The sun hung low in the early September sky as I sipped my G&T at Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants in Manchester.
I watched the workers and day-trippers make their way back to the suburbs against the tide of ‘shirt blokes’ heading into town for another fruitless night searching for love and cheap ale in the Wetherspoons of their existence. I was waiting for 6.30pm and the opening of The Gin Society Festival at Manchester Cathedral. This, I was sure, would provide me with sanctuary from the human traffic to-ing and fro-ing from Victoria Station. The Autumn blues had arrived early.
As it happened, I was drinking the new Manchester Three Rivers Gin launched only a few weeks ago at this very bar. It had a distinct nose and felt easy on the palette. I was on my third before I knew it. I paid my tab and headed to the Cathedral of Gin. Dusk shone through the splendid stained glass windows and illuminated some 90 gins on display in groups of British gins – 50 in all – as well as world gins and fruit gins. Gin consumption is on the rise and, according to The Guardian, we are in the midst of a British ‘gin renaissance’ with sales set to reach £1 billion this year. While Gordon’s and Beefeater still dominate the market, there has been an explosion of small batch artisan distillers. There are now five in the Manchester area including Three Rivers, Thomas Dakin, Zymurgorium and Faith and Son, as well as Liverpool (Liverpool Gin) and Burnley (Batch), all highly drinkable.
I was greeted at the entrance by the ever-radiant Shelagh Bourke who organised the two-day event and, as a partner in The Gin Society, is hoping to plan many more. The next one is in Lancaster, you lucky people. For a small entrance fee and a fiver a pop, the festival allows gin enthusiasts and novices alike a chance to sample a wide variety of makes and names you wouldn’t normally see or experience. Well, unless you go the Old Bell Inn in Delph, Saddleworth which holds the Guinness World Record for the most gins with over 400 of those bad boys. I don’t remember that one on Record Breakers?
My notebook indicates that I started off by sampling Three Rivers neat. It was a smooth and fragrant experience that any normal gin could not withstand. Nevertheless, most good small batch gins can be tasted neat, though I would recommend that only in small measures. A good gin deserves a good tonic and Fentimans provided the evening’s mixers. I moved on to Jinzu, made in Scotland and infused with cherry blossom, yuzu and sake to give it a distinct Japanese taste.
My entry for number three remained oddly empty though I remember at least eight or nine other samples, even if the details are rather sketchy. I do recall a Sharish Blue Magic from Portugal that changed colour as the tonic blended with the spirit as well as an acerbic Dorothy Parker gin from America. But the one that sticks in my memory buds is an excellent Rhubarb and Ginger fruit gin from the Edinburgh company mixed with ginger ale.
It was a wonderful night spent with good friends (the speakeasy dancing queens, Lucy and Susan) and good gins. I can heartily recommend it to anyone with a taste for gin or those with a simple desire to try something different.
Four hours later I wobbled out onto the Hades that is lower Deansgate, found myself a cab and headed home, where I couldn’t resist a nightcap before bed.