Okay, yes, I said it last year, too.
But this year’s third annual Gin Festival Saigon on Nov. 14 at Caravelle Saigon is set to be the biggest one ever.
And that’s saying something.
Last year more than 700 gin enthusiasts – all in good spirits I might add – packed the Caravelle Saigon’s historic ballroom to sample some of the global drinks industry’s best-known and much-loved brands that included the likes of Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Four Pillars and The Botanist.
Gin Festival Saigon has quickly become one of the hottest events on Vietnam’s F&B calendar with tickets always selling out fast.
This year will prove to be no different.
By the hazy end of last year’s event, gin-soaked attendees had sampled 14 different brands, witnessed young bartender Ho Huy Thanh representing Envy take out the People’s Choice Cocktail of the Festival Award ahead of 28 other entries, squeezed wedges of lime and bobbed botanicals into their G&Ts alongside local and international celebrities, were enchanted by cheeky magician Petey Majik, and had tried their hand at becoming a “bartist” with flamboyant Saigon-based artist Richie Fawcett.
Again, there will be plenty of opportunities just like it this year, along with masterclasses and tastings throughout the day and into the evening, including live entertainment that will go way beyond simply poking fun at friends stumbling A-over-T with their G-and-T.
This year’s event is presented by Fever-Tree with over 18 well-known gin brands like Four Pillars, Bombay Sapphire, Roku, The Botanist and Hendrick’s returning to join the impressive line-up.
Standing alongside them will be plenty of lesser-known but no less significant brands vying for our taste buds, like the award-winning Kiwi drop with an intriguing story behind it, Scapegrace – a gin born from debt and the years the co-founding brothers-in-law sat at bars.
Good on them for getting their act together, because the rest of us are still sitting at bars (in Vietnam at least) racking up debt.
And then there’s not one, but two Vietnamese gin brands hitting the event this year.
Mashed Up by Brewstillery is the result of a quirky coming together of a Danish beer brewer, a French forager of botanicals and a Vietnamese distiller paying homage to craft beer’s heritage, but with an innovative, sustainable and creative modern twist.
There’s also the intriguing new Vietnamese premium craft gin – Lady Trieu – which will be launched at the festival.
This gin has been created by new resident to Vietnam, Adam Westbrook, previously of London’s infamous Portobello Road Gin Company.
Lady Trieu promises to deliver two rich, full-flavoured gins both with south and central Vietnamese botanical nuances to delight your palate.
In all, this will undoubtedly get glasses jiggling and cheeks turning rosy.
But perhaps the highlight for me will be trying the cocktails concocted especially for the event by some of Vietnam’s leading bartenders from many of my favourite bars in Ho Chi Minh City.
Here are 12 you should be warming up for and adding to your festival must-sip list:
1. Soul of Amsterdam by Trung Vang (Summer Experiment)
Inspired by the eponymous European city, orange-flavoured Damrak gin is combined with violet liqueur, lavender syrup, orange bitters and fresh lemon juice topped with decadent foamy egg white to unleash the soul within.
2. Genever Yasmin by Bray Tran (Blanche Bar + Dessert)
Fragrant Yasmin (Persian for jasmine and regarded as a ‘gift from God’) is combined with the apricot tones of Bols Genever, lemon citrus and Fever-Tree soda for a refreshing tipple to kick off the day and send you gazing to the skies (well, ceiling) above.
3. Golden Botanist by Toan My (Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar)
Keeping it simple can be complicated but so delicious, as evidenced with this combo of The Botanist gin infused with freshly-pressed turmeric and ginger for taste that at least makes you feel like you’re doing something healthy to your body.
4. Summer Jam by Viet Anh (Irusu)
This playfully refreshing number emphasises the sweet notes of Boodles gin, Fever-Tree elderflower tonic and the tartness of fermented strawberry juice, garnished with Vietnamese scorched rice, just to remind you it’s the Mekong we’re in, not the British Isles.
5. Hidden Gem by Huy Khanh (Campari Group Brand Ambassador)
Inspired by Vietnam’s revered floral emblem, the lotus, Hidden Gem blossoms with Bulldog gin, lychee-like longan fruit and lotus seeds to reveal that ‘umami’ taste that no one can really describe.
6. WABI by Phong Tran (Rabbit Hole)
This Japan-inspired cocktail strives for simplicity, freshness and excitement with No.3 London dry gin, cucumber syrup, Fever-Tree elderflower tonic and a smidgeon of wasabi for added oishii-ness.
7. Casablanca by Kim Ngan (Lubu)
The edge of the Atlantic and sultry summer Mediterranean breezes inspired this cocktail made with Four Pillars gin and orange, a key ingredient of Moroccan cuisine, imbuing it with the exoticism of North Africa.
8. Forever Together by Linh Nguyen (SMOG)
Made with Ferdinand’s dry gin and combined with taro for colour, calamansi and Fever-Tree ginger beer, this refreshing mix will bring everyone together, possibly forever – especially after a few.
9. Bac Xiu by #drinkwithPhil (Irusu)
Beefeater London dry gin underpins this Saigon-coffee-culture-inspired cocktail combined with coffee, rice milk, Fever-Tree tonic, a spray of some curious-sounding ‘Saigon Morning Mist’ and served in a highball glass then garnished with rice paper.
10. Bloomy O-Pee by Hoang Quyen (Ministry of Men)
Pink grapefruit liqueur, yuzu juice, homemade floral tincture, Fever-Tree tonic with an edible flower and Opihr gin come together to deliver this long and refreshing cocktail straight into your blooming hand.
11. Tea Ku Gami by Kiddy Kawaii (Rabbit Hole)
Hand-folded lanterns and origami have inspired this cocktail with Roku gin and myriad other ingredients including genmaicha, fig, yuzu, pink peppercorns and roasted rice to create something sweet and rich but with a bite of spice and citrus, topped up with Fever-Tree ginger ale.
12. Beet Bad City by Phuc Le (In The Mood)
This pink drink (don’t be fooled by its colour) with Bosford London dry gin is put together with clarified beetroot juice, soy milk, a touch of blue cheese offering hints of coconut and bitey citrus notes that will bring out the bad, err I mean good, in you.
What: Gin Festival Saigon
When: Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020
Where: Caravelle Saigon 19-23 Lam Son Square, District 1, HCMC
Time: 3pm to 10pm
Tickets: Early bird (until Oct.20) VND1.2 million; From Oct. 21 VND1.4 million
For tickets & more information, visit HERE
Visit Facebook HERE
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Photos provided by Gin Festival Saigon