Meet the Blogger

Matt Burton, The Gin Shelf.

Published: 17th December 2018

In our latest Meet the Blogger, we caught up with Matt Burton, the man behind The Gin Shelf. Matt takes a refreshing personal approach to his gin blogs, offering the reader some whimsical tales of his gin adventures and making some solid recommendations for gin and gin experiences. Whether at home, on holiday or on his own stag do, Matt is dedicated to the gin cause!

When and where was your first Gin & Tonic?

I think it was in the South of France on a family holiday and would likely have been a ‘rebellious sip’ from one of my parents glasses (I feel I must condone responsible drinking at this stage). I’d hazard a guess that, back in the day, it was probably a Bombay Sapphire with an old school cheap tonic & a slice of lemon?! And in all likelihood, I probably didn’t like it (but pretended I did!).

Luckily, things have moved on a lot in the world of Gin (and my taste in beverages!).

What started you off on your blogging journey?

Firstly, I’ve always really enjoyed the writing process. As a kid, I was really interested in writing short stories, poems and monologues. Though, aside from the occasional sip of Bombay Sapphire, there was no gin inspiration at that time!

As my gin collection at home started to grow, and I found myself exploring smaller batch distillers that weren’t household names, I was being asked for my advice on different gins to try and where to find them. From there, I naturally combined my love of writing, with my growing passion for gin, to offer my thoughts and opinions on what I was drinking and enjoying.

I’ve always been really conscious that I wanted my blog to be credible and informative but, at the same time, something I would want to read. I’ve tried to stay away from the stuffy, matter of fact tasting notes angle, that would be a massive turn off for most. Instead opting for a more personal approach. You’ll find that most of my work will include some personal life stories, with a tenuous link to my featured brand or event. In retrospect, it’s worked out well for me that my life seems to have been a series of amusing & embarrassing episodes, punctuated by the odd ice & slice!

What’s the day job?

I always have to smile when people say to me ‘Wow! You get to drink and write about gin for a living? Dream job!’…

For the vast majority of time, I’m a Project Manager within the Retail sector, tending to focus on IT rollouts, website changes or things involving big trucks. And in my ‘spare time’ I’m a Dad to Joshua, our 5 month old little boy, who definitely keeps me and his Mom on our toes!

So absolutely nothing to do with gin (…but the gin definitely helps sometimes!).

What do you do to stay abreast of the latest gin news?

It sounds simple, but Social Media is a great way of staying on top of the latest and greatest in the world of gin.

The gin scene is such an inclusive and friendly environment. Bloggers, enthusiasts and brands alike are always sharing new finds, tasting notes and exciting events to get involved in. I’ll be scrolling through Instagram or Twitter and spot a picture of something interesting, which then leads to pulling at the threads to unravel a new gin find or an interesting back story to follow up on!

There are also some great reviews over at the Gin Foundry website, where you can find really well written and engaging articles on brands, distilling and pertinent gin ‘hot topics’ of the moment; ‘What is small batch?’ ‘What does craft really mean?’ ‘Is it a gin or something else?!’. It’s a group run by some of the most passionate and hardworking gin experts you’re likely to find, and a great source of information on the category as a whole.

That said, nothing beats getting stuck into an event and trying gins at the coal face (it’s a tough life)!. Even with the unfortunate demise of ‘Gin Festival’ this year, there are some incredible events all over the country. I can highly recommend ‘Junipalooza’, which will be returning to London in time for World Gin Day in June 2019. Hosted by my friends at Gin Foundry, the festival showcases some of the best gins and distillers from around the globe, with samples, master classes and a few surprises to keep even the biggest gin geeks and aficionados entertained!

Who’s your favourite gin blogger?

That’s a really tough question, as there are so many awesome bloggers and writers out there!

Someone whose writing I really admire is Katie Hughes of ‘What’s Katie Doing?’. It’s more of a ‘Gin & Lifestyle’ blog, covering all things juniper, as well as things to do around London and stories of her wider travel exploits! It’s a really entertaining insight and read.

Other bloggers I’d recommend checking out are Rory over at @theginlord, Natalie at @ginobsessions (who also has a refreshing personal and affable writing style) and Cherry over at @cherry_constible. Sarah at @gin_a_ding_ding is also doing some awesome things in the world of gin judging, which is great to watch and inspiring for other bloggers like myself.

Tell us something about yourself outside the world of gin…

Ok, so I used to play guitar and do backing vocals in a Punk Rock band at University. We were called ‘Leg-End!- X’ (for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, except that the ‘X’ made us sound extreme!). What started out as being a ‘bit of fun’, ended up seeing us win a ‘Battle of the Bands’ and get the chance to open a Uni Festival (Aston Universities very own ‘Aston-bury’), which was being headlined by former Radio One DJ Zane Lowe.

I think my love of being centre of attention (AKA, a bit of a show off!) has definitely inspired some of the gin blogging…

Would you admit to having a favourite gin?!

Whenever I’m asked this question (and I get it a lot!) I’m forced to draw a sharp breathe and ponder for a moment, like a plumber about to produce a quote; it’s a tough one to answer! The beauty of gin is that it’s so varied and versatile, meaning that my ‘go to’ choice can change depending on my mood, the season or the occasion!

But, I do have a few that are always firm contenders for the title!…

I always refer to Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength as being ‘the boss’. It’s what I’d say a gin ‘should taste like’! The standard 40% ABV is great. But if you stretch to the Westbourne Strength (and you really should), at the slightly higher 45% ABV, you won’t regret it!

Sir Robin of Locksley is an absolute winner in my books; a distilled gin, with the addition of pink grapefruit, elderflower and dandelion, it’s super smooth as a sipping gin or as a killer G&T or Negroni! Made by some of the nicest people you’re likely to meet in gin, the Sheffield based team have also been great to me over the years. Definitely one to get on the list, and a brand to watch as they continue to expand their range and push on some really exciting boundaries!

Bristol based ‘Psychopomp’ have a seasonal rotation in their range. But the flagship ‘Woden’ is a citrus smack in the chops that’s definitely worth hunting down.

And literally ANYTHING by the Australian heavy weights ‘Four Pillars’ is going to be incredible. They say that not all heroes wear capes…and when I met the team at Junipalooza in 2017 I’m slightly embarrassed to say I was almost a little star struck! Check out their Rare Dry & Bloody Shiraz for mind blowing effects!

What’s your personal ‘perfect serve’?

Again, this will very much depend on the gin I’m drinking and the way that I’m drinking it! I’ve been into some bars where the barman seems to think that the garnish is immaterial, and that chucking the entire fruit bowl at the glass will somehow help the drinking experience.

It won’t.

You’re just left with a confused fruit salad mix, that drowns out the flavour of your expensive gin & resembles a fruit hat!

I tend to always aim to emphasise the key botanical flavour of the gin that I’m drinking. But my gin profile of choice would be heavy on the juniper & heavy on the citrus, meaning that I usually opt for a fresh slice of orange or pink grapefruit.

But if you really want to mix it up, try adding a slice of fresh mango in to a citrus forward G&T – it sounds weird, but it really works! (hats off go to my friend Jez for the heads up on that a few years back).

What’s the best and worst thing about being a gin blogger?

Ok. The best thing is easy; Gin! It sounds simple, but being in a position to try some of the best gins on the market, speak to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced distillers and industry experts and to share experiences with likeminded enthusiasts is nothing short of a privilege. I’ve had the opportunity to go to some very cool places, meet some very cool people and sample some incredible gins!

I cannot emphasise enough that we have never had booze so good as it is today! So to be involved in the gin category is incredibly exciting.

The worst bit? I struggle to remember the last time I ‘just had a gin’ without having to photograph what I’m drinking and post about it! I can disappear to the kitchen on drinks duty, only to emerge 15 minutes later from an impromptu photo shoot! And I’ve been caught out on nights out by friends and family on more than one occasion!

I’ve also missed more TV shows than I care to remember, whilst engrossed in my phone on various social media missions – my wife is very patient!

Also, only a blogger can know the feeling of guilt when working through a piled up backlog of delayed write ups when you hit a particularly busy patch! (talk about ‘first world problems’!).

Who’s supported you on your gin journey?

First and foremost, my eternally patient and forgiving wife Emily. She’s my best mate and partner in crime, and has given up many an evening or weekend to travel to various gin events or venues with me, whilst I geek out over a specific gin or distiller. Even on holiday, we’re never far from a distillery visit! The fact that I’ve also been allowed to takeover a number of our kitchen cupboards with my ever growing gin collection, often at the expense of the kitchen essentials, is testament to her understanding! (Then again, she does get a lot of free gin, so don’t feel too sorry for her!).

The aforementioned @whatskatiedoing was also a huge help to me when I started out blogging, offering help and advice on how to use different platforms and social media sharing techniques, which I massively appreciated and remain ever grateful! I’ve always kept that in mind, and try and offer up support to others where I can.

Which Scottish Gins are you looking forward to trying out next?

I’ve been blown away by some of the Scottish Gins that I’ve had the pleasure of trying this year.

Red Door Gin is incredible and would definitely go down as one of my top gins of 2018. Released this summer, I stand by my blog comments that I expect to see and hear a lot more about Red Door Gin in the near future, and anticipate a whole host of plaudits and awards coming their way. It makes a great G&T, but I am all about the Negroni on this one! The smokey chocolate tones of the sea buckthorn lend themselves to that classic Negroni bitterness, with the bitter orange flavours complemented by the Campari & vermouth in equal measure. If you’ve not tried it yet, you must; it’s a game changer!

I was also massively excited to receive samples from the ‘new kid on the block’ Mackintosh Gin recently, who are sure to be making some waves in 2019. There is a delightful, almost burnt bitterness to the orange flavour profile, that make this a sublime G&T, but can also stand up to the bitterness of a Negroni.

As for Scottish gins I’m looking forward to trying… the teams at Colonsay and LoneWolf have both absolutely nailed their flagship London Dry gins, with stunning results, so I’d be really excited to explore their wider ranges. I’ve also been watching the team over at Stirling Gin with interest, after being really impressed with them in last year’s Ginvent, as they broaden their range.

I’ve also heard some great things about Raven Spirits and The Biggar Gin Co, so I’ll definitely be looking to get involved with them next year.

But I think I’m most excited about getting my grubby mitts on Undy based Teasmith Gin. I’m hearing some great feedback and I’m a sucker for tea in gin plus their branding is on point; every time I see a bottle I’m wondering why it’s not on my shelf! So I’ll be looking to remedy that ASAP.

What plans does The Gin Shelf have for 2019?

As we head in to the final part of 2018, I’m thrilled to be taking part in Gin Foundry’s Ginvent event once again. I’ll be tasting my way through December, in the form of their Gin Advent Calendar, posting my tasting notes and thoughts each evening through the festive month; a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! Last year’s calendar was spectacular, with gins across the whole spectrum of the category. This year promises to be even better, with some of the best gins on the market standing up against some more controversial candidates… there’s also a real growing social element to the event too, with friendships blossoming during and after, which is great to see and be part of.

In 2019, I’m hoping to do even more events, festivals and distillery visits, alongside continuing my ‘bread & butter’ brand reviews. A lot of people ‘predict’ and talk about the imminent ‘demise of gin’, but it’s just not something I can see on the horizon! Sure, some of the more niche/novelty brands will start to drop away. But if anything, I can see more of a growing movement towards ‘gin tourism’, with distilleries opening their doors to the public for tours, tastings and general drinking enjoyment.

Some standout examples I’ve seen so far would be Plymouth Gin Distillery, with the option to make your own gin, Yorkshire’s own Rare Bird (Malton) with their Gin School and Gin Divine’s new tasting room in Holmfirth.

Further afield, Vancouver based Long Table Distillery have a weekly Gin & Tonic Friday and Cocktail Saturday that’s definitely worth a visit. And Danish outfit Copenhagen Distillery are pushing the boundaries further still with a West Coast USA Brewery Tap Room feel, where you can order drinks from the bar, with plans for live bands set to perform and street food vendors and outdoor seating in the summer months. Definitely worth a trip if you’re in town!

Bottle Poster Bars Scottish Gins