I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a Sussex gin fest. After all, it was an outdoor event in a summer throughout which rain has so far been the dominant feature. But I’m a big lover of gin, and fundamentally disapprove of a “fair weather only” attitude so armed with galoshes, off we set. After all, someone’s got to do the research.
By way of background, Sussex Gin Fest was in the grounds of Borde Hill just outside Haywards Heath, and your ticket included entry to the gardens as an added bonus. It’s an annual event and they also host one in Surrey.
Clearly, we were interested in the Sussex gins and in particular, gin that has been distilled in Sussex. Happily, there was an entire corner dedicated to Sussex. In fact, there were 24 stalls in the Sussex corner, although admittedly they weren’t all gin (there was Bluebell Vineyards, Folkingstons (a Sussex tonic) and a pizza stand) and they weren’t all distilled in Sussex. Notwithstanding this, we had our work cut out. It was a big ask to drink our way around all of the gins but we did so with due diligence and I’ll come back to the fruits of our labours in just a bit.
The best of the rest
Further across the field there was a seated, covered area, and a main stage with live music and DJ Pat Sharp. Venturing into the Borde Hill gardens, we soaked up some of the sculptures that are part of their current exhibition whilst soaking up a bit more gin before heading back to the main event.
With no admittance for under 18 years, the event was busy and had a real festival vibe. Deck chairs and picnic blankets were the order of the day and having thought it would just be a quick two hour whizz round, actually, we could have stayed a lot longer especially as the sun finally broke through the clouds.
And the winners are?
But trying to keep a clear head and a cleansed palate what were the results of our endeavours and the winning gins? Well, for me there were three stand out gins that I’ll be buying again.
Hastings 1066 Gin
Clearly inspired by the sea, Hastings 1066 have two gins, and their dry gin served with a Folkingtons’ tonic was possibly the smoothest, nicest dry gin, I’ve ever tasted. It was lightly citrusy, smooth and delicate with just the right hint of juniper. They also do a strawberry gin that is equally pleasant and not too sweet. Their bottles are a thing of beauty and their team was a delight, showering us with gin type information.
Worthing-based Slake are fast establishing themselves as a local gin to watch and for good reason. Their gin is complex but smooth, peppery but refreshing and warm but light. How do they do that? They are a talented bunch and their beautiful dragon statues are made by gin maker in chief Tom’s mother. There were long queues at the Slake stall.
Black Moon Distillery
These Newhaven-based gin makers are so new that they were launching on the same day of the festival. To be honest, by the time we got here, I can’t remember why I liked this gin so much other than it was smooth but interesting. I tried it without tonic which is always the best test of a gin, and it was decidedly easy to drink. So much so that I marked it on my card as another local to watch over the coming months.
After months of isolation, Sussex folk are clearly embracing a chance to get out and to get to know their local producers and long may this continue. Sussex Gin Fest, we’ll be back next year.
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