Gin, Gin, Gin at the Sheffield Gin Festival

I heart gin, I heart it a lot. Let’s flash back to January and the announcement of the new independent Sheffield Gin Festival, oh my how excited was I? I called up my lil girl gang to see who was in and booked 7 early bird tickets. So roll on 27th May, it was time for the actual festival…hurrah, my first gin festival!

Now if you were there, or on social media in and around Sheffield, you’ll know how it went. Here’s my story of the day.

I met up with my pals, went for brunch popped into Head of Steam for a quick pint whilst we waited for the O2 Academy to open it’s doors to the event. Now first things first, the O2 was a funny choice of venue for sure an affair, it’s dark, sticky and plays host to a number of gigs rarely it’s used for events such as this, but I guess when you’ve a room packed with people the stench of sweat covers up the musty smell (I’m not even going to mention the loo’s here!).

We arrived around 1:30, tickets in hand and were we were met with a queue, a very slow moving queue – what could the hold up be? In fact it seemed that they decided that two people would wristband people one at a time *sigh*. Once into the venue we were given our magic branded tote bags, which we were led to believe were filled with awesome gifts for the festival – no such luck here. There were a couple of pieces of paper with a general festival guide, 5 free sample vouchers and a ‘ginformation‘ leaflet.

Disappointed already? Yes I was, I’d been hoping for one of those fancy glasses you get at ‘proper’ gin festivals. Seriously, who drinks gin from plastic glasses? Thing is the O2 have a no glass policy, which is why there were no pretty glasses *mega sad face*.

Anyhow, moving on. On one the hottest, humid days of the year, we were pretty much plunged into a dark, sweaty pit I’m pretty sure someone could have found 50p to put in the metre for the aircon?

O2 Academy Sheffield

I think my chin hit the floor as we wandered around the venue, the first thing that got me were the queues. Queues were everywhere, except at the food stalls (there was some awesome looking food around). We decided to head upstairs and managed to get in a couple of short queues and obtain a few gin samples from Sloemotion/Hedgerow, Nelsons and then Lone Wolf. Samples are always fab, but aside from Lone Wolf, they were thimble sized with either too much tonic or no tonic at all. One stall even served it with Co-op tonic from an open can, I can’t quite understand why when Fentimans were a sponsor.

Now Lone Wolf were hit with people for samples and I’m not surprised why – a decent sized plastic glass, ice, orange, a decent sized gin and a good slosh of their own tonic. I’m not being bribed biased but it was really good, a nice easy gin. We then decided to get a proper drink, waited around 10 minutes but the staff were clueless about which gin was what etc although I fell lucky as the guy who served me seemed to know what he was doing. We then thought it a good idea to head downstairs get blinded by the sun, finish our drinks then try and tackle downstairs to use up our vouchers.

So here’s where it gets really frustrating, we still had our free sample vouchers to use up. We found one stall, that by Leeds based Tinkers gin, they were awesome and their gin was amazing (so much so I bought a bottle), but the rest of the stands were gridlocked with queues. I waited around 15 minutes in the Masons queue until I got fed up and walked away, the Polo queue wasn’t too bad and neither was their gin. All in all we decided to ditch the O2 and go for a quick meander around the Sheffield Food Festival, where in fact we got to try gins not involved in the festival for free!

We then headed to Dina, which was billed as the Gin Palace. I’m not even going to say much about this place but we didn’t get a drink here, 20 minutes of waiting was far too long and the staff were really unhelpful. The venue also had a musty smell.

The saddest (gin) palace I’ve ever visited

After a few drinks at a number of bars, we decided to head to the secret gin bar, which was upstairs in Bloo88. This is not a place I frequent often, but we headed up and decided to have a few drinks there. The staff were great, apologetic at times when they’d run out of gin, but did make alternative suggestions as well as flavour tweaks and they worked hard under pressure. It wasn’t cheap though, it didn’t seem discounted at all, but the drinks were served in a proper glass which made me happy.

During our time here we managed to chat to a few other people who went to the festival, the disappointment was all around, here’s what was good about the festival:

Gin Festival Good Points 

  • We got it at a cheap price with the early bird tickets, I’m so glad we didn’t pay more
  • We had tried some gins we wouldn’t usually try
  • The staff in Bloo88 were really helpful, they were doing their best
  • The Tinker Gin people were great, full of energy and really appreciative of feedback
  • Lone Wolf gave decent sized samples.

Gin Festival Bad Points

  • Queues from start to finish
  • Poor goodies in the bag
  • Hosting a gin festival in a no glass venue
  • Food stalls in the O2 covered with queues
  • O2 Academy as a venue for this kind of event
  • Lack of atmosphere
  • Lack of seating in all venues, gin is a drink to savour not down
  • No one seemed to know what they were doing
  • Aside from the O2 no other venues checked wristbands
  • Not all the venues offering discounts had a decent gin range
  • We didn’t go to all the venues as we were put off with what we’d already experienced
  • Unable to try several gins I’d looked forward to trying, mainly Brockmans, Masons, Monkey 47 and Hunters

I could go on, it was really disappointing, not just to me but my pals and those others that had paid to attend.

The festival had shown such promise, Sheffield, never mind Yorkshire, has a fab range of gins it could have been a platform for them to show their wares, but it didn’t.

It’ll be interesting to see what the response is from the festival. It’s already been reported by the local paper as ‘shambolic’ and I agree, so do many others as there’s a new group on Facebook discussing peoples experiences and they all say the same. I’ll await a response with baited breath and as for any kind of refund I’m not hopeful.

Did you go to the Sheffield Gin Festival? What were your thoughts on the weekend?

Not all pictures are from the Gin Festival



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  1. Oh that’s such a shame what a waste of a lovely sunny day….I wondered where it was being hosted….I would highly recommend the “proper”gin festival which I think is coming to the city hall again in September. We had a great time last year and got to try loads of Gins and got a beautiful Gin glass which I still use. We also visited the food festival which was great and sampled a few Gins there too. Gin is definitely the drink to be having at the minute and I’m lucky that I heart it very much too

  2. I agree with all comments made here.

    The offer read that you’d get to experience the festival across the city in its iconic venues, and be greeted with a gift bag of vouchers and other surprises.

    I don’t consider BAL fashions or Dina to be iconic, these are disused buildings that have had a lick of paint and some cheap furniture thrown in. The bags didn’t have any surprises in.

    The staff at O2 were rude and abrupt, and weren’t prepared; it was as though the organisers had failed to brief them. They were using soda gun, ran out of ice and garnishes too, as well as using the plastic thimble as measure (not a legal measure)

    Samples all round were given in thimble neat (apart from masons who pre mixed theirs and kept it on ice), not how you’d drink your gin really.

    Ableforths were really enthusiastic and knowledgeable and weren’t tight with their samples, but it did take a while to get to front.

    We are in process of writing to trading standards and haven’t heard anything from organiser yet.

    The star have run a story similar to this too

  3. We attended the Sheffield Gin Festival on Saturday . There was very limited gin, no tonic, no ice, plastic cups, most of the venues were not even selling any gin other than their standard gin. None of this is what was advertised & hundreds of people have taken to Facebook & Twitter to express their disappointment. I have messaged them with no response. We arrived at 02 academy expecting something special; only to receive a bag with useless free sample vouchers & nothing else! There were 2 stalls with gin& hygiene on the food stalls was poor. We went to the Wick at Both Ends & the staff didn’t know that they were even involved in the gin festival! They had one gin, no offers, & when we asked the manager if they were prepared for the festival, he said that he wasn’t bothered because he didn’t like gin anyway! At ‘One Four One there was one gin on offer, & at Dinas, there was a lack of gin knowledge in an empty warehouse with apathetic staff. An all round disappointment.  What a waste of money. The only way to make this any better is for my money back for all 6 early bird tickets purchased, which I expect as the whole evening was a shambles.

    The organisers have taken the stance that they don’t give refunds. We as a collective have contacted the organisers, news agencies and trading standards, in an effort to draw attention to this event and obtain a refund on the ticket price.

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