Battle of the Norfolk Gins
Recently I was lucky enough to take part in the Norwich Gin Club’s Gin of the Year 2018, or Battle of the Norfolk Gins. Run by Johnny Wyndham of Van Vino, experienced in organising gin tasting events, as well as rum and wine events, and owning a mobile bar to boot, the evening promised to be a good one.
The battleground was an upstairs room in the Louis Marchesi. A grade II listed building, now a pub, in the heart of Tombland in Norwich. Tombland, you may be forgiven for mistaking it as a burial ground, is the historic centre of Norwich and was once an Anglo Saxon marketplace. The pub takes its name from Louis Marchesi, founder of the Round Table and a Norwich man. It is a fine building in a ‘fine city’, with a half-timbered exterior and an interior no less characterful. Johnny had chosen a fitting place for the battle and regularly runs the Norwich Gin Club from the vaulted cellars of the pub.
I have to confess at this point that to my shame I am not particularly familiar with Norfolk gins, despite Norfolk being my home county. I think I am too easily sidetracked. So many gins, so little time and so on and so forth. Wanting to rectify this remiss on my home turf I had signed up for battle. Norfolk is quite a ‘ginny’ county. Perhaps it has something to do with our agricultural roots. There are to date 13 gin distillers in Norfolk and we were to taste 9 of their gins.
Norwich Gin Club
Arriving at 6.30pm with a fellow ginthusiast we found our way up the old stairs to the room above the bar. With a double aspect into the open space of Tombland, the room was light and welcoming. There was even a small door leading out onto a cute little terrace full of wrought iron tables and plants. A horseshoe of elegantly laid tables greeted us and we sat down at the end.
There were 15 ginthusiasts gathered in all, encompassing all age ranges, and a few different nationalities. Chatty and very informative, Johnny made sure the evening got off to a fizzing start by handing round a delicious sloe gin fizz made with The Norfolk Sloe Company’s gin. It broke the ice and we soon got chatting with our neighbours.
In front of each of us was a gin mat with 5 gins in shot glasses and a scoring sheet. Johnny explained the process of scoring, based on WSET principles. We had to score the gin neat and with tonic on a rating of 1 to 5, from poor to outstanding. We then added these two together to make the total. Simple!
The tonics used were Fever-Trees premium and Mediterranean. We didn’t want the gins obscured by strong tasting tonics. Meditteranean is one of my favourite tonics as I find it goes well with so many of my gins.
After each tasting the scores were ‘handed’ in ~ well we just shouted them out really, particularly towards the end. Johnny would calculate the total for each gin and announce the winner at the end of the evening. As well as introducing each of the gins and distillers in turn, Johnny dropped in tidbits of ginformation throughout the evening.
Let the Battle Commence
First gin up was one which, thankfully, I was familiar with: St Giles Gin. I am a big fan of this gin. It has a flavourful creaminess to it which is quite unusual. Juniper on the nose, it has a round full-bodied mouthfeel with plenty of citrus lemongrass coming through. Big scores came in. Maybe we already had a winner?!
Next up was Bullards Norwich Dry Gin. With a spicy aroma, I wasn’t surprised to find this was a spicy gin. A big hit of cassia bark took me right back to my childhood and Big Red cinnamon flavoured chewing gum, echoed by a group of young Americans also at the tasting. Bullards scored quite well too. The battle was on.
Black Shuck was up next made by The Norfolk Sloe Company of fizz fame. This was one I had only drunk with tonic before in a bar, so was surprised to find how much I liked it neat. Juniper and herby on the nose, it was quite fruity to taste with citrus coming through at the finish. Definitely one to put on my shopping list.
Into the Breach once More
After a break, a chat and a quick drink of water, we were back in battle. Johnny had replenished our tables with new drink mats and 4 more gins. I was liking this evening a lot!
Archangel led us into battle in the second half. A well-balanced gin with medium juniper. I liked it but it didn’t have that wow factor. Well made but nothing special ~ a safe gin.
Next up was the surprise, (for me), of the evening. A gin I have often passed on the shelf as possibly not very exciting. How wrong I was! Peachey’s Norfolk Dry Gin was a revelation. An unassuming bottle and label that looks almost homemade. But an absolute peach of a gin. Janet Peachey knows her flavours. Strongest juniper of the evening with a real mellow orange flavour. Top marks from me. And one I will be seeking out.
Norfolk Gin was the penultimate gin, and again one I am familiar with. This ‘bathtub’ gin is a staple in our house and its cardamom rich flavourfulness is perfect for a long cold summer G&T, garnished with orange peel and thyme. I wasn’t the only one who liked it. The marks were stacking up!
Final gin of the evening was Pell & Co., my least favourite. The nose was of wet nappies and the flavour lacking. Unfortunately forgettable.
Finally, after 9 Norfolk gins and a very enjoyable evening, the scores were in. It was difficult to tell who had won, the scores were quite variable throughout the evening, as you would expect. Taste is an individual thing. Although Johnny remarked that our scores had increased as the evening wore on, possibly in line with our consumption of gin! And who were we to argue? It had been a fantastic evening full of fun. Well organised and delivered. Truly gintastic!
Oh, and the winner of Norwich Gin Club’s Gin of the Year 2018 was… drum roll please ~ the aptly named for the battle ~ Norfolk Gin!
If you want to know more about Van Vino’s wine, gin and rum tasting events and their mobile bar check out their website.