BRITAIN'S immense thirst for gin dates back centuries. English soldiers developed a taste for juniper-flavoured spirits while fighting in the Netherlands in the 16th century and by the height of the following “Gin Craze” we downed a staggering 10 litres per person a year.

Considered the poor man’s drink, this cheap tipple became known as “Mother’s Ruin” due to its disastrous effects on families and the economy – and soon fell unceremoniously out of fashion.

However, no longer the face-curling stuff found at the back of your grandmother’s cupboard, the past few years have seen a rapid “Ginassisance”. Thanks to an ever-growing crop of artisanal distilleries producing aromatic new concoctions our isles are going mad for this classic once again – fuelling the biggest craze since the days of William Hogarth himself.

Founded in 2013, husband and wife team Jym and Marie Harris took their passion for the drink to the next level by creating Gin Festival – a space where people could drink and experiment with new and exciting varieties, learn more about the spirit and (most importantly) have an excellent night along the way.

Oxford’s iconic Town Hall lends itself perfectly as a veritable gin palace, but with over 100 varieties on offer where do you even begin?

Working round the multiple bars alphabetically I’d have to seriously pace myself to even think about reaching Z, but thankfully expert help is on hand to lead this novice gently down Gin Lane and not end up in a scene resembling a Hogarthian dystopia. I’m told to “start neat, easy on the tonic, then see how you feel.”

On arrival, I’m handed my very own Copa de Balon glass – essential for enjoying the botanicals to their best. No longer favouring the long Tom Collins, Michelin-starred chefs from the Basque region started drinking from Bordeaux wine glasses to keep their drinks cool in the heat of their kitchens. When filled with large ice cubes, this type of serve results in a drink that remains cold right to the end. Which is perfect, as all this exploration is thirsty work – but somebody’s got to do it. And, my fellow gin disciples and I merrily tick off our new discoveries while enjoying that warm glow that only gin can bring.

Essentially a base spirit with a dominant character of juniper, modern distillers are creating their own signature styles – using unusual natural ingredients ranging from seaweed to saffron, rhubarb and tea. Taking some Dutch courage, I try a new 100 per cent organic drink that does exactly what it says on the bottle. Using purified salt water from The Netherland’s biggest nature park, Black Tomato Gin balances sweet and savoury to produce a powerful and peppery fruitiness.

Garnished with basil and paired with Fever Tree’s Mediterranean tonic it’s a beautiful and unique drink – my odyssey is complete, chin chin!

Gin o'clock:

Oxford's first true craft distillery opens today – overlooking the dreaming spires from their base atop South Park. Using ancient and genetically diverse populations of rye, wheat and barley, The Oxford Artisan Distillery really do make spirits from the field to the bottle. For all details, visit