Drinks with Emma Stokes (Writer / Gin Monkey)

Drinks with Emma Stokes (Writer / Gin Monkey)


Hacha, Dalston

What we drank

Emma: Hacha Colada £9.95
Hebe: Mezcal Spritz £9.50

I first met Emma in the early days of my career in cocktail bars and I’ll always remember her sitting at the bar, telling me how the name Gin Monkey came about.
Since then our paths have crossed many times at events, launches and conferences and I knew I’d have to pin her down and interview her.

Hello, so I guess we’ll start with a bit about yourself. Who the fuck are you (for those who don’t know)?

For me, that’s quite complicated because I’ve got the science side of my life and the booze side of my life. During the day I run the communications team at the National Center for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. We try and replace the use of animals wherever possible, make use of new technologies, and ensure the welfare for the animals that are used is as good as it can be because a stressed animal does make a good experimental model.

Unsurprisingly I drink a lot of Gin on the side!

How did you get introduced to the world of Gin?

I’ve always worked in bars, my Dad used to work for John Smith’s brewery, so I’ve always been around pubs and bars. I started working in pubs, went to University and started working in a bar & a club in Newcastle. Before long they were trying to move into making cocktails without much actual experienc,, so in the end they actually stole a guy who worked in a cocktail bar around the corner to come and work with us to create it. 

When I graduated I started working at a Science Museum teaching kids about Science which was awesome. My job title was ‘Science explainer’, which may be the best job title I’ll ever have. One of my friends worked in a cocktail bar at the time and needed extra help, so during the week I taught kids and on the weekends I looked after big kids, aka drunk Geordies. 

When I moved to London to study my Masters I worked part-time in a bar on Smithfield Market to help towards the fees, but by this time I was concentrating more on the science side of things. Eventually, it came around to work placement time, and incredibly I found myself in Geneva, working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the biggest science experiment in the world, definitely one to check off the bucket list.

Geneva was quite sleepy so once my time there was up I decided to come back to London. I finally found myself with a decent wage and started to explore the cocktail bars across the city. But I found it tricky to find good ones, as there weren’t many websites reviewing the cocktail side of bars. So Time Out, for example, would write about all bars in the same way, and there wasn’t a cocktail bars category. I decided to start reviewing bars anonymously, tracking that journey where you find a good bar (LAB was my first), asking the bartenders to recommend somewhere (Callooh Callay, then Casita, then Trailer Happiness etc) and slowly building up a network of awesome places. I didn’t know anyone in London at that time, so that’s how Gin Monkey was born and that, somehow, was 10 years ago. 

How did Gin Monkey develop into what it is today?

Gin started to become a ‘thing’, so because of the name of my site people started inviting me to Gin events, I did try to tell them I was a bartender and loved all spirits, but you know…it was entirely my own fault for starting the Gin Monkey moniker!  Not that I’m complaining! I started writing more about Gin and events that were going on.

It’s been a funny one, I’ve never really written reviews of Gins and most Gin bloggers that start now, they’ll start by writing tonnes of reviews of Gins with their own tasting notes. That’s not really ever been something I’ve been interested in, mostly because I don’t know who would want to hear what I think in that respect. Instead, I try to pick out the interesting aspects of a gin, or how it fits into larger trends. I tend to write ridiculous articles, like 10 ways to incorporate Gin into your Christmas Day which was quite fun to research and at the time, went viral.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work on so many different projects, like writing my book: The Periodic Table of Cocktails, my scratch-off gin poster: 99 bottles of gin on the wall, or the recently released playing cards. It’s quite an atypical blog about Gin I guess and social media tends to be most of what I do now anyway. As I see it you can think of Instagram a bit more like a mini-blog, and you actually reach more people in a more organic way. 

Then World Gin Day happened.

How the hell did that start?

Neil, who used to run a website called Yet Another Gin lived in Birmingham. He used to own quite a few different websites it was a bit random (he had the world’s largest Kite Surfing forum). It meant that he had experience setting up websites, setting up forums and so on, so one day he was drinking gin with friends in their back garden, and he came up with the idea of a day dedicated to celebrating all things gin. That day became the first-ever official World Gin Day. He registered the website, put a few tweets out encouraging people to get involved in their local bars,  and before you knew it the next year we were celebrating in a bar in London with some other gin heads, and the year after I think we had a Master Distiller come to talk to us, make it a bit more official-sounding, you know? We carried on like that for a few years, but when he started getting very busy with work, I kind of started taking the lead on organising things. Over time, we came to a decision that I would buy the brand from him, and the rest is kinda history! 

What’s your typical day to day involve?

I roll out of bed (I hate mornings), try and wake myself up in the shower and get to work. Even my day job is quite unusual because we’re a very small organisation, there’s only 35 of us. I work primarily with scientists who have their own programmes of work, and researchers we fund all over the country. My job is to communicate their 3Rs research and what they do. It’s quite a varied job, no two days are the same. 

Then you have so much going on with Gin Monkey and the bigger Gin world. After work, I could be going to Gin dinner or a launch of a new Gin. I’ve got so many bottles of Gin under my desk, it’s ridiculous, so of course we have Gin and tonic parties every now and again as a bit of informal team building. Sometimes I work bar shifts as well on a weekend.

What’s your favourite part of working in the drinks industry?

I think just the people. It’s a really personal industry with so many different people from such varied backgrounds. It’s also really friendly and supportive. I’ve asked for help and advice over the years, and I’ve had amazing people get in touch who have been incredibly helpful and insightful. I’m not sure you get that sense of community in many other industries.  

And on the flip side, what’s your least favourite part?

Probably the gossip. You can end up with pockets of people who all know each other, hang around with each other all the time, it can get a bit cliquey.

Now here’s my feminist question. Do you think being a woman has affected your career?

No. I don’t think my gender has ever influenced it positively or negatively. In this industry, there’s so much potential for you to develop in your own way and to push things in the direction you want them to go in, put the work in and it’s the most rewarding industry. 

I mean I do get manslapined gin occasionally, which is quite…fun.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve found with Gin Monkey?

I was quite lucky because I started before a lot of other people were really writing about gin, as I say, I never really intended to start a gin site, it kind of happened organically! There was only really Geraldine Coates who was writing GinTime when I started, and her books and website were an amazing resource for me starting out. But I guess I kind of came into a category that was about to explode without realising that that’s where its trajectory was taking it. 

I think the biggest challenge was that I started by reviewing cocktail bars anonymously as I was trying to be independent and impartial. There was therefore a bit of a ‘Who the hell is this monkey person’ feeling from the industry, which is fair because nobody knew who the hell I was. But trying to establish an online presence was a bit tricky when the only online visual presence you have is a monkey logo! 

What trends have you been seeing, what do you think is coming up?

It’s all no and low, isn’t it? I think everyone should just drink sherry and tonic, it’s frickin delicious.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wanted your job?

It’s difficult because you don’t answer to anyone, you work for yourself. You have to make all of the decisions. I guess for me I’ve been hugely lucky to be surrounded with talented people who have  given me awesome advice, they have acted like a sounding board for some of your ideas, because some of them will be better than others (and some will be down right stupid!). Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Take all of the opportunities to learn as much as you can about the industry, brands, booze, there are so many opportunities to do so. It’s one of the best things about it, that you can learn something new all the time. 

Is there anything we can do to support you?

Grab a pack of Gin rummy, gin playing cards?.  There’s four different suits, different styles of gin. So you have historic gins, old toms, traditional (London Dry) and then modern interpretations. Ace through to ten is gin and then Jack, Queen & King are a cocktail you make with that gin. 

Above all though, bars and brands putting on events to help celebrate World Gin Day is really all I can ask for. It’s grown from such small beginnings into something truly global, all with one simple goal: Celebrate Gin! I’m so grateful to be able to provide a platform to coordinate it all, and couldn’t do it without all of the wonderful bartenders, bar owners and brands who support it. 

Last question. It’s the easiest and the hardest one. What’s your favourite drink at the moment?

Normally it’s just a martini, but with the sun out it’s got to be a gin and tonic or a sherry and tonic with a slice of lemon. Just keep it simple. I’m not a fan of overcomplicating things.

If you know a lady in the drinks industry that you would like to see interviewed, pop an email to drinkswithhebe@mail.com. 
If you are a lady in the drinks industry, join our Facebook group, Ladies of Liquor to connect with the rest of us!

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