What exactly is gin? Why is it called mother’s ruin? For the answer to these and other important gin-related questions, pop down to the Gin Festival at the Victoria Baths.
It first arrived in Manchester four years ago – an occasion I can recall well as I attended the second ever Gin Festival by husband and wife team Jym and Marie in 2013. Given my penchant for gin, I’ve been an avid attendee ever since.
As gin has increased in popularity so has Gin Festival, resulting in this weekend being the first of not one but two weekends at Victoria Baths, with around 5,000 people visiting to slake their thirst for the juniper-based spirit. That’s a lot of people and a lot of gin.
I happily volunteered to attend this weekend to partake of my own share of gin, see what’s changed for this year and what you can expect if you’ve managed to snaffle a ticket or two.
Beer festival, cider festival, gin festival, the idea is very similar. Swap your ticket for a glass, pen and guide, pay for your tokens and sample away – in this case, exchanging your tokens for a garnished G&T, or two tokens if you’d rather indulge in a cocktail.
At the gorgeous Victoria Baths, the central of the three rooms, the sports hall (what used to be the male second class pool) is the place for your G&T bars, your tokens and, should you commit to it, for you to buy a bottle (or two, or three) to take home.
The first stop for many, however, is at the deep end – the females’ pool, where the brands reside. This is your opportunity to meet the people behind the gins and chat to them. There are, of course, samples on the tables for you to try, including two of our very own Three Rivers Gin and Manchester Gin.
Over in the gala pool (males first class) is the street food and the tuck shop, should you fancy a nibble or, dare I say it, something other than gin. Blasphemy.
It’s also the place to enjoy the live music that’s on every session – if you can drag yourself away from the bar, that is.
If your thirst extends to gin knowledge, then there are masterclasses galore for you to attend. Each brand hosts a masterclass with their very own gin expert and, in some cases, the master distiller themselves, allowing you the chance to ask them the things you’ve always wanted to know.
Why is it called mother’s ruin? What exactly is gin? And even the trickiest – what’s your favourite? I’d certainly advocate sitting in on the Fever Tree tonic masterclass, and that has nothing to do with it being hosted by one of my favourite bartenders. Honest.
One of the best additions to the Gin Festival this year is the speakeasy bar. Hidden away somewhere in the building is a secret drinking den with indulgent cocktails from Brockman’s Gin. I’ve long been a lover of a secret bar, and whilst I can’t tell you the password, what I can tell you is that it might be worth trying to discover it as the cocktails are well worth the visit.
I had a ball in my fourth year at the Gin Festival and would definitely recommend a visit. And here’s a little tip from me if you haven’t already booked a ticket. Keep an eye on the website as returns are made and tickets do become available.
It’s one I wouldn’t miss for the world.