Graphic bar has to be the destination, or start point of any gin based night out in London. With over 100 gins on the shelf it’s certainly a place to discover new styles and types of gin often not widely available in the UK. It’s amazing to think that London, once the home of gin (and arguably still is), didn’t have a bar dedicated to the libation until Graphic came along. It didn’t happen overnight but the gin collection has grown to encompass a versatile and diverse selection of gin and genever from all across the world.
The Graphic bar cocktail menu has old-school classics and new-wave concoctions, obviously it’s not only a gin bar and there is more to Graphic than just an extensive gin offering – there is also food on offer and signature cocktails served in an eclectic and usually lively atmosphere, especially in the Summer when drinkers fill the spill-over area on the street.
To begin The Gin Blog series of Conversations With… Graphic bar had to be top of the list so we caught up with bar manager Sarah Mitchell to get her thoughts on the world of gin.
Hello! Graphic has one of if not the largest gin selections on offer in the UK, certainly in London. What got it started and why the gin obsession?
The idea to make the bar into a gin-focused venue came from the previous bar manager Lee Linford. He worked at Trailer Happiness (a lounge bar, den and kitchen on Portobello Road) – they had a rum heavy menu and they also had a Rum Club once a month. When he took on Graphic and the consultancy for Urban Leisure group he realized that there was a gap in the way of gin. Hence the beginnings of what we have today.
Each time we go in there’s a new gin that’s causing a stir, with the shelf seemingly growing everyday. What’s the latest gin to make it onto your shelf?
The most recent acquisition for the collection has been Waragi from Uganda. It comes in a 100ml pouch! Crazy stuff. Adam’s Mum also gave us a bottle of her 2009 Vintage Gin Sloe – Yum! I am still waiting for a bottle of ‘The Botanist’ to make it to me… hint hint….
With so many options to serve people, from gin selection to different tonics – Do you even have a house serve at Graphic?
Yeah – the house serve is Beefeater Dry Gin, ice from bottom to top, using Schweppes tonic and a lemon garnish.
Nice! Speaking of Beefeater, it was great to see Desmond Payne and the guys when they hosted tastings, talks and cocktail sessions with the Juniper Society (The Juniper Society is a group/ events organised by Graphic Bar which are held every other Monday).
Have you had any other memorable JS events to date?
Each event is so different and every brand tries to make each one their own. Some are small tasting sessions whilst others are large and crazy. The thing about gin is that you have brands with very different budgets, so we try to get the best out of every one we hold.
There have been so many great ones – ‘Home Cocktail Heros’ with Plymouth Gin, Matt from Thames Distillers (SW4 Gin), History of the Cocktail with Martin Miller’s… the cucumber carving competition we held did show some interesting skills from our Gin Fellows!
Who have you got coming up and what’s next for the Juniper Society?
March 14th: Gin Mare. Brand owners and creators are coming over from Spain
March 28th: Bols Genever (with Genever Diva Ana)
April 11th: William’s Gin/ Chase Gin (with brand owner James and hopefully their master distiller)
May 9th: Whitley Neill with the brand creator Johnny Neil
May 23rd: Bulldog Gin
There other brands are fighting over dates…. it’s nice to be popular!
The Juniper Society line up for the next few months sounds incredible, there’s always something interesting and it’s great to meet the people behind the drinks – count us in for all of the above… How many people come to the events and where do you want to go with it (generally)?
We have a solid 15 people that always come rain or shine, then we usually end up with 30 or so. It’s growing and I encourage people to bring more friends or mates from the office. Also, our bartenders are bringing more mates and barbacks too. I will be doing a recruitment drive soon, as I don’t want it to be the same faces all the time (or for it to become cliquey!). I have already had interest from Melbourne and seem to have interest in the concept from other places around the country – who knows what we can do with it… It’s all about sharing the Juniper love with fun social people.
We noticed you had Bulldog Gin scheduled in… Not exactly controversial but it will certainly part the room in two, you can almost split opinions as if it were Marmite. What do you think about them?
I’m not so keen on Bulldog Gin. The distiller who makes it has made it as she was asked to by the client – i.e to their specifications. The liquid itself is good quality but the flavour does not work for me. That said, it was crafted for a US market so maybe that is the reason for the specific flavour profile. I have given them a JS date for the exact reason that there is varied opinions on it. I think it’s important not just to feature our favourite brands (although we’ve had lots of them in) – it will be interesting to hear what [people like Bulldog] have to say too.
Fair point, it’s amazing to see just how far a little bit of information goes in helping people understand why a product is positioned like it is, with the flavours it has etc… Either that or you’ll have your first Juniper Society riot.
Any (good) bar gets courted by ambassadors and sales reps, you guys must get harassed by the gin brands – who’s getting it right and what are you excited about right now?
Most reps we get are great fun and most people get it right. That said, there are many brands out there that are so small they can’t afford a rep / brand ambassador and it’s the brand owner that does all the hard work pounding the pavement – I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
Any good brand should have integrity and knowing the people behind the product are good people always helps a sale. The key is to be friendly, contactable, but don’t harass! If a bar manager feels like they are being stalked they will not only not take your product, but you will be damn sure all the other bar managers that they know will not take it either.
You alluded to bar managers talking to one another, the entire drinks/ bar industry is also really tightly knit – do you get a lot of bartenders asking for jobs specifically because they’re into gin which makes Graphic the ideal place to work, or is it the opposite and actually quite hard to find the right person?
It’s always hard to find someone that is experienced enough, but not too much, someone that has a love for gin, but can still stand pouring pints. Like anywhere it is a balance of everything. But you MUST love gin!
There are many reasons why you can and can’t stock a (gin) product, for example, stock price, amounts, availability etc… but have you ever refused on taste alone?
Not yet! Now we have reached over 100 gins, we can now use that number to swap and change to make it a great 100, not just 100 for the sake of it. I can cull for a couple of reasons but taste would be the first.
On a bit of a separate note – Mixing brand education with interesting campaigns is difficult as it can sometimes be either really dry and predictable or creative but confusing… obviously there is also a happy balance – Which brands have got your attention?
Hendrick’s in everything they do is amazing – they do great stuff for industry and for consumers. Watch out for the new Plymouth campaign, looks like they are up to some really fun things. Beefeater 24 with their London focus cocktail competitions coupled with design mean there’s always something to watch. Bombay Sapphire and their glassware comps always find interesting and unusual designs. Also, when Joanne Moore came in with her Bloom Gin kit – that was a great thing for the Juniper Society. She had the botanicals as well as the botanical distillates. It was a great demonstration of a master distiller’s skill.
There has been a cocktail resurgence in the past 2-3 years (arguably longer), the same has been happening with gin – the two are obviously benefiting one from another’s renewed interest but do you think one caused the other?
No. I think like everything we do these days, marketing and advertising have led the way. Look at the vodka market of the last 7 years. Despite the fact that all classic cocktails are made with anything but vodka, it has had a strangle hold on the market for years. Now, the other spirits have taken a leaf out of the marketing and are beating down the vodka door! Bartenders have always loved playing with flavour, but if your guests want a certain thing, then that is what you serve.
Thanks so much for talking to us, just one last question to finish up – The bar’s closed, the shift is over & the punters are out. Before you go, you and the team have one for the road – what is it?
Large Gin and Tonic!
Graphic is open: Monday – Saturday 10am – 1am, Sunday 2pm – 1am.
4 Golden Square, W1F 9HT – 020 7287 9241