It is on a Friday night in the atmospheric crypt of the Louis Marchesi in Tombland, Norwich that we embark on a mixilogical journey though history and flavour with VanVino’s Gin Club.
Johnny Wyndham is our guide, and what this guy doesn’t know about gin probably isn’t worth knowing.
On a long table with strangers who rapidly become friends for the evening, we begin proceedings promptly with a Black Shuck Sloe Gin Fizzer. A bestselling cocktail in the VanVino mobile bar (hired out for weddings, events and parties), it is dangerously refreshing.
In front of us at the table are sheets with notes, small glass jars containing the likes of Cardamom and Lemon Peel, and, most intriguingly, 4 full shot glasses filled with liquids ranging in hue from almost clear to violet.
As we wonder about the night ahead and sip our Sloe Gin Fizzer, Johnny guides us through the history of gin and gin making, from it’s origins as the Dutch drink ‘Jenever’ (of ‘Dutch Courage’) through the darker years as ‘Mother’s Ruin’, to the recent renaissance and current popularity (by the end of 2017, Gin had superseded Whisky and vodka as the UK’s most popular spirit).
The voyage progresses as we taste each shot in front of us in turn. At each stage, Johnny tells us about the particular gin and it’s nuances and history. It’s absolutely fascinating.
We try well-known, established varieties like ‘Fifty Pounds’ Dry London Gin (distilled in London for over 200 years), gins from small-batch distilleries such as Old Tom by Poetic License (a gin aged in cask like whisky) and a Portuguese gin that changes colour upon the addition of tonic (wonderfully theatrical after a few gins, believe me).
Each gin is paired with a specifically chosen, high quality Fever Tree tonic. Very much part of the experience, the difference in taste upon adding the tonics is sometimes quite incredible.
We explore the key botanicals and flavours involved in gin making, having a sniff of the small glass jars I mentioned earlier and also discussing which of them we can detect in the gins we sampled. We get to ‘rate’ the gins with a happy or unhappy face, depending on whether they float our particular boat. For me, I really liked four of the five we tried very much, but was not quite sold on one. I won’t tell you which one as it wouldn’t be fair, and anyway, each to their own…
Throughout the evening, water is available, and Johnny also proffers further ‘tall’ drinks to enhance the effect of the shots. By the end, we’ve tried 7 gins in total and while not blind drunk, I’m certainly merry with a ‘warm’ sensation inside.
Personally, I had a tremendously enjoyable evening. The history of gin as Johnny tells it is as much a social narrative as it is an account of the origins of the beverage. I found it fascinating. To pair the journey with the actual product makes for a superb experience, which is also very sociable and lots of fun.
VanVino’s Gin Tastings are a brilliant excuse to get together with friends, but also make for an inspired gift, or a fun ‘date night’. The appeal is wide-reaching, as was visible from the range of people and ages at the tasting we went to. A Friday night with a difference, it’s an experience I’d highly recommend.
For further details about VanVino’s Gin Club, and to book yourself, visit: www.vanvino.co.uk