll be working with as well as garnish recommendations, tonic pairings and an overall understanding about Gin as a spirit. I think this training is a key part of our event as, regardless what your day-to-day profession, people are becoming more and more interested about what's actually in their glass so having a fantastic bar team that's able to not only tell you a bit about the gin but also make informed recommendations and help guide the customer to a drink they'll enjoy is a huge thing for us.
Alongside the bars there's also the opportunity to chat with the people responsible for creating some of the featured gins, at all of our events we are joined by industry experts and some fantastic Brands. These vary from event to event and range from small 2 person distillery teams right through to larger Brands with portfolios consisting of several different gins. Being able to meet the faces behind the Gins is a great educational experience all round and all our customers will take away something different from each Brand.”
Oxford Wine Festival
If you are a sommelier looking for inspiration, than this should be the festival you hit this summer. Forget Glastonbury, the Oxford Wine Festival has everything you need. Bringing together 40 of the UK’s leading wine merchants, visitors have access to hundreds of the worlds rare and award winning wines. I spoke to Chris Bowling at the festival:
“I think the major benefit of a wine festival like ours is that it lets wine merchants and vineyard owners meet consumers, and vice versa. It is a far more personalised, intimate and fun way to purchase or sell wine, and given the huge competition in the wine market in the UK this is very important. Consumers can talk to the merchant or even the winemaker to find out far more about the wines they are purchasing - the stories behind the wine, what the winemaker was trying to achieve, etc. This is the sort of service that is completely lacking from the often blind picking of a bottle that takes place in supermarket aisles. This also fits in extremely well with the growing interest in the provenance of food and drink products - consumers like to know where there food has come from, and ideally put a face to the product. Levels of wine knowledge in the UK are growing rapidly, and among our attendees there is a real thirst (no pun intended!) for deeper and better information on the wines they drink.
“On the other side, wine merchants themselves enjoy and value the opportunity to talk in depth about wines they are passionate about. That ability to communicate their passion at length lets them form a much closer bond with the consumer, and they can provide the sort of information that would never fit on a wine label, or on a website description. This information we find is often far more influential than descriptions of flavours and aromas. Wine festivals also provide a valuable chance to receive feedback on their wines from their customers, and a wine festival's flexible environment allows them to instantly respond to customer preferences and tastes, allowing them to zero in on the specific taste of the customer - this way the customer finds a wine they especially like, and the merchant hopefully gains a loyal customer. Everyone wins.”
Little Orchard Cider and Music Festival
This festival completely sums up Cornwall, the relaxed environment is the perfect platform for sampling some local Cornish ciders. This weekend beginning on the 8th September is all about unwinding with good music and an opportunity to talk to local producers about their creations. Speaking to The Little Orchard Team, they feel their event is a great experience:
“We think that the Little Orchard Cider and Music festival gives people a fantastic opportunity to try out new and sometimes rare products that they wouldn't usually come across elsewhere. Having so many Ciders in one place is a very fun way to experience this exciting niche of beverags well as being in a great environment, with world class bands and entertainment”