Last night I (along with some friends) had tickets to a gin tasting event being hosted by the Foundling Museum. The Museum is on the site of Britain’s original home for abandoned children and London’s first ever public art gallery – so as you go in, expect a very grand building with lots of large portraits of Georgian and Victorian notables along with a lot of posh displays.
The Museum examines the work of its founder Thomas Coram, the artist William Hogarth (who was an early supporter of the children’s home) and the composer, Handel. The Hogarth link was most appropriate for this gin-soaked evening, considering his famous drawing pointing out the evils of gin in Gin Lane. Less well known, it accompanied another drawing pointing out the virtues of Beer – in Beer Street.
We were ushered upstairs to a large art gallery with the aforementioned portraits staring down at us – and a large table set up with wine glass and crackers (to clean the palette between tastings).
An introduction by Lars Tharp, of Antiques Roadshow fame – and over to Professor Steven Parissien to run us through a selection of gins while also regaling us with the history of the drink – from its emergence as a patriotic drink to the horrors encapsulated in the infamous Gin Lane, the downturn in the 1950s and a resurgence in the 1980s.
Annoyingly I forgot to take my notepad, so from (foggy) memory – we had Gordons (vile!), Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Plymouth Gin – and a revival of the Old Tom sweet gin. Beefeater wasn’t available, and our host had some disparaging views of that particular brand.
As the room got a bit raucous as the evening wore on – our host had wisely provided himself a sold lump of something which he sternly banged on the table as an indication we should shut up and start listening to him again.
I wont repeat the history of Gin as he told it – as it is well described elsewhere, but it certainly was a surprise that at one time it was reputed that every 8th house in London would be selling Gin – often though little “holes in the wall”, an early version of the modern day cashpoint!
A comment was also made about the Tonic often served with Gin, and he pointed out that most distillers privately do not recommend Schweppes – but a different brand, Fentimans which usually comes in small brown bottles – or failing that Waitrose own brand was highly recommended.
At the end, Lars finished off and observed that as the evening had progressed, the paintings of the smiling genial faces of 18th century noblemen seemed to become more approving of the activities going on in the room – whereas the stern disapproving looks from the Victorian gentlemen – many of whom would have been members of the Temperance movement – seemed to get even more stern and more disapproving.
Such was the interesting side-effect of what was realistically six double gins served in less than 90 minutes.
We finished off the evening by going up to the table and choosing our favourite gin of the evening (I went with Henricks) – and trying it with Tonic, which came from Waitrose of course.
They hope to rerun the event in the future – and will also be hosting a chocolate tasting event (which got loud murmurs of approval from the audience) in February. As soon as I have details, I will add them to my events calendar.
All in, a very enjoyable evening.