A Genteel Tipple Through Gin in Literature

Arriving at Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge early was a good decision, as there is plenty to observe even before the talk starts. Housed in a beautiful Georgian New Town building, everything from the furnishings to the bar staff is tricked up to look turn-of-the-century - tailcoats and grandfather clocks abound. Sipping on a St-Germain-de-Pres (gin, elderflower, chilli tincture, cucumber and egg white – unexpectedly delicious), there are even topical suggestions on a chalkboard in case witty conversation runs dry, such as: ‘Is sex more exciting between the pages than between the sheets?’ and ‘What would be more useful, Dorothy’s slippers or a Swiss Army Knife?’

Appetite whetted, the actual talk unfortunately lacked many vital ingredients. The history of gin from juniper water to Mother’s Ruin, from Hogarth’s Gin Lane to prohibition rotgut distilled in bathtubs, was fascinating but fleeting. I could have done with a lot more depth and insight into how gin has evolved. The interspersing literary allusions on the other hand were laboured and fairly obvious, name-dropping F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Hemingway and Ian Fleming- a not entirely earth-shattering addition. Our hosts also chose to cheerfully ignore the fact that Bond’s gin of preference is reliably Gordon’s.

Speaking of name-dropping, I know that the venue is the Hendricks Carnival of Knowledge, but the amount of times the hosts managed to slip in an ‘Enjoy with HENDRICKS gin’ was so excessive I became tipsy from hearing the word repeated so frequently. In addition, the talk was pretty dependent on the (very fashionable) assumption that all writers drink and that if one is teetotal one is a lesser artist. Which, as I said, may be fashionable, but is also absolute balderdash.

While the links between gin and literature were far from fully mined of artistic potential, no detail has been spared in the ‘extras’ surrounding the event. I could happily spend the whole day in that front room drinking White Ladies (gin, sugar, lemon juice and egg white) and talking pseudo-intellectual rubbish. It is a very pleasant way to spend an evening, but far from an informative one.

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‘I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host’ (Dorothy Parker). All drinks included.

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