Better Know A Blogger: Gin Monkey
The combination of my love of gin — with the fact that I've got pretty long arms — meant that I gained the nickname Gin Monkey.
Emma Stokes is the force behind Gin Monkey, a London-based enterprise dedicated to all things gin. Launched in 2009 the site offers impartial cocktail bar reviews and provides helpful information for the casual drinker to those who take their cocktails seriously. We checked in with Stokes — who, incidentally, never reveals her face on the site — and found out the history of Gin Monkey.
How did you land your job?
So my day job is actually in science communication, which I got into after completing a degree in Pharmacology. I've worked in loads of interesting, but very geeky organizations through the way including the largest science experiment in the world (CERN in Geneva). While studying for a masters degree in London I became frustrated as finding websites that showed you where the good quality cocktail bars were was difficult. Most websites reviewed all bars and therefore the reviews often didn't mention the quality of the cocktails. At the time I had two jobs, as well as a masters to study for, so time didn't allow me to do anything about it. However during my time living in Geneva where the pace of life was much more leisurely I had the time to follow my heart and set up a website, Gin Monkey! It was actually a godsend as I found the slower pace of life in Geneva a nightmare, and so relished the opportunity to have a new project!
How did you develop your passion for gin?
Both my mum and my grandma have always drunk gin, so I guess my love from it grew from there. I do remember the first time I sneaked a sip of my Gran's G&T though...I must have been about eight and I thought it was the most disgusting thing in the world. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I began to drink gin again properly. There was a bar in Newcastle that served the treble spirit and mixers for next to no money (I think it was about £5). The choice of spirit was dirt cheap vodka and rum, Passoa (bleugh!) or Gordon's gin — no contest at all really! It wasn't the classiest of introductions, but there you go! Over the years the combination of my love of gin — with the fact that I've got pretty long arms — meant that I gained the nickname Gin Monkey, which turned out to be a perfect name for a drinks website!
Readers of Gin Monkey have never seen your face. Why have you chosen to live a life of anonymity?
I find that it's essential to be anonymous if you want to get a true impression of a bar. If you visit a bar and introduce yourself as a reviewer, or inquire about a table as such, you're going to get a very different experience to Mr. Joe Bloggs public. As the site gets bigger it is slightly more difficult to maintain my anonymity, especially when I'm invited to brilliant industry events (as I make no money out of the site it's a great perk to have so I tend to make the most of them). Over the past year I have come up with some sneaky ways around it, including having a a band of sidekicks (mostly friends that I have converted to loving cocktails over the years) that I can send along to give me their honest opinion of the bars. I then combine their experiences with my own when I write the reviews.
Which of your posts are you most proud of?
My post on the Experimental Cocktail Club in London for quite a few reasons. I published the initial review of ECC soon after the bar opened stating how impressed I was with it as a venue. Over time people started to comment after the review talking about their experiences. It started off with a poor guy who'd had an awful time and had been turned away by very rude door staff, and then continued with people describing their good and bad visits in equal measure. I loved the fact that there was so much discussion happening on the site and really enjoyed reading all of my reader's comments and opinions.
After a while I decided that I needed to visit again (for what would have been the third time) to see what was going on. I didn't make a booking as I never had done before, and when I arrived I was denied entry! After a few discussions on the site and on twitter it seemed to be that a reservation was the only way to go and so a week later I made a booking and tried again. After struggling with a rude doorman I was eventually allowed in (it was ridiculously difficult even with a reservation) and I walked into a pretty much empty bar. I continued visiting over the next month and then re-reviewed the bar drawing on my experiences. In the end the post turned into a warning for people of some of the difficulties that they may face if they decided to visit. The re-review went down a storm and I've had loads of emails from people thanking me for my advice as it's helped them to 'navigate the doorman' so to speak.
The whole experience taught me two important things too. First that I need to visit a bar multiple times before I review it, and secondly that it's best to give a bar at least three months to settle into business before I formally review it. Both very good lessons to learn early, and are now integral to the way that I work.
Who are your influences in the blogosphere?
Pretty simple: bloggers who know about what they're writing about. It's so easy for anyone to start a blog these days, and anyone can very quickly start writing and publishing articles about anything that they like. I think the freedom this gives is great, as it means that you don't have to have lots of technical knowledge to begin, but unfortunately you do get a lot of people passing comment on things that they have absolutely zero idea about. It would be like me trying to write a blog about fashion...it just wouldn't work and it doesn't.