Monthly Archives: May 2016

The day after arriving in London UK to visit my daughter,  I received the following agenda for GERI’s Gin Tour of London.

As many of you know I love Gin and Gin Martini’s. Last Christmas my daughter gave me the gift of a Gin Tour of London—I simply had to come and visit her to collect it!!!

I had no idea it was going to be so amazing!!!


The Invitation

11:30 – 12:30 Beefeater Distillery Tour :

1:00 – 2:30 – Maltby Market – Little Bird Gin

LUNCH in the market

2:30 – 3:00 Maltby Market – Jensens (potential tasting or browsing)

3:30 – 5:30 You must choose:

Holborn Gin Bar – Largest gin bar in London

6:00 London Distillery – Charcuterie and Cheese dinner –

8:00 Jamboree Live Music – PLATYPUS + THE STRING PROJECT

Be sure to wear your walking/dancing shoes!!!

The Experience:

 Daughter Rachael, niece Madi and I set off bright and early for the Beefeater Distillery for a tour of London’s oldest gin distillery. It is a very small distillery and I had a hard time believing that all the Beefeater gin was distilled in only about 12 stills. But they claimed it was!! The output from the distillery is 80% alcohol, it takes about 2 days to make and is then shipped off to Scotland where they add pure Scottish water and bottle it for shipment all over the world.

For those of you not familiar with Gin, it is a spirit which derives its predominant flavour from Juniper Berries. It became popular in Great Britain when William of Orange, leader of the Dutch republic occupied the English, Scottish and Irish thrones. Genever, as gin is known in Holland, is a favourite of the Dutch….so I also come by my fondness for gin through my dutch genes. In addition to the key juniper berry ingredient, different gins and styles  are created by using other botanicals  ( coriander, angelica, orange, grapefruit or lemon peel, cardomon, cinnamon, grains of paradise, other berries, licorice—the list is endless, creating endless varieties of glorious gin. Typically a fine gin should contain 6-10 botanicals. However one of my favourite gins from Liberty Distillery in Granville Island in Vancouver uses 24 BC botanicals and berries. London Gin must have a strong juniper flavour.


London has had a long and tortuous relationship with gin. A Gin Craze swept 18th century London. In over-crowded, slum ridden Georgian London, gin became the opium of the people. For a few pennies, London’s poor found entertainment, and escaped from the cold and hunger at the bottom of a glass. It is said that in 1730, an estimated 10 million gallons of gin were distilled and sold from 7,000 dram shops. This would have meant that an average Londoner drank 14 gallons a year—I know I love my gin—but that is staggering consumption.

No wonder Rev James Townley (1751) pontificated that

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught, Makes human race a Prey. 

It enter by a deadly Draught And steals our Life away

What really put gin on the market was the duty on imported spirits during the end of the 18th century when England was at war with France. Restrictions were lifted on domestic spirit consumption—creating a rich source of tax revenue and a healthy market for domestic grain growing landowners as un. The effects on its people however was devastating—gin was blamed for misery, crime, prostitution, higher death and birth rates and madness. It seems during this period cheap low grade gin was more likely to be flavoured by turpentine than juniper.



The satirical well know print by William Hogarth ‘Gin Lane’ depicts the sins of gin and links the grubby reputation that gin has had for many years as ‘mothers ruin. He contrasts the ill-advised consumption of gin with the healthy consumption of British beer  in ‘Beer Lane’. The government of the day tried to control the gin excess and rein in an unregulated industry, but the craze really did not end until a change in the economy brought on higher grain prices and therefore less affordable gin. Clearly Hogarth’s impact on many brits has been significant—beer is still the drink of choice for most current day Londoners.


By the beginning of the 19th century the gin craze and depravity was almost all but forgotten as gin transitioned to a new respectability with the introduction of ‘gentleman’s gin’. Gin was now distilled in commercial distilleries, regulated and quality controlled.

It is during this time that James Burrough and the Beefeater Distillery came onto the scene. James was a trained pharmacist, passionate about experimenting with flavours. It led him to discover the recipe for the nine natural botanicals now known as Beefeaters London Dry Gin.


Today new styles of gin are becoming increasingly popular. Some of the originals are

Genever, Jenever: A Dutch spirit, still immensely popular in the Netherlands today. Distilled from malt wine and flavoured with juniper, hence the name jenever. Also referred to as Madam Geneva in English.

Old Tom Gin: Now used to refer to a style of gin popular in England in the 19th Century. Typically sweeter than modern gin. Various explanations for how name came to be. Traditionally often featuring some sort of cat on the bottle.

London Dry Gin:Modern style of gin, which has dominated since the late 19th Century.

Plymouth Gin:Similar to London dry gin, although said to be slightly sweeter, and the subject of protected geographical indication status, meaning it can only be made in Plymouth.

Sloe Gin:A liqueur made from gin and sloe berries from the blackthorn.


Having gotten both the production and history lesson in Gin at the Beefeaters Distillery exhibition,  and fortified by a lovely Gin and Tonic at the end of the tour, we were all set to embark on our ‘gin discovery and tasting tour of London.


Our next stop Maltby Market.


Maltby Market has become a popular destination to wander on a Saturday morning/early afternoon. In Bermondsey the street market has settled in amongst the railway arches of southeast London. While smaller by comparison to Borough market, it has far fewer tourists, yet boasts top-notch food sellers of all varieties. We feasted on the ‘best burger’ in London from African Volcano (as declared by Madi and several other irish ‘foodies we met at the pop up communal bar) awesome charcoal grilled British Beef with chimichurri sauce and fries from The Beefsteaks and a delicious Falafel platter from Hoxton Beach. Quite frankly there were at least another 10 food stalls we would gladly have sampled—there is a style and flavour to suit any taste bud.


Our lunch was accompanied by cocktails from Little Bird Gin. We learned that Little Bird Gin is ‘lovingly distilled in small batches in London using unique botanicals including grapefruit and orange to give a smoother more rounded, fresh tasting gin’. We of course each had a different cocktail to enhance our sampling opportunities. Several of their cocktails are on their website but here’s to start you off in the morning.


Early Bird Breakfast Martini

30ml Little Bird Gin

20ml Cointreau

50ml Pink Grapefruit Juice

2 large teaspoons of Seville orange marmalade 

Muddle the marmalade in a Boston Shaker, add lots of ice and the rest of the ingredients. Shake well and double strain into a chilled martini glass.


Before leaving Maltby market we made one more stop and in another archway found Jensen’s Distillery. A little gin tasting of their vintage gins and a sit in the sun, sipping a G&T, while  people watching rounded out our market visit. We clearly agreed with Christian Jensen, resident  distillerer

Jensen’s is gin as it was. Gin as it should be.



Armed with the ways of  world renowned Beefeaters to small local distilleries, we hopped on a double decker red London bus to our next destination, Holborns. Holborns is a grand old brasserie set in midtown London. It boasts a gin bar offering London’s largest collection of Gin, with over 400 Gins and 27 tonics. Apparently, if you had the time and liver for it, you could savour over 14,035 possible Gin and tonic pairings and cocktails.

I wandered the length of the bar and had a good long look at the 3 cabinets of gin bottles. Happily I saw a few of the unique gins, assembled in my gin cabinet, Death’s Door, Genever and of course the old well knowns, Hendricks, Tanqueray ( all of them) Beefeater, Boodles and indeed the new small batch distillery Lady Bird.

Having eschewed the bar cocktail menu I asked to see the list of gins and was presented with the ‘Bible of Gins’ by the gentleman behind the bar. After a deep consultation with said gentleman and a tasting or two I settled on Mayson’s Dry Yorkshire Gin, just to say I allowed my taste buds to sample something a little further afield but still British.


According to their master distiller Mayson’s Dry Yorkshire Gin is

A London Dry Gin from God’s Own County!


Masons set out to create something that “wasn’t just your run of the mill, off the shelf, generic gin”. According to the experts it  is a spicy, slightly malty number that has a pleasant fennel character. You may wonder how I could taste the differences by this time….but this was my first straight dry martini of the day ……no tonic or other additives, just a splash of vermouth, a lemon twist and ice on the side…..and I loved it!!!!





By now it was late afternoon, and time to depart for our final gin destination, the City of London Distillery. We headed down to a destination near Blackfriars on winding cobbled streets and came to Bride Lane. We actually bumped into a wedding party but did not see the bride. Searching around a bit we found a doorway, headed down the stairs into an underground bar (and fully functioning distillery). There is much too entice one at the COLD (stands for City of London Distillery) bar.



One can do gin flights,  a gin masterclass tour or even create your own gin. However, our day had presented us with several of these options already and we settled in for another cocktail, myself another dry martini with the house City of London Gin and a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter.  The ambience was terrific, Rachael’s room mates had joined the party by this time and we relived the delights, twists and turns of the day.



Following our gin adventure you will see that the Rachael  had planned a visit to a live music venue with the girls…it turned out to be quite the adventure as you will see from the animals in the band–but that is another story





A very special day with very special person and her friends who put a great deal of thought and life into a remarkable London experience!!!




While in Barcelona I came across several  unique traditions that I should like to share with you. Castelling is the subject of this blog


Castellers in Barcelona



I read about and then searched out the tradition of castelling. A castell is a human tower. Colles Castelleres are groups of people who do these towers. According to UNESCO castells are declared to be amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Seriously!! You will soon see why.

Various Colles exist across Catalonia, several of them in the city of Barcelona. They build ‘human towers’ at  festivals across the province, competing against one another for the highest and most complex of towers.

The tradition originated in the Ball dels Valencians in Valls, and was first documented in 1712. It became the thing to do in the 18th century.

A Castell  is considered a success when stages of its assembling and disassembling can be done in complete succession. The Castell is said to be complete when all castellers have climbed to their designated places and the enxaneta climbs into place at the top and raises on hand with four fingers erect, symbolically the stripes of the Catalan flag ( yes you may be beginning to see this strong theme of independence and patriotism in so many of the things happening in Barcelona). The enxaneta then climbs down the other side of the castell, and the remaining castellers descend highest lowest to complete the disassembly.


Complicated??? Yup. But once you see it, not only complex but truly fear inspiring. Regrettably I did not see a Castell created at a festival… missed my opportunity to see one on one of the festival days –most common timeframe for them to put a castell on for show—but within walking distance of my flat I was able to see a practice evening. Even though they were not wearing their traditional dress of white pants, red shirts and black belts, the practice show as amazing….and because we were able to view it from above, we got a real sense of how complicated the castell building is.


You will see that to our surprise the highest levels are created by castellers who are small children—very acrobatic children at that. They literally looked like little monkeys ascending and descending the castell. Aside from the children, girls, women, boys and men who create the upper parts of the tower, a bottom base, the pinya,  is needed to act as a safety net to catch or cushion the fall if the castell collapses.


I have inserted a couple of videos.. please excuse the audio and commentary…not exactly the most professional documentation, but felt it was worth inserting to give you a real feel for the art of castelling.

Seeing this created is incredible and clearly well orchestrated and managed. There were huge posters on a wall in the practice we saw that indicated for each individual where they needed to be for each castell. Yes they don’t just form one kind….amazingly we saw about 15 different towers built.  I think I counted the highest towere we saw created at seven levels.. the highest they can go is ten…imagine that. We saw towers built with 3,4 and 5 people per level known as pillars.


We soon discovered that the black belt of sash known as a faixa  is the most important part of the costume and they wore them that night over their regular dress. The faixa supports the lower back and is used by other castellers. It is a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the waist. They range from 1.5 to 12 meters long. The longer ones are worn by the lower levels. Castellers go barefoot and they climb up each other by securing their toes into the sashes of the levels as a foot hold when climbing the tower.

The lowest level is made up of very strong, stocky men. Women and children form the highest levels we saw.


The motto of Castellers is  Forca, equilibri, valor I seny, meaning Strength, Balance, Courage and Common Sense.

 I totally got the Forca, equilibri and valor…but there is no common sense in my mind in creating 10 level human towers.