If you love drinking gin as much as I do (and I can assure you, that’s a lot) and found something online that said “5 bars | 5 gins | 5 cocktails | gin carriage | gin guardian | like a school trip but only sexier”, it’d be terribly rude not to find out more, right?
And that is where I found myself on Boxing Day morning. I was lazily browsing the internet in the bath to find out more about one of my other gin-related Christmas gifts when I found myself on the Twitter page of the guys at Gin Journey and was encouraged to click through to their website from the bio above. A gin soaked school trip? I was completely sold before I’d even read anything else.
And so, I hastily booked two tickets for myself and my Mum before I’d even left the bath. (True story, honestly).
The Gin Journey is a gin tour with a difference. The basic premise is pretty simple – a tour around an area (in our case Bermondsey in South London) to five different local bars or distilleries finding out not only about amazing gin brands but also some of the history of gin. You’re led on your tour by a gin guardian, an expert in gin, who will give you a gin education with a smile and five of the tastiest cocktails you’ll ever hope to try. We got a tutored tasting of each gin neat too, which was something a bit different, but also something I’ll definitely being doing more of in future.
And you’ll be ferried around in a mini bus for an entire afternoon. Or, as they like to call it – the ginny-bus.
I had genuinely one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had in my home city for such a long time, and such was the jovial atmosphere of the trip, we swapped contact details with some of the other gin enthusiasts so we can meet up for more gin excitement. Here’s where we went and what we learnt (and tasted!) along the way.Billed as the most fun you can have with gin in one afternoon, @ginjourney in Bermondsey is a tour with a difference. Five gins, five bars and a gin carriage - here's what to expect when you go (and you should go).Click To Tweet
Stop 1: Victory Gin Distillery
We began our journey at Victory Gin, a distillery based in the basement of the Draft House pub right next to Tower Bridge. No sooner had we sat down in the low lit, industrial vibe space than a perfectly poured G+T had been placed before us. It was clear that we were in our happy place.
Once everyone else had joined the gin party, our gin guardian Max Chater began the fun. Max actually owns Victory Gin with his wife Maire and it was fascinating to learn more about how Victory Gin got started and what makes it stand out in a sea of new craft gins popping up every month. (For literary fans among you, the name is actually based on the famous George Orwell book 1984).
Victory Gin is actually unlike any other distillery I’ve been to. You’ll find no traditional copper still here, and instead you’ll see a thoroughly modern (and baffling at times) process to get their cold distilled gin which is bursting with flavour. Victory Gin uses a “rotovap” (more often seen in chemical/medical processes), where the infused botanical alcohol is then distilled at 48 degrees.
It’s an amazing gin (I bought a bottle!), but what is even more impressive is the commitment to conserve energy and reduce water waste through their process. They pioneered the eco re-fill pouch for distribution of their products too. They also make a completely sensational Victory Bitters, which I’ll be ordering very very soon.
Location: Victory Gin Distillery, Tower Bridge
Gin: Victory Gin
Cocktail: Classic G+T with rosemary and orange garnish
Stop 2: Caravan
We were off then to spot number two courtesy of our ginny-bus – and time for a little bit of history on the way. London has a completely fascinating relationship with gin, and despite the fact that I’ve done a few gin tours I never get tired of hearing about it and I always pick up a new fact along the way. Invite me on your pub quiz team – I’m a pro at both my gin and tube history knowledge.
We arrived at Caravan in the City of London (we would have ordinarily stopped at the much closer Bankside branch, but we couldn’t on that day) and were immediately greeted with a very refreshing Tom Collins made with our next gin, Martin Miller’s. A Tom Collins is made with gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup topped up with either tonic or soda and one of my favourite ways to drink gin on a warm day.
Martin Miller’s was the only gin I had tried before on our tour, but it is one of my favourites. After a tutored tasting of the gin itself (it was actually quite a nice one to drink neat, as it happens), we learnt a little more about the background of Martin Miller’s. As it turns out, Martin Miller is an absolute baller, and I’m so glad we got to hear the story.
Created in 1999 by Martin Miller, it’s a really pleasant gin with lots of citrus and blended with pure Icelandic water. Martin Miller himself had a background in antiques, property (including luxury hotels) and his first business venture was publishing the guide ‘Success with the Fairer Sex’. Amazing. Just google a picture of him with his pink poodle (I kid you not), and it’ll all make sense.
This is why I really love gin.
Location: Caravan, City of London
Gin: Martin Miller’s
Cocktail: Tom Collins
Stop 3: Jensen’s Distillery
I was so pleased that we got to visit two distilleries on our tour, and having never come across Jensen’s before I was excited to get my hands on another local gin. We had a tasting of both their London Dry and Old Tom before digging into a Old Tom G+T made with Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic, something I’ve wanted to try for a while but many on the tour didn’t love. It’s pretty bitter, but I really like that so if you are into your bitter flavours, you’ll love this tonic.
Here’s a quick word on London Dry and Old Tom. London Dry doesn’t have anything to do with a gin being from London, instead it’s all about how it is made, and there are rules about this.For a gin to be called London Dry Gin, the base spirit must be distilled to a completely neutral spirit of 96% ABV, must add all flavours through distillation and can have nothing added after distillation except for water. An Old Tom on the other hand is actually a recipe that dates back to the first gin craze of the 18th century, it’s sweeter than a London Dry, and sits firmly between that and the ancestor of gin, the Dutch jenever.
Phew, now we’ve got that out of the way, we can talk about Jensen’s. Founded by Christian Jensen, it made its home in the railway arches of Bermondsey. They focus on the traditional gin botanicals and make their gin in small batches. I loved the Old Tom, and I’ll definitely be back on a weekend where they are open for tastings and long drinks.
Location: Jensen’s Distillery, Bermondsey
Gin: Jensen’s Old Tom
Cocktail: G+T with Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic
Stop 4: The Hide Bar
As we pulled up in the ginny-bus to stop number four, I was so excited – I love The Hide Bar, but hadn’t had much of a chance to visit recently. On an early Saturday evening the place was busy, with a jovial vibe and we were led to a curtained off back part of the bar for more gin fun. By this point we were BFF’s with everyone else on the tour and I’m really surprised that Max managed to keep us all in line.
This time, we were trying Sacred Gin. Sacred is another local London brand based in Highgate and actually distilled out of owner Ian Hart’s kitchen. It’s the smallest commercial microdistillery of its kind and as well as producing small batch gins they also produce vodkas and a rosehip cup that I’ve definitely got my eye on. It’s such a typically offbeat London brand story, and I absolutely love it. And the gin was amazingly tasty too.
After tasting neat, we enjoyed it in a cocktail made with the house grapefruit tonic cordial (made by The Hide Bar) with a couple of drops of absinthe which gave it a gorgeously warming liquorice flavour. It was the standout cocktail of the afternoon without a doubt.
Location: The Hide Bar, Bermondsey
Gin: Sacred Gin
Cocktail: Gin with homemade grapefruit tonic cordial and a couple of dashes of absinthe
Stop 5: Nine Lives Bar
By this point we’d left the ginny-bus behind for the day and walked round the corner to our final destination – a little merry and definitely feeling like we could make a whole night of it (we didn’t. We came home and had battered sausage and chips and I fell asleep by 9pm). Luckily we didn’t have far to go to reach Nine Lives, one of the most stunning bars I’ve been to in a long time.
It’s based in a Victorian basement, and is all instagrammable plants, soft lighting and incredible cocktails. But we were there to try our final gin, Silent Pool. I was so excited because I’ve wanted to try Silent Pool for ages. We tasted neat again, but at this point I’ll be honest I feel like I’d burnt my tastebuds off with the amount of gin I’d tried. The cocktail was spectacular – in gorgeous glasses which I definitely want for myself. Called a King John, it’s made with Silent Pool, poire william, lemon and coriander seed syrup.
Silent Pool are based in Surrey, on Duke of Northumberland’s Albury Estate on the banks of the very famous “silent pool”. Known as the most haunted body of water in Surrey, Silent Pool took its name from the legend that the pool is haunted every night at midnight by the ghost of a woodcutter’s daughter. As the story goes, the daughter was was swimming in the pool when she was approached on horseback by King John who ruled from1199 until 1216. The young girl was forced to retreat into the depths of the pool, where she drowned and King John did not try to save her.
There’s no historical basis for the story – but its a pretty cool legend to name your gin after! You can also do tours of the distillery, which is something I definitely want to try soon.
Location: Nine Lives, London Bridge
Gin: Sacred Pool
Cocktail: King John – gin, poire william, lemon and coriander seed syrup
Genuinely, for gin lovers or just for those who love finding new bars and cocktails to try in their local city, the Gin Journey is an absolute must. It currently runs in Bermondsey, Notting Hill and Shoreditch in London, and then in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle. I am super keen to go to all seven of them. Do you think I’d get a gin soaked medal for that?
I also want to underline again how exceptional our gin guardian Max was. Not only was he really knowledgeable, friendly and approachable, he did an absolutely incredible job of guiding (and looking after) 20 tipsy folks who were four bars in and a little bit of a liability. He made the tour what it was, and I have it on good authority that all the gin guardians are of this standard.
Two things you should do after reading this post? Book yourself on to your local Gin Journey (my Mum can attest to the fact that it made an excellent Birthday present) and order yourself a bottle of the amazing Victory Gin. It’s now firmly earned my top gin spot at the moment, which is no mean feat.
ENJOYED THIS POST? PLEASE PIN IT!