Gin is not merely ethanol and water with some botanical flavourings added. It is a spirit deeply rooted in the history of London, forms the bedrock of the cocktail, and elicits real passion amongst its devotees. To enjoy gin is to enjoy discovery, as it is the most mercurial of spirits. Marcel Proust said, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us.”
And so on a recent Monday night, I find myself and some kindred ginthusiasts on a Gin Journey in east London. Expertly guided by Leon Dalloway of Shake Rattle and Stir, it is an educational evening that tells you everything you ever wanted to know about gin while taking you on a tour of some of London’s finest cocktail bars. Leon promises 5 samples, 5 cocktails, chauffeured transport, and no hangover for the princely sum of £50. I am intrigued.
The City of London Distillery is our meeting place. It is the city’s first new distillery in 200 years, producing gin just off Fleet Street. It has a very happening scene for a Monday night as I descend the steps into the convivial bar. Leon is warm and engaging, explaining the history and production of gin in front of the gleaming copper stills whilst we sip our first cocktail of the journey— a frothy chestnutty-chocolatey concoction that just happened to win Leon the top prize for Sloane’s Gin cocktail competition in August. We know we are in very capable hands.
Filing out of the distillery we clamber aboard a magical mystery tour bus, pulsing with psychedelic lights as we make our way to Chinatown. Shuffling up several creaky flights in a dim wooden stairwell we emerge into an atmospheric Victorian speakeasy, Opium, for a guided tasting of Bulldog Bold Gin and Bramble cocktails. Then back on the bus to our next destination at Tower Bridge. Perkin Reveller’s gorgeous zinc topped bar is the altarpiece inside an antique church pulpit which sits within the formidable brick work of the mighty bridge. It could only be Beefeater Gin for such a regal setting. We indulge in a bit of delectable bar snackery as Leon regales us with gin lore.
The disco bus whisks us off laughing all the way to Shoreditch to taste Dodd’s Gin at the Looking Glass Cocktail Club, a Lewis Carroll inspired speakeasy. We unanimously bury our noses into a thicket of fresh mint atop our new style negronis. Our final destination, oh frabjous day, is Callooh Callay, one of the world’s most decorated cocktail bars and our final cracking gin of the evening: Martin Miller. It was by no means our final cocktail, as our merry band journeyed on beyond the bar’s infamous wardrobe into a Narnia of Negronis. As Leon winds up, we are wiser, but we linger, no longer strangers, not wanting the journey to end.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust again. You may be pleased to learn that Leon delivered on his no hangover promise! Get yourself on a Gin Journey with Leon in the new year. For more on gin, see Gin’s the Thing, and Gin-spiration.