He’s been called ‘The Willy Wonka of gin,’ ‘Ginspirational,’ and ‘Amazegin’ by TripAdvisor reviewers and the press, so it was with a large amount of joy that I found out Kasha was going to treat me to the much famed Gin Journey run by gin connoisseur Leon Dalloway.
Hailed as one of the best tours to find out about the history of this intoxicating, infamous libation, the chauffeur driven tour sees you whisked off to five bars around London and enjoy a number of premium quality gins and cocktails. Despite the strong recommendations, I couldn’t help wondering, would this tour be worth the £60 per person price tag? Would I be hammered at the end of it? Would I even remember anything at all? All these questions, and more were answered.
As soon as the tour met, Leon started to school us on the essentials, the history of gin, how the liquor is produced and famous cocktails. What struck me instantly was how little I knew of gin, especially considering Leon’s statement that “gin is basically flavoured vodka” – a startling revelation that gin is flavoured by, and not produced from, juniper berries.
Anyone interested in the rich stories behind this very British spirit will love the tour, and Leon is an incredible host; informative, funny and with an innate ability to convey information in an interesting way.
The selection of bars (which changes each tour) were excellent, with a stop at one of my old favourites, a naughty G&T at the Dickensian style Merchant House, a Rhubarb Collins at the classy Perkin Reveller, a tour of the East London Liquor Company and a prosecco gin cocktail at Callooh Callay. Overall, the varied selection gave a chance for the whole group to delve into bars they might never have heard of.
For me, the selection of premium gins we tasted was one of the highlights of the tour. After teaching the group what kind of things to look for in gin tasting, Leon explained the history and distilling process that made each gin stand out from the crowd. Loving a strong flavour, I found that Beefeater Gin provided one of the richest flavours. For those with a gentler palette, the smoothest was undoubtedly Martin Miller’s Gin which is blended with the finest Icelandic water.
Even whiskey drinkers that savour the rich warm flavours of an aged malt, will love the opportunity to identify the subtle flavourings that layer each gin. As Leon eloquently explained, the distilling process for gin begins with an empty canvas, allowing the distiller to paint whichever flavours they want; the end result could be smooth and subtle or incredibly rich and complex.
After five cocktails and five samples of gin in a selection of London’s finest bars, you might well be looking at an eye-watering bill, not even taking into account the transportation between each bar. In this respect, the Gin Journey is worth every penny.
The tour was very well organised with the chance to have some food, a number of prize giveaways ensure you are always entertained, and of course the ‘gin wagon’ meant that we could get quickly from bar to bar with a minimum of fuss.
The greatest thing about the tour however, is Leon himself. Having been a part of the drinks industry for a number of years, Leon is passionate about this world of underground bars and eccentric distillers. Managing to cut through all the boring details that this kind of tour can often get bogged down in, he focuses on the stories and innovators that make it so interesting.
The Shake Rattle and Stir tour isn’t just for those that like gin, (in fact a fair few of the people on the tour didn’t even like gin, until after the tour of course) it’s also for those interested in history, with everything from Dutch law to famous Victorian etchings discussed.
So, the all-important question, was I hungover? It was a weekday when I went on the tour, so I was pretty worried I would wake up with a throbbing head and a dry mouth. However, as promised, I woke up feeling fresh as a daisy. What other weekday activity in London can offer that?
The Gin Journey is just one of the Shake Rattle and Stir tours, they also offer the Rum Ramble, the London Gin Experience and a Gin Masterclass.
Looking for somewhere truly special to drink gin? Check out my experience at Nightjar, a secret speakeasy renowned as one of the greatest bars in the world.