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Bringing a citywide event to life: Meet the man behind Gin in the City

Competition in partnership with Gin in the City

As multi venue, city wide events increase in popularity, I interviewed Carl Hawkins, AKA The Gintleman, the event planner behind Gin in the City, which is taking place in Birmingham 27-29 July.

How did the idea come about to organise a gin festival and how did you get involved?

Initially it was Judi, my business partner, who approached me with the working title for Gin in the City. She’d seen the successes of both Birmingham Cocktail Weekend and this years inaugural Wine weekend, multi venue models that have both been very successful. With lots of her friends being gin fans and encouraging her to do something similar, she needed some advice how best to go about it.

My background with Gin has been very much hand in hand with the modern gin renaissance, having created the UKs first dedicated contemporary Gin bar back in 2009 here in Birmingham ‘The Jekyll & Hyde’ and then creating the Gin raconteur character ‘The Gintleman’ in 2015.

I have been part of various gin festivals around the UK for a variety of brands, as well as hosting venue collaborations and corporate gin tastings around the country.

Having lots of gin industry contacts, plus an understanding of Birmingham’s drinks scene, meant I could open doors to ultimately deliver the right brand and venue collaborations to showcase this wonderful city and also create a ground floor rapport with venues to build long term partnerships. Add to this Judi’s media network to articulate our message, and it made for a natural collaboration.

How long has the planning taken from concept to event day? Have you planned similar events on this scale before? What were the successes and what changes have you made to make this event even more successful?

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From initial conversation in April to event opening at end of July, we have raised a few eyebrows in terms of whether it could be done in time. This weekend, for me, is easily scalable and taps into popular culture by providing a selection of unique experiences but within the framework of Gin. You adapt based on previous events and changes in circumstance.

I’ve created drinks event spaces for the Colmore Food Festival but this is about all the corresponding venues buying into the vision. My outlook for this festival is that I wanted that feeling of exploration and discovery, not just the gin, but the venue. I wanted staff to move beyond a traditional one venue, time slot orientated gin festival experience, for me it’s about navigating the city in 4 zones at your own pace. By utilising Instagram to create short 30 second introductory videos to entice people, like a teaser campaign we want to engage with the city and beyond

Why choose Birmingham as the host city? What makes it stand out from other cities that you have hosted events in?

I’m from here, have ran cocktail bars here since 1998, co founded the Birmingham Association of Bartenders in 2005 and am a champion of the drinks culture that this city has to offer. We are finally getting national recognition for the next generation of bartenders and bars. 40 St Pauls in Zone 2, part of the Jewellery Quarter, is currently the UKs best Gin bar and has the industry title of Best Gin menu. They are a friendly bunch who want to expel the stigma that our drinks scene has often got overlooked at the expense of cities like Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, so in a lot of ways it’s a statement of intent that both national and independents can co -exist to provide an all round creative customer experience.

How many different suppliers/venues/locations are part of the event? What have been the biggest challenges in coordinating them all planning of the overall event? How have you overcome these challenges?

We're still awaiting a few last minute venues who really want to come onboard to confirm but overall the plan is to have around 50 venues, each with its own local, national or international brand affiliation. The event is spread across 4 areas of Birmingham to assist non Brummies in navigating the experiences, whether they want 1, 2 or 3 days. I’m realistically not expecting anyone to visit all venue zones. Exactly like visiting any festival, you can’t be in 4 places at once, although I’ve endeavoured to make sure we avoid masterclass clashes by creating a timetable of events throughout the weekend and by understanding the needs and expectations of both venue and brand, having been both sides of the coin

How many people are you expecting to attend over the 3 days? Do you have an attendee profile?

For year one, it’s a learning process. Time will tell but sales have been very healthy. We do envisage a last minute scramble for tickets in the week leading up to 27-29th July and then additional ad hoc purchases with extra friends joining last minute at one of our 3 wristband collection points: Hotel du Vin, Malmaison and Loki Wine & Deli in Edgbaston.

Based on the events I run normally, I would say it will be a broad age spectrum from 24-60 with a 70/30 Female/Male split, I can see groups of ladies making up for the men monopolising World Cup viewing.

Have you included any experiential elements to the event that make it more than just a pub crawl? Are there any surprises in store for participants?

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Aside from Ginspired cocktails and a variety of G&T permutations we are doing several Gin Brunches, Gin & Food matching, new product showcases, a special Ice carving masterclass incorporating a Japanese gin, a distilling blending school to try to recreate a Birmingham gin recipe, a specially curated gin flight from a multi award winning bartender, a variety of meet the maker or Brand Ambassador events including a unique style of gin portfolio showcase, plus I will be hosting 4 guided tours over the 3 days showcasing Birmingham’s role in the rebirth of Gin.

These are all free to wristband holders. I’m already in talks with brands for even more immersive experiences in 2019

How can event corporate event planners and PA’s adapt these experiences to incorporate them into their own event? What inspiration could they find?

Groups are looking for fun social activities, plus an element of discovery and mystery. In my case, my canvas is some of Birmingham’s best kept secrets, but designed like gin urban orienteering weekend. I’ve already heard of several groups planning explorer fancy dress themes. You can take from the weekend what you wish, education, networking or catching up with friends

Gin has experienced a bit of a renaissance recently. What has made it/why has it become so popular? What is the next drink trend to look out for?

At least 30% of the guests on all of my gin tastings have only started drinking gin within the last 3 years. This in part has been helped with the explosion of flavoured gins and mixers, the copa serve, bartender creativity and the garnish to create a Gin cocktail. It’s an experience that can be shared by both male and female, young and old, rich and poor alike.

I’m working on a new character specialising in Rum, not the Rumtleman but I'm looking for something equally puntastic. The history, styles, links with cocktail mixability and it’s flavour profiles to compliment food have a lot of similarities to gin, in terms of weaving an educational and fun narrative. Or for the more health conscious society, low and zero alcohol drinks that challenge our perceptions of flavour and refreshment

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If anyone has not yet bought their wristband what are the top three reasons that they should attend?

A chance to visit 4 unique areas of Birmingham, The City Centre, The Jewellery Quarter, Mailbox & Brindley Place and Edgbaston & Harborne, showcasing the best bar and restaurants. A lot of these venues are new or have never collaborated with Birmingham’s other drinks events before.

Try gin brands you may have never tried, cocktails created specifically for wristband holders, meet the producers, learn a host of fun facts, enjoy several guided walking tours. It's a must for any group of gin fans

With the average price of a G&T or Gin cocktail in Brum being around £8+ the £10 wristband, offering a G&T or Ginspired cocktail for £5, could end up saving you around £150+ over the weekend.

Fin out more about Gin in the City on the event website

Competition - Win a pair of wristbands

Want to get your hands on a pair of wristbands for the event? Gin in the City are offering two wristbands to readers of my blog. To be in with a chance of winning enter the competition.

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