When you and a pal become tipsy on gin, your respective memory of events may differ. By the end of the Gin Journey, a London shore excursion described below, my pal Graeme and I disagreed over whether the stag party of about 10 guys on our tour were part of a gay wedding or a straight one. I thought I heard the father of the groom say “gay,” Graeme didn’t.
What we did agree on was that we’d learned a lot about gin, experienced some surprising flavors, and had a great time. Each pub stop on the tour provided plenty of space so we could grab a table for two and continue our own conversation or opt to sit with others and make momentary friends.
Fun London Shore Excursion
For many gay cruisers, myself included, booze plays an important role in travel. But usually as part of the onboard experience. On a recent trip to London, UK,* I imbibed the knowledge that booze can make for a remarkable, memorable London shore excursion.
Craft liquors and beers have become sources of local pride in many cities and even small towns. In London, the booze of choice is gin. Of course it is. The Brits didn’t invent gin—that was the Dutch—but clear back in the 1600s when Britain was under rule of Holland’s William the Orange, the Brits developed quite a taste for the juniper-tinged liquor and that affinity has never faded.
Although some mass-produced British brands (Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray) have gained a global reputation, the best gins come from tiny distillers. The best way to discover these brands — and through them, the wonders of gin — is by visiting local pubs.
Small Group Gin Tours
To sample a variety of gins, my friend Graeme and I booked on with Gin Journeys, a British company that organizes small group tours. We met the rest of the tour group in the basement of a central London distillery and pub called Victory Gin. From there, we continued in a sprinter van to four other bars. All the pubs (each of them chic/hipster spots) were in walking distance of each other, but keeping a progressively drunken group together is easier in a van. (Amazingly, all the drinking spots were also all within walking distance of Graeme’s jewelry shop.)
Two of the locations featured actual working stills, and the other three offered us samples of gin produced offsite. At Victory Gin we were in the presence of the still that made our samples—ditto a spot called Bermondsey Distillery. We marveled the differences between the gins. I had a fun educational experience learning the subtleties of this variety of alcohol. The group learned that basically any neutral grain alcohol flavored with juniper qualifies as gin. We learned, by sampling, various ways of making gin.
Gin craft cocktails
At each stop, we were provided with at least one sample of their gin, followed by a craft cocktail made from said gin. While I enjoyed the simplicity of the berry-laced gin, the craft cocktails formed the highlight of the tour for me. One pub that truly connected this excursion to cruising for me was Hixter, where we enjoyed a gin cocktail containing Blue Curacao—harkening back to my first-even Caribbean distillery tour, part of a shore excursion in the 1980s.
My favorite gin of the tour was called “Silent Pool,” served at a pub called The Hide Bar, and my favorite cocktail of the day was at the final stop, a bar called 9 Lives, where Whitely Neill gin was served with sherry and mango. YUM.
That last stop was also the stop of confusion for Graeme and me—that’s the place where the father of the groom got friendly with us and told us it was a gay wedding…or was it a straight wedding? Doesn’t matter, we didn’t get an invite! But we had a blast on the gin journey and would both do it again. An outstanding London shore excursion indeed!
How to organize your own Gin Journey
Gin Journeys offers three different London tours in various parts of the city (ours was Bermondsey, London). Pubs/bars may vary from week to week. They run on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Per-person price is GBP 73.80 (apx. USD $100). Gin isn’t just a London thing—the company also offers gin journeys in provides tours in Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester. Learn more at www.ginjourney.com.
*London proper is an hour or so from the cruise pier of Southampton, and this excursion may or may not fit during a day-stop there. It’s ideal for a pre- or post-cruise excursion.
Note: The author’s Gin Journey experience was complimentary and arranged by Visit Britain. All opinions are those of the author and neither Visit Britain nor the Gin Journey have reviewed this content in advance of publication.