This time last year I was humming and ha-ing over what to buy MrS for Christmas when I came across something in my boss’s calendar called Ginstitute.
Intrigued, I googled it and found the perfect solution…
Ginstitute is based in the Portobello Star, which is, not surprisingly, on Portobello Road.
For 100 of your English pounds you can basically spend a minimum of 3 hours surrounded by Gin. Excellent.
We finally got round to booking it after we got back from NYC in May, but as we wanted a Saturday it was a fair old wait. We could have done a September Saturday at the earliest but as we were away for 3 weekends in September, October it was.
We wandered through Portobello Road on our way (you can’t really do anything BUT wander there). I have never been there before. MrS has never been in 35 years of living here. We have vowed to return when we have more time.
If you didn’t know the Portobello Star was there you would probably walk past it in the crowd, but believe me, you shouldn’t. Even if you aren’t coming to the Ginstitute you should check this place out, it has a most extensive cocktail menu, the bar staff really know their stuff, it has a great atmosphere and, for central London, the prices are really, really good.
On arrival we were served a gin and tonic, of course, made with their own Portobello Road Ginand Fever Tree Tonic. We knew tonic was important – we use fever tree at home- but we were later to find out just how important it is.
There was 12 of us in the session (4 were late arriving, they turned out to be the annoying type). The History of Gin talk took place upstairs in a small but perfectly formed room, decorated in homage to the gin palaces of the early 19th century and MrS and I happened to end up seated at the bar so we had a front row view.
The history of gin is fascinating and it can be traced back as early as the 8th century, (although it wasn’t called gin then) and our host, Jake, fairly rattled through its story in just over an hour – including three drinks – A Tom Collins (delicious) and 2 G&Ts once again made with Portobello Road gin, but this time with 1742 tonic. And also, a slither of pink grapefruit rind, better than a “slice” as this contains the flavoursome oils of the fruit.
Tonic has its own history too, but most importantly you should buy tonic that has natural sugars in it, not sweeteners - Schweppes lovers take note. Apparently Waitrose Essential (natch) Tonic is really good. MrS and I both felt that the 1742 tonic totally changed the taste of the G&T and much preferred the ones we had downstai
rs with the Fever Tree Tonic. Which is probably just as well as the 1742 is hard to come by according to Jake. The other thing we apparently get wrong is not using enough ice - see how much ice Jake has used in the glasses, they're full!
So, bearing in mind we are now 4 gins up (or down, depending on how you view it) we then went upstairs to the lab. Ok so that’s not what it’s really called, but it was just like a lab, down to the science lab stools we had at school. The still room is small; Copernicus the Second, the copper still that lives on the premises is only 30 litres and used solely for the purposes of Ginstitute and the creating sessions. The Portobello Road Gin is actually distilled by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers, staying true to its London roots.
Next we had a lesson on all the different botanicals available to us. Because of various regulations controlling gin distilling, the flavours are all added at the start of the process. As we don’t have time to do this in one afternoon, Ginstitute provided ready distilled flavours for the production of our own recipe gin, which we added to a readymade base of juniper, coriander, angelica and orris root.
We got to taste and smell all the botanicals – juniper berries were crushed and distilled asparagus (yes, Asparagus) was sniffed and tasted (bizarre, just like liquid asparagus). Cubeb (a pepper) was described by Jake as smelling like Holland and Barrett (“smugness tinged with charlatanism”) and we were advised not to go too overboard with the mandarin zest lest it was too “um bongoy”.
To our juniper base we needed to add a citrus top note, middle ephemeral notes (teas and florals) and smoky spicy flavours (liquorice, celery cinnamon). MrS and I decided to go for two different style flavours, I went for citrusy and summery and he went for spicy and warming.
Once we had decided our flavours, we discussed them with Jake and he worked out the proportions for us. Then we just went ahead and mixed them up! Well, Jake and Charlie did the measuring and we did the pouring in…
After a quick taste of our gin, it was sealed and labelled and allocated a unique number, so we can reorder our own special recipe again whenever we like. I have finally graduated from something!
Then it was back downstairs for a final drink – a Gin Martini. MrS, having drunk his whole sample of own recipe gin upstairs, drank both my Martinis (I’m not a fan) and then we proceeded to have two more cocktails. As I said previously, the list is extensive here and is certainly not limited to gin based concoctions.
We had such a great time at Ginstitute; I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you love gin (yes, you really need to love it, not just be indifferent to it!) or you’re stuck for a gift and know someone who also likes gin, this is ideal. Because if you buy it as a gift, you would have to go and keep them company.