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Sloe gin world championships return to Tunbridge Wells

It used to be called 'mother's ruin', but there's a growing taste for gin in Kent.

So thirsty boozers will be pleased to know that this year's Sloe Gin World Championships have been announced.

The popular event will be held at The George Inn in Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, on Sunday, December 15.

Tasting the top sloe gins at last year's World Championships. Picture courtesy of Moon Down website
Tasting the top sloe gins at last year's World Championships. Picture courtesy of Moon Down website

This year marks a major milestone for the competition - which will be held for the 10th time.

"It get's bigger every year," says reigning champion, and George Inn regular, George Shaw.

"We've attracted entries from all around the world.

"We had a group come over from Germany last year. Vancouver was the furthest."

Starting a decade ago after an argument between locals over the best way to prepare sloe gin, this year's event is expected to pit 30-40 commercial and artisan producers against one another in a World Cup-style competition.

A gin tonic with ice and mint
A gin tonic with ice and mint

The winner will be crowned after a final taste-off, decided by a panel of four chief tasters.

"If it was up to one judge, we'd have to carry him out," added Mr Shaw.

Something Shaw's noticed as the Championships has grown is the quality of the spirits, a feeling echoed by last year's commercial competition silver medallists Anno Distillers.

Co-founder of the Marden business Dr Norman Lewis believes it ties in with the gin revolution sweeping across the country.

He said: "Sales of gin nationally have accelerated by 38% on last year. The market as a whole is worth around £1.6 billion.

"For us, customers are enjoying the different flavours which can be mixed in so many different ways - cocktails, gin and tonics and, increasingly, just straight."

Anno Distillers co-founder Dr Norman Lewis
Anno Distillers co-founder Dr Norman Lewis

Despite the popularity of the competition, and gin generally, there is a vacancy that needs filling this year.

The Championships had traditionally donated all proceedings to the MS Society.

This took on an added poignancy last September when pub regular 'Merlot' Mike Matthews succumbed to the disease - shortly after making his final batch of sloe gin.

'Merlot' Mike's passing and struggling to get the MS Society to help promote the event means for this year's 10 year milestone organisers are looking elsewhere.

"We raised £2000 last and they (the MS Society) couldn't seem to be asked to come and pick up the cheque.

Mr Shaw said: "We're now looking for a new charity, ideally a strong local one, that shares our vision to expand this competition nationally."

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