It’s official.

This year’s second annual Gin Festival Saigon has gone off with the pop and fizz that would have made Henry C. Ramos (the creator of the eponymously named gin fizz) extremely proud.

More than 700 gin enthusiasts (up from 300 the previous year) packed the Caravelle Saigon’s historic ballroom recently for an afternoon and evening of sipping and sampling some of the global drinks industry’s best brands, among them Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Thomas Henry and Vietnam’s first craft gin, Song Cai Distillery.

One of the gin-iuses (I had to throw one in) behind the organisation of the festival, Cha Cha Abatayo, the head of events at Saigon-based organiser Cartel, says that the day exceeded expectations on many levels, especially in terms of attendance: 

“Leading up to the festival, we had to stop selling tickets online to ensure we had some allocated for walk-ins on the day.”

Indeed, while the majority walked into the venue earlier in the day in a well-dressed, orderly fashion, it was perhaps a different story by the time they left six or so hours later. 

By then, they had sampled 14 different gin brands, made their fair share of G&Ts disappear (something not even magician Petey Majik could have pulled off) and voted on the People’s Choice Cocktail of the Festival Award from 28 entries, which was ultimately won by 29-year old mixologist, Ho Huy Thanh, representing leading Saigon venue, Envy, with his seasonally-apt Saigon Rain cocktail, concocted with lavender-infused Ferdinand’s gin.

“It was a very nice event,” says Thanh, who splits his time between Envy and Qui, two of Saigon’s most popular nightspots. “It gave me the chance to exchange ideas and make friends with other bartenders in Saigon, too.”

Some of those ideas at the event included the use of ingredients like rose water, kombucha, pepper, cocoa butter, the curious looking (almost sea urchin-like) rambutan, and the not-for-everyone ox fat. 

The organisers of the event deserve praise for their efforts in organising something that was established just last year and would never have been possible five years ago due to the limited choice of gin and bars available, according to Saigon-based hospitality luminary, “bartist” Richie Fawcett

“Thanks to groups like Alchemy, the choice of gin for consumers is getting much better, helping the market develop and improve the quality on offer. And, it’s events like this that bring the hospitality community together here in Saigon; the perfect stage on which to present the best the country has to offer in gin and bartending skills.”

In fact, it was masterclasses like Richie’s that proved extremely popular among attendees. 

His Bombay Masterclass that turned around 50 participants into “bartists” for an hour or so as they painted their own canvases over a gin and tonic or two, “sold-out” quickly.

The success of this year’s event and the good spirits (pun intended) it was held in, are already inviting people to wonder what bigger things will be in store for next year. 

“More gin selections and more activities!” says Cha Cha.

Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow him on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon

Photos provided by the Gin Festival Saigon

For more photos of the event, go to https://www.facebook.com/ginfestivalsaigon2019/

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