A wedding, a boat trip and a movie

After leaving the north and going back to London, I only had a few days back at work before heading back up north again – this time to Cumbria for my cousin’s wedding. My mam and I met up with some family members in Windermere the day before. I was rather sorry we weren’t staying longer in that hotel because it had a massive bookshelf and I wouldn’t have minded reading some of them.

The wedding itself was held at the Wild Boar, just outside of Windermere, so called because the last wild boar in Westmorland (which along with Cumberland was a county that now makes up Cumbria) was killed in the vicinity.

Me at the Wild Boar
Made a new friend…

The venue had low ceilings and wooden beams and was generally very atmospheric. I wore a dress from Collectif and massive earrings from Tatty Devine. The bride and groom brewed their own beer for the wedding and I drank rather a lot of it, so I had to go for a lie down after the meal. I came back refreshed, but sadly my mam had a headache so we couldn’t join in with much dancing.

Table decorations
Table decorations

It was really nice to see family again, and weddings are always exciting, anyway. This one had flower dogs, who were massively cute. The wedding was a humanist one, which I’ve never experienced before, but which was very personal to the bride and groom.

Flower Dog Tilly
Flower Dog Tilly

The next day, my mam and I had an extra day in Bowness-on-Windermere, so we went on a boat trip out on the lake, and then went to see Mamma Mia 2 (which was awesome) in a lovely old-fashioned cinema.

Cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere
Cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere

We had Thai for tea but we didn’t stay out late because we were both absolutely shattered! We got the train back the next day – we separated at Oxenholme and I caught the train back to London.

Windermere
On the lake

Jensen’s Gin Experience

Bemondsey Distillery

I love gin, so was very excited about picking up a Time Out voucher for a gin tasting session at the Bermondsey Gin Distillery, home of Jensen’s Gin. I went with a friend, and we headed down early, which is just as well because it took us a while to find it. The space is built into one of the railway arches not far from Bermondsey station, and there is a door built in to a corrugated shutter.

Bemondsey Distillery

One free drink was included, and we sipped this as we were introduced to the history of gin and to Jensen’s Gin in particular. I’m fairly familiar with the history of the drink (and felt quite smug that I was able to identify Hogarth’s picture Gin Lane) but not of this particular brand. It was founded by Christian Jensen, City worker and gin enthusiast who, in a bid to recreate the gins he loved in his youth, at first commissioned another distillery to make it and then set up his own in order to make and sell it commercially. The small company now makes two gins, the original Bermondsey Dry Gin and an ‘Old Tom’ variety that is deeper and more flavoursome. We got to sample both of these as well as the individual ingredients that make up gin, including juniper berries which give gin its distinctive taste.

Bemondsey Distillery

I had a really good time at the gin tasting: I learned things about gin I didn’t know, and got to sample some delicious gins. I would definitely recommend Jensen’s Gin, and am planning to head down to the distillery shop to buy a bottle of my own. On Sundays you can also pop down to Maltby Street Market and sample a G&T for just £5, which is pretty good for London.

Bemondsey Distillery

Beefeater Distillery Tour

Beefeater Distillery

When my friend came down to London to visit me we decided to do something a bit different. I’d found out about the Beefeater Distillery Tour not long before and my friend was keen on the idea, even though she’s not the world’s biggest fan of gin. Personally I love the stuff, so I was well up for the tour.

Entrance

Foyer

Museum entrance

We booked online and turned up at the venue, in Kennington in South London, with plenty of time. The first part of the tour was actually a self-guided wander around the on-site museum, which was well put together and very interesting. It covered the history of gin and the gin craze of the eighteenth century, with a large image of Hogarth’s famous “Gin Lane” picture to illustrate the drink’s reputation. I thought the exhibition did well in putting the growth of gin distilleries in its historical context, although implying that Beefeater’s founder James Burrough was on a par with the great scientists, inventors, artists and writers of the Victorian age was stretching things just a little.

Gin Lane
Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’
Early gin dispenser
Early gin dispenser

I liked the exploration of gin’s role in the cocktail craze, too, with visual demonstrations of the different drinks it can be used in. There was also a wall of old Beefeater bottles and adverts. Obviously the whole thing is a massive promo for Beefeater, but it was genuinely fascinating too.

Evolution of the cocktail

Beefeater posters

In the second part we were told all about how to make gin, and introduced to the different ingredients that make up this spirit.

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During this time we could see the stills through the plates of glass: the inner workings of the distillery. Unlike my trip to Sipsmiths, it was disappointing not to be able to get up close to the machinery, but in fairness I imagine it’s a much trickier prospect in a big place like this.

Copper stills
Copper stills

The tour concluded with a G&T which was very tasty. I was good and didn’t buy any bottles of gin (it might have looked a bit suspicious trying to get one into the theatre later that evening when we went to see Aladdin) but I’m very tempted to go back for their distillery-exclusive blend.

Bar

Me with gin

FACTS

Address: 20 Montford Place, Kennington, London, SE11 5DE

Website: beefeaterdistillery.com

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm (tours only; it’s advisable to book online)

Prices: £12 for adults (including a complimentary G&T), free for children (no G&T, obviously)

Hendrick’s Gin Ministry of Marginally Superior Transport

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I’m rather fond of gin, and when I found out via Showfilmfirst about a special event involving gin, London, and a rather special bus I knew I had to go. The Hendrick’s Gin Ministry of Marginally Superior Transport was obviously designed as a way to promote the Hendrick’s brand, but to be honest as the tickets were only £2.50 this really didn’t bother me.

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The event involved a bus journey around London in which we were served G&Ts and delicious gin cocktails with a bonus gin macaron. The bus was beautifully decorated with bizarre mock-Victorian wallpaper and we got a few freebies including a rather awesome fan, which I’m sure I’m going to make plenty of use of during the summer.

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During the journey we were entertained by bearded bartenders and challenged to complete a number of tasks including writing a poem: I’m rather proud of my brief effort, considering I haven’t written a poem since school.

I had an identical twin,
Who had a grand passion for gin.
At the hint of a frolic,
She’d pour gin and tonic,
And begin her descent into sin.

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‘This bewitching poison’: Alcohol and the Royal College of Physicians

There’s an interesting exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians at the moment. ‘This bewitching poison’: Alcohol and the Royal College of Physicians is on display at the RCP headquarters near Regent’s Park, and is open until 27 June. I booked for a lecture evening to coincide with the exhibition, and headed there after work last night.

The RCP is the oldest medical college in England, founded by royal charter of Henry VIII in 1518. The current building was designed by Sir Denys Lasdun and opened in 1964. The on-site museum contains many interesting items, including 300 oil and sculptural portraits, the Symons collection of medical instruments in the Treasures Room, the RCP silver collection and the Victor Hoffbrand collection of apothecary jars. The College was given the personal library of William Harvey (1578-1657), who discovered the circulation of the blood, although most of his tomes were lost during the Great Fire of London. The College is also in possession of six rare anatomical tables from Padua, dating from the 1650s, as well as archives containing near-complete records of RCP over the last 500 years. The lectures were held in the Dorchester Library, which contains many volumes of note including some which suffered shrapnel damage during World War II, pointed out to me as I walked in. The College has a long history of reporting and advising on public health, including the recent alcohol minimum pricing debate, making the current exhibition highly relevant.

‘This bewitching poison’: Alcohol and the Royal College of Physicians

When I arrived at the College, I registered, collected my glass of wine and proceeded to investigate the exhibition. It was very interesting, looking at “300 years of drinking history through the work of artists, doctors and satirists”. Alcohol has long been a part of life for people in Britain, and has been seen in both positive and negative lights.

Historically, Britain was a beer-drinking nation, but the arrival of the Romans introduced wine. One result was that wine drinking was associated with high social class, which it still is to a certain extent. Most native Britons drank ale, which from around 1400 often had hops added to produce the stronger drink of beer. For many years, beer was seen as healthy, being drunk on a daily basis as an alternative to water which was not safe to drink for much of Britain’s history. Physicians such as George Cheyne advocated wine in moderation as a tonic – even now, it is uncertain whether a small glass of red wine might prevent against heart disease – and alcohol was often used as a medicine: for instance, the juniper in gin was thought to help prevent the plague.

On a more negative note, the health problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol have been recognised since ancient times. Cirrhosis of the liver was recognised by the Ancient Greeks, while gin was blamed for drunkenness, vice and poverty in the eighteenth century. Temperance campaigners during the nineteenth century encouraged people to sign the pledge and become teetotal. As we move forwards, many campaigners argue that the government needs to take some responsibility for alcohol advertising by the drinks industry, and do more to help combat the negative effects of alcohol.

‘This bewitching poison’: from gin palace to temperance hall

There were two lectures; the first, Dutch courage & mothers’ ruin: The London gin craze, was delivered by Dr Richard Barnett, lecturer at the Universities of Cambridge and London, and Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow. He has written several books on the subject including The Dedalus Book of Gin, which I have on my bookshelf (as yet unread)!

18th-century London was awash with cheap, fiery gin. William Hogarth railed against it, politicians legislated against it, and doctors blamed it for destroying the health of the nation. Dr Richard Barnett explores the cultural and political realities behind this notorious epidemic of alcohol-fuelled social breakdown.
From the RCP website

I learned a lot in this lecture, including how the increase in gin consumption (which peaked in 1743) frightened those in authority and highlighted the problems with excessive consumption of spirits. In fact Jessica Warner has suggested that there were actually two gin crazes – one of the ‘public’, and one of the ‘pulpit’, decrying the sin of drunkenness. The phenomenon was largely confined to London, particularly the poorer parts such as Soho and Covent Garden. Gin was seen as socially subversive, and inspired Hogarth’s 1751 picture Gin Lane, a vivid and unforgettable picture of degradation and moral degeneration resulting from the consumption of gin. The authorities took action – the first Gin Act in 1729 doubled duty on spirits. It has been suggested that drunkenness “became less Falstaffian, and more Hogarthian” – less convivial and jovial, and more immoral and sinful.

One interesting aspect of the gin craze, I thought, was the case of the man in 1720 who was accused of killing his mother: there was a suggestion that gin contributed although this was probably not true. This link between alcohol and crime made me think of the absinthe craze in 1900s Paris; from what I recall, it inspired similar worries about drunkenness and morality, and I believe there was a similar case where someone was accused of murder, supposedly under the influence of alcohol.

The second lecture, An imperious impulse: medicine, morality and drink in Victorian Britain, was delivered by Dr James Nicholls, research manager at Alcohol Research UK and honorary senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In the late 19th Century, alcohol was a fiercely contested political issue. While debates centred on crime and the threat to social progress, medical concerns became increasingly important. From defining inebriety to questions over the effect of alcohol on the unborn child, medicine became embroiled in a range of thorny questions with very real political implications. James Nicholls looks at these problems and asks how far they have been resolved today.
From the RCP website

This lecture explored the history of organised campaigns against alcohol, led in the nineteenth century by the temperance movement (c. 1829) and social reformers in general, who argued that it was the duty of the state to intervene. By the period 1880-1910 alcohol had become a big political issue, and behind it was the important question, is alcohol a beneficial substance with the potential to cause harm, or a harmful substance with some benefits?

The concept of addiction has also developed over the years, with the archaic To addict yourself to giving way to the 20th century To become addicted, which has in turn morphed into To become an addict. This illustrates the medicalisation of addiction and the shift in thinking about alcoholism: from being seen as a sin, it has become recognised as a disease.

I really enjoyed these lectures: they gave me a lot to think about, and the accompanying exhibition was really fascinating. The exhibition is free – do check it out if you get a chance.

Sipsmith Distillery Tour

The other week I finally got around to doing the tour of the Sipsmith Distillery that I booked back in June. The tours sell out so far in advance that I had to do this in order to get a place. I was supposed to be going with a few friends, but because of work and illness only one actually came with me on the night.

Inside the distillery
Inside the distillery

The distillery is in the middle of a residential street in Shepherd’s Bush and it is tiny – no wonder the tours sell out quickly, as there is very little space inside. It’s cosy and appealing though, and despite the clutter has a number of interesting things going on. I suppose ‘tour’ is a bit of a misnomer, since there’s nowhere else to go once you’re inside the building. ‘Talk’ and ‘tasting’ would be better terms, and our host was hugely entertaining – I thought he should have a career on the stage.

Bottles lined up on the shelves
Bottles lined up on the shelves

During our talk we heard about the history of gin and the hoops the group had to jump through in order to establish Sipsmith’s. I found it interesting to learn about the name of the brand – ‘smith’ comes from the concept of making something by hand, the artisan practice of crafting with care. ‘Sip’ is obviously what you do to the finished product! This is great quality alcohol – something to be savoured and enjoyed.

The tasting crowd
The tasting crowd

In pride of place stands Prudence, the first copper still in London for nearly 200 years. She helps to make the different spirits Sipsmith are known for, four of which we got to taste this evening: barley vodka, London dry gin, damson vodka, and sloe gin.

Prudence, the copper still
Prudence, the copper still

Sipsmith, with its beautiful bottles decorated with ornate swans, is best known for its gin, and we were greeted with a gin and tonic on arrival. We got to taste some of the gin straight, without a mixer, and though this isn’t the way I would choose to consume it, it was clear that the gin is high quality, crisp and refreshing.

Enjoying a G&T
Enjoying a G&T

A surprise was the barley vodka. Normally, straight vodka has me making faces, and it’s usually reserved for those nights when getting drunk as quickly and efficiently as possible is the aim (and I experience fewer and fewer of those nights as I get older). However, this vodka was surprisingly drinkable, and I could detect the different flavours with no nasty aftertaste.

The damson gin was very pleasant, rather sweet, and I think it would taste lovely with tonic or lemonade. However, by far my favourite drink of the evening was the sloe gin. I’ve had sloe gin before – I’ve a bottle of the Gordon’s variety at home – but this Sipsmith version is the nicest I’ve ever tasted. It was flavoursome, not too sweet, and would be perfect with ice for a Christmassy drink.