On 23rd March when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an unprecedented lockdown in a bid to help the UK fight the spread of coronavirus, many businesses of all shapes and sizes went into a tailspin.  Overnight, shops, restaurants, pubs, hair salons and beauty spas closed indefinitely, staff were furloughed and fear gripped the business community.

I’ve been amazed at some ways that businesses have adapted to stay afloat: gastro pubs turning their hand to takeaway services, beauty spas holding online pamper nights and local independent shops turning to online sales at the loss of footfall.

One business in particular that has stood out is the Cheese Gin & Ale Barn.  Based at the beautiful Curborough Countryside Centre on the edge of Lichfield, it’s one of my favourite places to shop:  usually I head there when I need a gift but leave weighed down with goodies for my own consumption!  Louise, the owner, hosts tasting evenings and events but I have never partaken – mainly due to the drive home not being conducive to an evening of gin tasting.

So what has Louise done to help her glorious business during lockdown? She’s launched online virtual gin tasting evenings – and they are absolutely off the scale fantastic!  Here’s what I experienced.

I saw the event on the Cheese Gin & Ale Barn’s Facebook Page, an evening of online gin tasting.  At first, I was a bit sceptical, and talked myself out of it before quickly booking myself on, mainly out of (a) my love of gin and (b) sheer curiosity.   The day before the event, my parcel of gin-based goodies was delivered to my door by Louise’s hubby (social distancing respected, naturally).

Unpacking the jangly bag of treasures was like having my very own private Christmas morning for one, and I was more than pleasantly surprised at what the pack included:  a ready mixed gin cocktail, 4 gins with their mixers (all number matched, and some with more than one mixer per spirit), a gin liqueur (no mixer there), some popcorn, a big bar of luxury chocolate, a candy swizzle cane, some crumbly Caerphilly cheese, a digestive and a small pot of G&T marmalade – more on that later!

I have quite an extensive gin collection but I had not heard of any of Louise’s selection, all of which are distilled in the UK and on sale at the shop.

At 7 pm on the following evening, after lining up my tasting glasses, ice cubes and slices of lemon, I logged on to the Zoom link Louise had sent me and the evening swiftly got underway.  There were 8 of us – all a bit nervous and shy at first, but once Louise started her guide through the evening and the first gin cocktail was poured, everyone relaxed a little and the evening flowed, just like a night down the pub.

For £35.00 it was quite possibly one of the best evenings in on my own I’ve ever had! Louise has a knowledge for all of the products she sells, as well as bags of enthusiasm and energy.   She even walked  us outside via her laptop for the 8 pm NHS Clap For Carers as it was a Thursday evening!

As for the cheese, digestive biscuit and marmalade – we made our very own mini cheesecakes, which I can highly recommend!  And the best bit?  I didn’t have to drive home afterwards – bonus!

Louise is adding more virtual gin tasting evenings so keep an eye on her Facebook Page, support this wonderful lady and have some lockdown fun at the same time!