Last Friday I visited the Ginstitute on Portobello Road after receiving a voucher for the “Ginstitute Experience” as a birthday gift from my husband. There’s plenty of detail about the experience on their website (The Ginstitute) but in short we learnt about the history of gin; from its origins, through the dark era of the gin craze that took hold of Britain for 200 years, and up to its modern-day renaissance. We then went on to learn about the process of making gin, and the categories of botanticals that can be distilled. We tasted and tested our way through 23 different botanicals, making a note of our favourites and deciding which we wanted to add to our personal gin blend to take home.
Our history lesson took place in their downstairs ‘Gin Palace’, recreated to look like the gin bars of old, complete with beautiful cut glass bar signs.
The lesson was interspersed with drinks, starting the session with a Tom Collins (using Portobello Road gin, of course). We sampled gin as it would’ve tasted during the gin craze (minus the turpentine!), which was very sweet and spicy. We were also served two gin and tonics during our history lesson – both Portobello Road gin with a pink grapefruit peel garnish (as is suggested), one with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic and one with East Imperial Burma tonic. I really like the Mediterranean tonic with gin (it’s also a great choice on its own if you’re not drinking) but the East Imperial tonic was the standout for me. It was a classic tonic yet still full flavoured and well-rounded. Fun fact we learnt – this tonic has the highest levels of quinine available on the market.
With our second G&T in hand we headed through to see the Still Room. Portobello have one large (400l) copper still and two smaller ones. We were led into the tasting room where there were dry botanicals in Kilner jars on the table, and distilled botanicals lining the walls.
The botanicals were divided into four categories – dry note botanicals (such as liquorice root, yorkshire tea and celery seed), spices (cinnamon, pink peppercorns, nutmeg), citrus (lemon, bitter orange, pink grapefruit) and wild card (rosebud, chamomile, asparagus). There were 23 in total, some were passed around in their dry form so we could smell or taste them, some were passed around already distilled in alcohol so we could try them. Already added to the base alcohol were four basic botanicals found in most gins – juniper (this is what makes gin, gin), coriander seed (imparts a citrus note), angelica (used to enhance other flavours) and orris root (lets flavours linger on the palate). Excluding these four base botanicals it was recommended we pick no more than six flavour notes to add to our gin, and they also gave guidance on how many from each category. Once we had selected our recipes they calculated the correct ratios of our chosen botanicals (some are stronger flavoured than others) and they mixed our bottles using the distillates on the shelves beside us, while we had a Portobello martini. Once all the gins were mixed and labelled each one was passed around the table to try neat. Honestly, by this stage most gins were tasting pretty similar to me, therefore a full review of my gin will come another time! As we left were given a goody bag containing our bottle of personalised gin, along with a bottle of Portobello Gin and an East Imperial Yuzu tonic.
You can reorder your personal gin on their website when you run out, and it would make a lovely gift . Overall the Ginstitute experience was a fantastic day out, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I would definitely advise making sure you eat first however!