Gin fans will be well familiar with the Gin Foundry, the UK-based online bible of all things juniper, co-creator of the original Ginvent calendar and organisers of Junipalooza. The latter is effectively a mega meet the maker session, offering ginthusiasts the opportunity to meet ginsmiths from all over the globe under the one roof. First held in London in 2013, the festival made its international debut in Melbourne in 2016; the British gin kings joining forces with Australia's own Gin Queen to put on the largest celebration of gin the country has ever seen. As keen ginthusiasts ourselves, we were both excited and curious about this in equal measures, never having made it to the London incarnation.
Held at the Meat Market over a weekend in October, the festival encompassed the main tasting floor, a Junipalooza shop selling the gins on taste at the event, a cocktail bar run by well known Melbourne bar Bad Frankie and a masterclass area hosting mini sessions each hour. There was definitely a local slant to the proceedings; out of 30 or so ginsmiths represented, over 20 were Australian, with some using the festival to launch new expressions (Animus Distillery and Distillery Botanica were but a few). While we were busy manning the Junipalooza shop most times on both days, we found the time to duck out and wander the floor. And our verdict? As drinks festivals go, this was overall a very well run affair with little touches that made it stand out for us. We've been to a LOT of booze shows in our time so here's a few reasons why we liked this one:
1. They mean it when they say you get to "meet the maker"
EVERY gin exhibited at the festival had either the founder or the distiller available to talk punters through their gin. It's the only show we know so far that insists on the brand having their maker there if they want to exhibit. While most people working in the industry are passionate about what they do, there's nothing quite like talking to the maker to get under the skin of your gin. From the quiet air of Broken Heart's founder Joerg relaying the tear jerker tale behind his journey to the boisterous exuberance of Pinkster's founder Stephen recounting how he came to distill a pink gin, it's when you talk to such individuals that you truly get a feel for the "why" behind the gin instead of just the "how" or "what".
2. Gin Palace bartenders manning a dedicated water station. 'Nuff said.
3. It's more immersive than most
Quite apart from it being the most practical use of pallets we've seen in a festival, these aren't your standard bland stands with bottles plonked on the table. Most, if not all of the gin brands we observed made the effort to dress up their stand with elements designed to attract the eye and engage the senses. The stands themselves were well spaced to allow for interaction so it didn't feel overly crowded even as it got busy. Aside from neat samples, each stand also offered their gin in a complimentary mixed serve, such as the classic G&T with different type of garnishes. For a spirit such as gin, which let's face it, is rarely sipped neat, this was a great way to discover different ways of enjoying different gins.
4. The cocktails aren't an afterthought here
Local stalwart Bad Frankie was drafted in specially to design and serve up a menu of cocktails featuring a selection of local Australian gins. At $14 each, they were amazing value too (more so when you consider some of the gins used would cost closer to $20 a nip alone at bars elsewhere, much less in a cocktail)
The juniper theme carried on to the food with Burn City Smokers bringing their gin-piggy goodness to the party (if you've ever been to a Four Pillars shindig at the distillery, you'll recognise these guys). Whilst food options at this year's fest was limited due to what we understand to be a last minute cancellation, Burn City Smokers really stepped up to the plate with their tender juniper rubbed brisket, something we'd eat happily every other day of the week.
Organising an event such as Junipalooza is no small undertaking and the effort that's gone into bringing this to Australia is testament to the drive and dedication of those behind it to spread the love of gin. So hats off to Gin Foundry and the Gin Queen for pulling off an event that will go down as being one of the more memorable ones in the Australian drinks event calendar.
Planning is already in the works for the 2017 festival, which we hear is going to be bigger and better. Tickets for this year (all 1,400 odd of them) sold out so we say hop on to it as soon as they release the ticket links because this is definitely one gin-fest you don't want to miss!
We travelled to Melbourne of our own accord and whilst we helped out at the event, all opinions are independent and entirely that of our own, not of the organisers.