Portobello Road Gin is of named after the famous Notting Hill street from where the brand originates. The story begins with the Portobello Star, which was fantastic cocktail masquerading as a pub that resided at No. 171 Portobello Road. The bar was owned and run by Ged Feltham and Jake Burger—the latter of the two living above the bar. But after five years, the novelty of living above a bar wore off and he moved out. The question then was what to do with the appartment.
As a prime piece of real estate in a swanky London area, the space couldn’t afford to be wasted. The first idea was to build a museum of alcohol, which would have been perfect fit, not only with the antiquarians on Portobello Road, but also with London’s historical susceptibility for a drink or five. After further scheming though, it became clear that gin would be the star of the show, “You can’t tell the story of London without telling the story of gin, and you can’t tell the story of gin without telling the story of London” as Jake puts it. The team installed a tiny 30-litre Portuguese alembic still in the space too, so when the doors finally opened on the Ginstitute in 2013, Jake was able to educate ‘ginterns’ on gin history and cocktails, as well as walk them though a gin distillation run.
From there the Portobello Gin brand evolved naturally from the activities at the Ginstitute. It became clear quite early on that manufacturing would need be ramped up substantially for the brand to support itself in the crowded market place. They approached Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers, who helped to tweak the recipe. Nine out of the original ten botanicals made the cut; juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, liquorice, cassia bark, and nutmeg. Cardamon was ditched. The product was field tested in martinis, negronis, G&T’s and of course on its own. Test subjects included Portobello Star regulars and a handful of other industry ‘known offenders’.
Since its launch, Portobello Road London Dry has seen incredible success in the UK and abroad. The original Ginstitute as well as the Porotbello Star are now sadly gone, but in its place (or a little further down the road as it happens - is The Distillery, London's only gin hotel and a multi-story mecca for all things gin related.
The success of the brand can be put down to a number of factors. Firstly, it tastes good. It’s also priced competitively, and the branding is beautiful, authentic feeling, witty, transportive. Interestingly, and unlike most brands, it wasn’t designed by a packaging designer per se, but a typographer. It’s for that reason that most of the type on the Portobello Road bottles is hand drawn.
Portobello Road have featured a number of limited edition releases “Director’s Cut” expressions over the years, which they see as a chance to flex their creative muscles. Distilled at the The Distillery, the 2015 expression (for example) featured asparagus as a botanical. It should have been a one of a kind, and it is unquestionably the first London Dry gin to use asparagus, but it transpires that San Francisco’s Folsom Asparagus Gin Co. (aka FAG-CO) got in there first back in 1916. It obviously wasn’t much of a hit, the company was wound up in 1918. As for future Director’s Cut releases, who knows? We're still waiting for a portobello mushroom gin.
Portobello Road Celebrated Butter Gin is not a limited release, but a permanent fixture. This gin is made by redistilling their classic London Dry with 10 blocks of butter in 30 litre batches (we did the maths and it works out as about a quarter of a block of butter per bottle) imparting a creamy mouthfeel and slightly richer taste.
As mad as it may sound, there is some historical justification for doing this. In Victorian times gin was often marketed with colourful language and exaggerated claims. "Cream Gin" for example was used to denote the quality of the gin (think "cream of the crop" or "creme de menthe") rather than it actually containing any cream. "Butter" was used in a similar, non-literal way.
Jake was curious to find out what butter distilled into gin would taste like, suspecting that it would be as delicious since most things are when butter is added to them.
The end result is perhaps Portobello Road's best product to date... but what do you think?