Being based in Manchester, I’m well versed with the bar scene of both the city centre and the surrounding area. Whether it’s promoting a specific bar to the wider world, launching a product in an established venue, or hosting a master class within a newcomer, I’m always in and around, getting to know the trends that ultimately the consumers are asking for. The nature of my work though, means that I get to hear a lot about the rest of the UK. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and tour the likes of Edinburgh, Leeds and Liverpool, checking out bars and restaurants that I hear so much about, and experiencing how the rest of the UK works. London can also count on the list, but over the years I’ve had many more meetings within, than sitting down, with a crafted drink in my hand and actually taking in the surroundings. My delight in hearing that I had an invite to do such a thing, meant I jumped on the train, and headed to my first London Gin Journey.
Why gin? Well gin is undoubtedly a category I work a lot with. Bartenders love the varieties and styles available to them, whilst consumers, both men and women, enjoy many a Gin and Tonic, Martini or Negroni. Gin also has much of its history within London itself. Becoming widely known once the Dutch born William of Orange came to the English throne during the Glorious Revolution (Holland being the birth place of gin), gin has ultimately had its fair share of ups and downs. Etchings from William Hogarth and his ‘Beer Street and Gin Lane’ piece were common to see, deriding the spirit of gin and blaming the so-called ‘gin craze’ on Britain’s social problems. The force behind this? The government. Unable to control the production, they introduced the Gin Act of 1751, forcing distillers to sell to licensed retailers. But it’s not all downhill, with the introduction of column stills to create what we know call London Dry. This process made it more practical and popular, and over the years, inventive ways to drink your favourite brand came into practice, giving rise to the cocktail renaissance that we still see today.
Such history can be found just about anywhere, but to be introduced by a man with such passion and devotion to his trade, is ultimately what the Gin Journey is all about. Leon Dalloway has adapted a method of introducing not only gin to London, but also a variety of drinking dens, and recipes to embrace. Leon himself is a former bartender, tending many a venue in Manchester before jumping at the chance at representing the relatively new gin brand of Martin Miller’s. From his travels of promoting, he moved to London in March last year and worked for the City of London Distillery, learning about the craft of gin and to hone his skills and knowledge. It is here that he thought about sharing his passion, and ultimately decided to go it alone, creating his business named Shake, Rattle and Stir. Its ideology is to bring fun, interesting booze knowledge to the people through events, with the Gin Journey concept being its first.
To me, this is perfect. The chance to see five of London’s best bars, try five different gin brands, and see them as the base for a crafted recipe, all whilst being hosted by someone who can rival the likes of gin maestro Alan Winchester, Jared Brown or Jamie Baxter.
Mr Fogg’s in Mayfair was to be the first port of call. Nestled within the back streets, it ultimately looks like the gin palaces of yesteryear. Taking inspiration from the hero of Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, its decor of artefacts (including entomology displays, helmets, hunting trophies, palm trees, birdcages and even a hot-air balloon) surround the bar area, itself nestled with small stools and low tables. I suppose in a way, it would be fitting to the venue that you start with a gin that has had to travel to be a part of the evening. Elephant Gin hails from Germany and uses 14 botanicals within, including African ingredients Baobab, the Buchu plant, Devil’s Claw and African Wormwood. At 45%, it gives off a light floral nose, with citrus tones following a lavender aroma. A sharp start on the palate, with the citrus flavours becoming oily, yet also quite warming. From these aromas and flavours, it would make perfect sense to enjoy the ‘The Cape of Good Hope’; a combination of Elephant gin, fresh pressed pear juice, lemon juice, rosemary and buchu syrup, lavender tincture and whites.
Leon’s previous place of work came next on the gin journey, taking place at the City of London Distillery in the City of London. Boasting 270 different gin brands on its bar, and the working distillery that produces our next gin in full view, it’s an experience that can rarely be summed up in such an evening. Modern, sleek and very cool are some that spring to mind though, and with a City of London gin and Fever Tree tonic in hand, the grapefruit garnish really brings out the notes of the gin. The brand on its own gives off lots of flavours on the nose, with citrus, dry herbs and liquorice most noticeable. The palate enjoys a spicy start, with a sharp, bold, rich flavour of liquorice and grapefruit zest. Develops a long, warm finish, that’s slightly dry.
Riding within a gin carriage to our next venue, coming to a halt as we overlook the Thames on the historic Tower Wharf at the Tower of London. The Perkin Reveller welcomed us with a table ready for a feat, as the most appropriate brand for the restaurant came in the form of Beefeater. Sparse glass and white walls are evident, although the name not so much (apparently named after the cook’s apprentice in ‘Canterbury Tales’), but with a glass of Beefeater 24, and Leon diving into one of the world’s best known gin brands, you take it all in with open arms. The gin itself is soft on the nose with plenty of grapefruit coming through. Incredibly soft on the palate, with small bursts of liquorice, grapefruit, orange and the heat from coriander. Creates a long, lingering finish with a little tingle to remind you. Once again, matched with a rather delectable recipe named ‘Spring Revival’; Pineapple, Black Pepper and Sage infused Beefeater, freshly pressed pineapple juice, house grenadine, accent of house anise tincture garnished with house a pineapple chutney and Lancashire Bomber cheese topped cracker.
Being invited to a restaurant ultimately means the food portion of the gin journey, tucking in to a menu that included smoked mackerel, blue cheese soufflé, pork belly or roast chicken breast amongst other British and European dishes.
Shoreditch would be the area of London for our last two venues, the first being Worship Street Whistling Shop. This cellar bar mixes the Victorian era with the American speakeasy, complete with bath tub for gin and shelves with botanicals, herbs and spices. Dodd’s gin, from the London Distillery Company that first came out last year, was to be showcased, alongside what the bar call the ‘Ultimate Gin and Tonic’; Dodd’s Gin and house tonic flavoured with black cardamom, bay leaf, lavender, raspberry, cassia and chinchona served in a medicinal style bottle, complete with a bespoke label. The gin itself has subtle juniper on the nose with fresh raspberry lingering around near the end. Warm on the start of the palate, developing a slight spice with honey thick texture. The juniper is more dominant alongside dashes of lime zest. Short, sharp bursts on the long finish. Perfect for the home-made tonic. Sitting in the back room of the bar, it’s hard not to walk around and check out the nooks and crannies that the guys from Fluid Movement have inserted. Its idea and concept really do transport you back to Victorian era, and a shame to most to leave. But leave me must, and ventured to our last outing of the gin journey.
Callooh Callay, with its extensive back bar, complete with cubby-hole’s of bottles nestled into the walls, is a venue that I’ve always wanted to visit, and didn’t disappoint. When you are served one of Leon’s signature brands, Martin Miller’s, and hear of the thought and legacy that the now unfortunately, recently passed away Martin Miller had, it makes you truly appreciate the effort that producers put in to impress both sides of the bar. For example, once Martin Miller’s has been distilled with the likes of Tuscan juniper, cassia bark, angelica, Florentine orris, coriander, Seville citrus peel, nutmeg, cinnamon and liquorice root, it is then shipped to Iceland, where it is mixed with Icelandic spring water. The gin, the London Dry variety, has a dominating citrus notes on the nose, but subtle floral aromas follow slowly. Rather mellow on the palate, with a slight dryness. It gives off some interesting citrus flavours with juniper overtones with a hint of peppercorn on the odd occasion. A slow-fading after-taste of floral and citrus. To cap the evening off, and a first for me, we were presented with a Converse shoe, which within had crushed ice holding our final drink, ‘The Curious Gincident about the Grog and the High-Top’; Martin Miller’s Gin, rosehip cordial, fresh grapefruit juice, topped with prosecco.
It only took a few hours, but I had experienced five bars, two of which I had never heard of before, five gins, one of which I’d never had the chance to sample, and five unique cocktails which I still talk about to Mancunians to this day. The settings were superb, and from a Northern point of view, we have nothing that rivals this. No distilleries within bars, no Victorian themed venues that house bath tubs of gin, no hidden drinking dens featuring artefacts from around the world. I suppose that what makes London stand a part from the rest of the UK, but to be fair, I would tip my hat any day towards them. Each venue was relatively busy, on a Tuesday of all days, yet the service was spot on, and our host in Leon made sure than nothing was too much trouble. And you know he’s having as much fun as you are when he’s handing out prizes in his pop-quiz in between venues.
Shake Rattle and Stir’s Gin Journey is a fascinating evening, whether you work in the trade or not. And at £50 per person, you know you will be getting a lot more for your money than if you decided to venture out unguided.
Hats off to you Leon.
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