Saturday 13 April 2019 saw the first Leeds Gin Fair, brought to you by Sam Fish and Bruce Lerman, who gave us last year’s Rum Festival. Obviously a spirited pair.
The kick-off time was 7.00pm and when I arrived shortly thereafter, the queue was snaking around the Corn Exchange as the event was a sell-out and security was thankfully comprehensive. I find it very reassuring these days to see bags being examined and tickets properly checked. When I did get in after only a few minutes, the place was already buzzing and I somehow had the feeling that this may be the first but would certainly not be the last Gin Fair.
I was very impressed by the way that everything was organised, with there being three featured Masterclasses on the lower ground floor, spaced throughout the evening. The trade stands and food bar were on the main level and there was a private room run by the main sponsors, Portobello Road Gin and their partner for the evening, Leeds Blues Bar, Smokestack, which was a ticket only presentation. There were over thirty brands to chose from so I thought that I had better make a start.
It came as a total surprise to me, not being a regular gin drinker, as to the number and variety of distillers and varieties of gin. In my day, this particular drink was known as Mother’s Ruin, a moniker which has now been confined to the mists of time as, judging by the age of the patrons, it seems to be the current spirit of choice for the younger generation. All of the stands were surrounded by eager tasters who were sampling and discussing the tinctures on offer. Amongst the fruit-based gins, I was pleased to see one made using Yorkshire Rhubarb and Raspberries. London and Plymouth are obviously no longer the main producers of the spirit.
I decided to pop down to the presentation area where I saw a masterclass given by the appropriately named Rosemary Bax of Bax Botanicals from Wetherby, who was explaining how their product was made by using all kinds of wild fruit and herbs, including verbena and sea buckthorn. They were served with tonic and a twist. The twist was that they are non-alcoholic! I found that the sea buckthorn was very refreshing and would be great as a driver’s drink. It seems that they are very popular with City bars for adding to cocktails. The two other masterclasses were given by Foxhole Gins, who put the accent on sustainability and creativity within the drinks industry, and Sir Robert of Loxley Gins explaining how to get the most flavour from your G&T, or even distil your own at home.
As it was Saturday evening and eight o’clock, my stomach reminded me that it was about time that I partook of something to eat, so I headed for the food stand. I could have visited Humpit, who had remained open for the evening, but decided on Little Bao Boy, where I took advantage of their two buns for £7 offer. One was the East Meets West, a pulled pork number and the other Grandma’s Chicken, both of which were excellent, especially as they were accompanied by a (whisper this) Budvar Beer from the neighbouring pay bar at £4.50.
After a few more samples from the trade stands, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made my way back into the, now chilly, night to head for the bus stop and home. The air might have been a bit nippy but I somehow felt a lot more of a warm glow than I had done whilst queueing to get into the Corn Exchange. I can’t think why.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.