This month’s instalment of #LocalFolkUs comes from the rather wonderful team over at ginfestival.com and as usual, I have interviewed one of the creators of the event, Jym Harris to find out more about the events, the people involved and most importantly, the gin.
If you read this blog regularly or follow my tweets you will know that I love gin. I drank it for a while many years ago but in the last few years have rekindled my love with it and now very much like to enjoy a gin and tonic as an after work treat or an aperitif. You just cannot beat a Hendricks over ice with tonic and cucumber after a long day at work! Although that said, I am not fussy. I will drink any type of gin and I love to try new infusions and brands.
The Gin Festival originated and still remains officially in Bingley, Yorkshire and I for one have been eyeing up their events for some time now. Unfortunately to date I still haven’t been able to attend a Gin Festival event- but that is all going to change this year! Gin Festival seems to be one of the hottest events in town and because drinking gin has fast become fashionable and the infusions pretty exciting, it’s definitely worth having a look into attending one of their upcoming events and seeing for yourself what all the fuss is about.
Gin Festival as a business has grown from strength to strength in the last few years for Jym and his wife Marie so why not read on and find out about the wonderful gins suitable for novices and enthusiasts alike and also more about what happens at each event, where you are invited to sample and enjoy exotic brands of this legendary spirit!
Hello Jym! Tell us how, why and when the Gin Festival began? Who came up with the idea? How successful has it been?
I’ve always been a huge fan of gin but I really started to get into it because I ran a music venue in Keighley and I kept sneakily adding new gins to the menu I wanted to try!
The festival really began because we were frustrated that there was nothing out there for gin lovers that we would want to attend. We always thought we’d love a place where you could go and try hundreds of gins (maybe not all in one go) from all around the world… and then we thought, if we would love something like this then other people probably would too.
Marie and I both have backgrounds in music and events so we knew that we could put on a show which had great music, great entertainment and great gin!
The first Gin Festival was in Leeds at the White Cloth Gallery back in 2013. It was a bit of a learning experience for us but people definitely enjoyed themselves because they kept coming back. That first Leeds event had 150 people, the last time we went to Leeds there were 4,000. We’re going to London in February and there’ll be 7,500 people there.
Who are the people behind the Gin Festival?
Do people have specific roles? What’s involved? What’s your link to Yorkshire?
We started with two people, Marie and myself, plus a few friends, and now we have a permanent team of about twenty with different people in charge of the event planning, booking the bands, marketing, PR and garnish (very important) plus a dedicated warehouse staff looking after the more than 200 gins we sell. We also have a website now which sells gin by mail order and that has a permanent team working on it… and that’s just the permanent crew, at events we need to hire bartenders, runners and caterers to keep the whole thing going. It’s definitely grown quickly!
We’re based in Bingley and our first festival was in Leeds so Yorkshire is definitely in our blood. We try to have as many festivals in Yorkshire as possible because Yorkshire folk are so nice and so up for a good time. That and it’s closer..
Need I ask.. Why GIN?
I love gin. That’s all you need to know!
The popularity of gin has risen so much over the last decade. Why do you think that is? The array of flavours? Fashion? Or something else?
There’s a few things that have fed into it.The thing that started it all is probably a change to the licensing laws that made it easier to be a small batch distiller. As soon as it was legal, it turned out there were hundreds of people all over the country who have always fancied making their own gin, and since they didn’t have to make a product for a mass market they could afford to experiment and produce some really interesting, and delicious gins.
Drinkers really latch onto that sense of excitement and innovation, it’s the same thing that happened with craft beer. It’s fun to get to try lots of different versions of a drink and discover new favourites, creative ideas and rare concoctions.
I also think people really appreciate craft these days. They want to know where their food and drink has come from, that there has been care, attention and passion gone into making it. A lot of these small-batch gins come with great stories and with charismatic faces attached, much more appealing than a drink from a faceless mega distiller.
Other factors helped too. Cocktails have been a growing market for a while and mixologists started to discover that gin opened up a lot more flavour options for them than vodka ever did, so they started championing it and searching for different gins that would work in different drinks.
Spain also played a massive influence. No one really knows why the Spanish started drinking so many gin & tonics but they exploded in popularity there about a decade ago and they re-invented the G&T to make it much better. They use a large ‘copa’ glass with more room for lots of ice to help keep the drink cool and concentrate the aromas. Plus they use carefully selected garnishes that enhance the flavour of the key botanicals. A lot of what we do is inspired by Spain.
Fever Tree also takes some credit. More than half your G&T is tonic, and they’re among the first people to add care and craft to the tonic side of the drink, producing a more delicious tonic than you’ve ever drunk before.
Tell us more about the Gin Festival. What’s so great about attending one of your events? What’s included, what else is there on offer? What happens at an event?
Is every event different?
Every event is different since we always have different gins, different musical and entertainment acts and different gin producers exhibiting, but the basic set-up is always the same.
When people arrive they’re given their event pack with their brochure, badge, pen and a few other goodies. They also receive one of our glasses which is theirs to keep and which they’ll use for all the drinks that evening. They can then buy tokens at £5 a time and each token is worth one gin (the tonic is free and unlimited so customers can add as much as they like).
The four gin bars, together displaying over 100 different gins, are the main attraction. We normally recommend trying one gin from each bar. Bar A and B have British gins, Bar C has gins from worldwide and Bar D is the gin liqueurs, flavoured gin and other oddities. We also have a cocktail bar mixing up some modern and classic gin cocktails. The staff at every bar are more than happy to talk to you and help you pick out what gins you’re likely to love. The brochure also has loads of information to help you choose your next gin and space for tasting notes.
As you wander around the room gin producers will be there to offer free samples and talk to you all about their gins. We also host master-classes with the producers that talk about the story of their business, the history of gin and other subjects.
There’s always live music and at bigger events we have close-up entertainers moving through the crowd doing magic and playing music. Plus hopefully a photobooth!
Do your lovely staff advise gin novices at events? Are there an array of accompaniments?
We certainly do, that’s part of what makes us stand out. Everyone that works for us is really passionate about gin and can definitely talk gin novices through the basics. In fact, we get a lot of people attending who are there with friends or loved ones and claim that they don’t like gin. One of our favourite things is talking to these people and finding a gin for them that they do like. Nine times out of ten they walk away a brand new gin drinker.
As for accompaniments, every gin comes with a garnish that’s been carefully selected to complement the key botanicals used in that gin and then you can help yourself to as much Fever Tree tonic as you like. That allows you to vary the gin & tonic to your preferred strength. We have normal and light tonic water and a small selection of other mixers.
Gin is Mother’s Ruin. Discuss.
Centuries old propaganda from the beer industry. Gin is for everyone, not just Mums…
You’ve held events in some beautiful buildings, which has been your favourite and why?
Leeds Town Hall is pretty stunning, The Victoria Baths in Manchester are breathtaking too!
How do you feel about gin based cocktails? Any plans to feature cocktails at events?
We have gin cocktails at all our events. Gin really is the king of cocktails in my view. Cocktails were invented primarily to disguise the taste of horrible cheap bathtub gin back in the prohibition days so most of your classic cocktails were developed with gin in mind. Of course, now you don’t need to disguise the gin, instead it can complement the overall effect and work harmoniously with the other ingredients. A good gin cocktail can reveal new aspects to a gin that you’d never noticed before and some gins that aren’t spectacular in a tonic can really reveal themselves in a cocktail.
What’s the team’s most favourite gin and why? And how do you choose the gins for your events? Do you taste them ALL? (I see you went to Barcelona recently to do some ‘tasting’?)
Do you think we’d pass up a chance to taste a gin? Yes, we taste every gin we can find to see what’s worth taking to the events and stocking on GinFestival.com. Every time one of us finds a new gin ‘in the wild’ as it were we have to try it and tell everyone else all about it. We also work diligently to find out about new releases. That used to be harder but these days lots of new gin brands come to us because they’re so keen to be featured at the festivals.
We are selective too. Even though we have more than 100 gins at the events every single gin there is delicious. Even on the website where we want to try to sell as wide a range of gins as possible we sometimes have to turn things away, so we can guarantee that everything available at Ginfestival.com is a great drink.
As for some of the team’s favourite gin, that’s probably Smooth Ambler Greenbrier, an American gin that’s made with an unusual base that’s 68% corn, 16% wheat and 16% malted barley. Most gins are made from neutral grain spirit which has an alcoholic harshness but the base for Smooth Ambler is really, well, smooth. That allows the flavour of the botanicals to really stand out from the spirit and gives a richer flavour to the gin.
Personally I’ve been drinking a lot of Blue Bottle gin (lovely dry/citrusy from Guernsey) recently and Marie loves Sikkim Bilberry (a fruity little number from Spain)..
There are few things more English than a gin and tonic. But what in your opinion, is so great about our county of Yorkshire?
I don’t know how long you have? I love the people and the diversity of being able to go quickly from amazing cities like York, Leeds and Sheffield relatively quickly into beautiful rugged scenery like Ilkley Moor, to Sutton Bank.
I see the Gin festival is growing UK wide, tell us more? Any plans to venture worldwide?
We’re hit up with requests to go to new cities every week. It seems everyone wants a local Gin Festival. We’re going to do at least 30 different cities this year (10 more than last year) which means an event every other weekend. Eventually we’ll probably have one every week, with any luck. We’d love to go further afield and who knows where we’ll be in a year or two!
How much does a ticket cost? What are the next events coming up?
Ticket prices vary per event but are usually £7.50 and your ticket includes one of our iconic ‘copa’ glasses free to keep, a brochure with loads of (g)information, a free badge, free pen and other goodies like vouchers. The next events are London (19th – 21st Feb), York (26th – 27th Feb), Manchester (25th – 27th March) and Cambridge (8th -9th April) all of which are sold out! The next event we still have tickets for is Nottingham on the 16th – 17th April and Swansea on the 22nd and 23rd April. We’ll be announcing new events for the rest of the year and if you want to find out events before anyone else and avoid missing out then you can sign up for our newsletter at www.ginfestival.com
Where can we find out more? Do you have social media channels?
www.ginfestival.com has all in the info on events as well as an online store with over 200 gins and a news section which has recipes for gin & tonic cakes, cocktail recipes and some fun gin stuff. You can also sign up for the newsletter there to hear about event announcements as well as new gins and get exclusive offers and discounts. Our Facebook page is here and we’re also on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest
Finally, tell us some interesting facts about the Gin Festival?
* Our best-selling gin is Brockmans.
* The all time best-selling item on our website was a gin & tonic scented candle.
* We go through at least 6000 limes a year.
* Our logo was a mistake. Originally the white parts of the logo were supposed to be transparent but we forgot to remove them from the design when we ordered our glasses to be printed. Fortunately the new logo worked much better than the original design!
* We make our own infused gin flavours and share the recipes on our website. We’ve made cranberry, candy cane and pumpkin spice. We also tried to make a bacon infused gin….it was not a success!