Gin o’clock: Gin expert Tom Grummett explains the craft gin boom

We're in the midst of a craft gin boom. 

There's no getting away from the endless new cocktails, gin experiences and pop-up gin bars, but we're not complaining. 

For those gin newbies who want to get in on the craze but aren't sure where to start, we chatted to the Gin Festival's resident Gin Expert, Tom Grummett, who told us why there's a craft gin boom, gave us an overview of the best ones to try and explained the real secret behind a great gin.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Gin Festival and how it came about?

The Gin Festival has been going for three or four years now. Jim and Marie, the founders, noticed a lack of events where people could taste a variety of gins. 

Through many, many events and trial and error we got to the formula we're at today where we have our event bars our optics with around sixty, seventy gins and they change every few months. 

We did change them every quarter we now change them every few months just as a way of offering a sample of this massive range of craft gins to our customers and the public. We aim for gins that you can't really get in bars or aren't readily available, so we're offering a unique and new experience every time we come to a city.

What's the secret behind a great gin? 

I think there's many things that make a good gin great, obviously flavour is first and foremost but you taste with your eyes first, so a nice looking bottle, a good story and a good brand is a key player.

For me a great gin needs to be versatile, useable in gin and tonics, cocktails or just drank neat.

There's lots of different aspects that can make a gin great.

Everyone's got their own tastes and palettes – everyone knows what they like. Some people like gin to look really nice in the glass with loads of fruit garnish and some people like it just bare bones on the rocks as it is so it's very subjective, very personal.

Why do you think gin has become so popular of late? 

Gin's been on the up since late 2009 when it all kicked off, which has caught the tail end of the craft beer revolution where brewers were experimenting with new strains of hops, new IPAs and new flavours of beer.

Once the new laws were passed in 2009, distilleries could use smaller stills and with much lower start up costs it afforded the same level of creativity as brewing does.

So we see a lot of brewers turn their hand making gin and we've seen a great rise in gin coming out of Scotland because Scotland's famous for its whisky, but that takes three years and a day to make and distilleries could churn out a bottle of gin every day. They can do a run on a Monday and have it on the shelves by Thursday so, in terms of a turn around time they've got much less time to wait as they can make a gin while whisky's ageing. It's great, it's really quick and easy to produce product. 

Don't get me wrong, it's very difficult to get a recipe together- I've tried several times! But it means that distilleries have got such an artistic licence to use botanicals from around the distillery or some far flung exotic place, they can really put their mark on the bottle. It's just that personality, that ability to create something personal that I think is really attractive to a lot of distillers and a lot of that sort of crowd.

What's your favourite way to have a gin?

That depends on what mood I'm in!

My favourite is in a cocktail: either a classic Negroni, that's sort of a benchmark for me, or a Dry Martini – the two staple classics.

I think they're a good way of gaging the gin. But again they're both quite strong drinks, so if it makes a good gin and tonic then that's also a bonus. Something you can have two or three of and send me away on a hot summer's day. 

What would be your top recommendation to someone new to trying gin?

First and foremost you've got to try a gin and tonic. It's the bread and butter.

The issue is I think a lot of people are turned off by the thought of tonic with being heavy quinine and really quite bitter or traditionally it's quite bitter. My first memories of gin and tonic are what my mum would drink and it'd be horrible, really dry and just not a pleasant experience. But now there's so many different kinds of tonic that are lower in quinine or are flavoured in order to accentuate certain properties of the gin.

I know when I always used to work in bars I'd always go with 'what kind of drink would you normally have', and go off what kind of cocktail you'd go for a normal drink and really try and gage it to your personal tastes, which is what our bartenders at the events do really well.

They all receive a crash course in bar training and then they're trained to engage and chat along with customers because being faced with such a large amount of gin at the event is quite scary.

All our bar staff are really adept at trying to work out what gin they think could be best for the customer and help them enjoy the experience and enjoy the gin.

But the trick is to try lots of it! 

If you want to give a certain gin a try but you're still not sure where to start, you can try out Gin Festival's gin of the month.

Fancy heading to a Gin Festival event? Their next event will be in Harrogate on Friday 8th – Saturday 9th December with the following in Liverpool on Thursday 14th – Sunday 17th December. You can see the full list of all their upcoming events here.