Elle Lindsay revisits The Gin To My Tonic show following its stint in Glasgow
There I was, 13:30 on a Sunday afternoon, about to enter a room filled with gin, business cards and more botanicals than I previously knew existed: The Gin To My Tonic Show had peaked my curiosity. My ticket was immediately replaced with a Schweppes-branded event tote bag and a little booklet classifying me as a “Gin Explorer”; this contained a floor plan and a programme of events, but also a concise blurb on each exhibitor present. The event itself is designed to showcase the world of gin at its best: it invites distillers to promote their product and connect with their customers. This uniquely allows consumers to interact with the brands they know and love, as well as discover new ones. Of course, there were distillers that even a be-gin-ner (see what I did there?) would be familiar with – Edinburgh Gin had a stand and Brockman’s remained the most popular stall throughout the show’s three-day duration. Nonetheless, I was surprised to be confronted by brands I was entirely unfamiliar with; indeed, approximately 50% of the exhibitors I had never heard of.
Naturally, I had to right this wrong, so I spent a couple of hours familiarising myself with every company. Though every stall was showcasing the same spirit, the diversity was unbelievable – there were different selling styles, different marketing methods and different brand personalities shining through despite the uniform product. Brockmans' stall was dressed like an up-market London bar, whilst 5 feet away, Renegade Gin by Doghouse implemented a hipster vibe. Some used flashy lights and tv screens, whilst others opted for simple posters and backdrops. It wasn’t necessarily that one style was more successful than another: there was satisfaction to be found in the variety.
The similarity between all stands was the way in which they handed out samples as though it were water (as opposed to a potent 40 – 58% spirit). There was no denying that the vendors there had sales on their mind, and with almost 50 exhibitors present, the competition was fierce. As such, the ambassadors for each brand had their pitch prepared, which I noticed generally fell into 2 broad categories: over-rehearsed with a corporate feel, or as though a friend were recommending a new tipple. Some described their gin in huge detail, others told you how to drink it, a few focused on the story behind their company, and the remaining simply let the gin do the talking and simply passed out as many samples as possible. Most gins, if not all, were distilled in the UK, but that didn’t stop the diversity of flavours and interpretations present. There were Japanese-inspired liquors and a Nordic-themed gin called "Kirkjuvagr" (which I am sure becomes easier to say the more of it one samples).
Though there for a good time, it was a competitive environment, and inevitably it was the distillers with a story to tell that patrons would remember. Old Bakery Gin produced a gorgeous sample, but I will remember them because I found out that their distillery formed upon finding out that their workplace was once a bakery that illicitly produced gin 100 years ago! Similarly, the spicy flavours of Tarsier may have impressed my palate; however, it is the creators, Tim and Shewin, that made a lasting impression. Inspired by their travels around the continent, they now distil Tarsier, an Asian-inspired gin with a charitable twist, as 10% of profits from their product go to save the Tarsier primate (and they gave out their samples in biodegradable cups)!
Regardless of pitching-style, the stands must have been doing something right, as the event’s stage remained largely ignored; however, a full programme meant guests could listen to scheduled talks and pitches if they wished. Two such segments were delivered by Glasgow’s Gin Spa and a Craft Gin Club, which offered something refreshingly different to the other exhibitors, but fit seamlessly into the event. Unsurprisingly, the paid-bar remained exceptionally quiet, but one area gaining greater footfall was a corner designated to live cocktail masterclasses. Here, each enthusiast had their own bench set up with a mixer, a muddler and ingredients allowing them to follow a short demonstration and mix a drink.
Though I speak of competition and sales, there was definitely a community spirit among the ticket holders. I’ve never attended anything quite like it. I could best describe it as a very controlled bar crawl: the samples kept coming, but so too did the in-depth conversations about distilling, flavour profiles and running a company, so somehow it felt more refined than your traditional booze-based events. Nonetheless, in their infinite wisdom, pizza was being served in the centre of the conference room, because what drinking session would be complete without greasy food?
It isn’t a perfect event: my inner eco-warrior despaired at the limitless volume of plastic sampling cups being thrown away and it was also self-limiting in that you could only try so much. Perhaps this would have felt different if I had attended one of the evening sessions; however, on a Sunday afternoon I was much less likely to sample larger quantities. Also, if every stall had the intention of selling a full bottle of their product for £30 - £40, then a consumer is immediately at a disadvantage when faced with over 50 varieties. Distillers would benefit from producing 5cl bottles for events such as these, a tactic only Brighton Gin adopted. It is a shame, because many of the gins are not super accessible. Interestingly, Tim informed me “…bars don’t like it when gins become commercially available” and confirmed that they would never allow Tarsier to be sold in supermarkets. This is what makes The Gin To My Tonic Show worth the visit – finding distillers you might never have been exposed to otherwise. It helps the small-batch guys and might allow you to discover a new favourite!