Have you ever found yourself sitting in an old anatomy lecture theatre looking down upon a trio of people – one of whom is sitting on a throne-like winged chair – who are talking about the subtleties, flavours and unusual stories behind the gins they are tasting? No? Then you probably we’re at the Scottish Juniper Festival last year. Don’t worry though, it’s coming back for a second outing in June, and we’re talking to founder Martin Duffy to find out everything you need to know.
Scottish Juniper Festival – Summerhall
Borne from working in bars and visiting other drinks festivals, it was only last February when Martin talked about his idea with fellow Edinburgh resident, Geraldine Coates (who just so happens to be an excellent gin writer). And with her help the Scottish Juniper Festival secured Summerhall as its home, and the rest – as they say – is history.
But why Summerhall? Martin: “Once Geraldine had suggested Summerhall, she made the introduction to the management and owners, one of who is Marcus Pickering who at that stage was still in the throes of setting up Summerhall Distillery, the home of Pickering’s Gin. The venue itself has so many great spaces we could use and to have a working Distillery on site was the cherry on top.”
It’s probably worth interjecting here to say that if you haven’t visited the Pickerings Gin distillery yet it’s well worth it, here are the photos from when we visited (or come to the festival, you’ll see it for yourself!)
Last year the inaugural event was attended by 800 people – quite remarkable for a new festival, even in The Festival City – and mentioned by many more afterwards who were sad to have missed it. Luckily we found out just in time, managed to secure a few last minute tickets and had an absolute blast. Some of the gins we knew – such as Hendricks, Pickerings and NB – but many more, like Opihr and Gin Mare, were totally new to us and now firm favourites. And if we’re being fully honest, having tasted virtually every gin there and some a second time in one of the talks, we had quite a merry old time.
These talks though, and being able to engage directly with the different producers (many of whom are so artisan it’s the distillers you are talking to) is what makes the Scottish Juniper Festival different to many of the other drinks events out there.
“The popularity of Gin has risen so much over the last decade and the array of wonderful flavours available is vast that we knew if we held the event people would come. Just having a few gins to sample wasn’t enough though, we wanted to have our guests really engaging with the people who craft the products and this is the point of difference we strive towards.”
So what about this year’s event then? Well, for one thing it’s going to be bigger. More space, more gins, more opportunity to engage with the producers themselves and find out more about the flavours in each bottle. “This year we have been able to use almost double the amount of space in the venue which not allows us to feature more Gin companies but also a couple of additional attractions – we will have a room packed full of different botanicals used in making Gin that guests can smell and taste and a secondary tasting lab where some of the different brands will be holding 20 minute masterclasses on their product.”
How about the important part: what gins are going to be there? Well, according to Martin, the numbers are not yet 100% confirmed, but it will be between 25 and 30, with gins from across Scotland – including Rock Rose (who we are BIG fans of) and Daffy’s (who we interviewed recently) – as well as the rest of the UK, including Martin Millers, Bloom, Opihr, and Burleigh’s. For 2015 though we will also be reaching to other large an emerging gin markets – Death’s Door and Aviator (the latter of which is possibly one of my favourite bottle designs) from the US will be there, as well as Strane from Sweden.
With about a month now to go before the festival is with us, there is much excitement in Edinburgh Editor HQ, (as there usually is when gin is involved) and we’re very much looking forward to going – do say hi, if you see us, maybe we’ll wear hats… But our chat with Martin was drawing to a close, so it was time to ask the question we ask of everyone we interview – where is his favourite place in Edinburgh? “It’d have to be the Water of Leith, I’ve used it for many years to cycle up and down as a way of getting ‘out of the city’ whilst still be a stone’s throw from home – the most relaxing way to get some space!”
A very wise choice indeed.
Have we whetted your appetite yet? Well, for those now are desperate for the 12-14th June to come round, you’ll find the Scottish Juniper Festival on at Summerhall in the following sessions:
Friday 12th June, 17.00 – 21.30
Saturday 13th June, 12.00 -16.30
Saturday 13th June, 17.30 – 22.00
Sunday 14th June, 12.30 – 17.30
Tickets are £21.50 and can be bought from the Summerhall box office, or online here. Obviously you need to be 18+ to attend.