Thursday, April 26, 2018

How Gin Week — and St. Louis — Became an International Destination

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 9:06 AM

click to enlarge Natasha Bahrami is St. Louis' gin ambassador. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Natasha Bahrami is St. Louis' gin ambassador.

When Natasha Bahrami, aka the "Gin Girl," put together her first Gin Week four years ago, she didn't realize she was founding the nation's premiere festival dedicated to gin. She was simply looking at her schedule.

"I didn't even realize it was happening, but one month, I looked at my calendar and saw that we had seventeen events planned," Bahrami recalls. "We had distillers flying in from across the country, seminars, talks. The idea sprung — if they are all coming in anyway, why not get them all together at the same time so we can get more people to experience it?"

It may have come from humble, almost impromptu beginnings, but Gin Week, and its umbrella organization Gin World, has evolved into one of the world's top events dedicated to the spirit. Part celebration, part educational platform, part meeting of the minds, Gin Week is a who's who of the international gin community and seen as a must-attend festival for the biggest names in the business.


"To tell you how important we think the event is, we will skip other 'required' industry events to redirect our investment with Gin World," says Peter Abrahams, president of Distillery No. 209, a San Francisco-based distillery. "The fact that she can draw such a crowd in a city that isn't immediately recognized as a one of the top cocktail markets like Los Angeles or New York is impressive."

Indeed, Bahrami's groundbreaking event places St. Louis at the hub of a nationwide gin revival. It's an unlikely distinction for a city known more for its consumption of beer than spirits, a factor that played into the sniping that followed Bahrami's announcements she would be launching, first, a bar dedicated to gin and then her Gin World platform.

But St. Louis proved everyone wrong — or more so, Bahrami did. Over the four years that she has been running both the Gin Room (3200 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-3411) and Gin World, she has traveled the globe, proselytizing the good news of gin and working tirelessly to thrust the spirit front and center in the cocktail world.

Those efforts will pay off the week of May 7, when some of the top names in the business will descend upon St. Louis for the fourth annual Gin Week. Those slated to appear include Keli Rivers of Whitechapel bar in San Francisco, one of the world's most renowned gin gurus; Jake Burger, curator of the Ginstitute in England and one of the U.K.'s top barmen; Final Nicol of Scotland's Edinburgh Gin; and Arne Hillesland, master distiller at Distillery No. 209.

"You don't see gin festivals happen that often, but she is proving there is a market for them," says Aaron Seyla, head distiller at Philadelphia Distilling Bluecoat Gin. "St. Louis is where it has been happening the longest and is the most mature [festival]. She's built this thirsty gin community."

As Distillery No. 209's Abrahams explains, having that sort of exposure does not just place St. Louis on the map in terms of gin; it shines a light on the city's food and beverage scene — its entire culture.

"From an economic development and tourism standpoint, there are very few events across the globe for the sole purpose of strictly experiencing the culture of a city," Abrahams says. "It gets you embedded in the city, moving around from restaurant to bar and gives you a bird's eye view of what's going on."

Gin Week will will culminate in the St. Louis Gin World Gin Festival, the largest gin celebration in the country, held May 12 at 2nd Shift Brewing, a day of workshops, seminars, distiller meet-and-greets and, of course, tastings. As Bahrami looks over the roster of those attending, she still can't believe how much it has grown over the last four years.

"It's becoming bigger and bigger every year, and I'm just impressed with its growth," Bahrami explains. "St. Louis has become such a haven for gin over the last few years, and seeing it come together for this has been impressive."

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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