It turns out that the gin industry took a huge battering thanks to Smirnov who owned the spirits market through the 80's and late into the 90's. The rebirth is at least in part to the Bombay company who added more botanicals (shown on the side of the bottle) to their gin to give it a more floral taste, served it in a blue bottle, called it Bombay Sapphire, and marketed it primarily to women. It showed the greater potential of gin with the addition of extra botanicals. The trend now is to have anywhere from six to twelve botanicals. A botanical is just something derived directly from a plant - seed, bark, berry, etc. to make a gin you get alcohol (pure as possible ethanol) and bung all your botanicals in it, boil it up and condense it down!
Earlier this year I went to the Portobello Road Ginstitute, it was amazing. Best described as a school trip where instead of having to look after children I had to "look after" gin! There is education, science and gin, a fine combination in appropriate proportions. On arrival naturally there's a gin and tonic waiting for you as you wait for everyone to gather in the bar (about 12 total). Once assembled we we're taken upstairs to the Ginstitute proper by master gin maker Jake. The Ginstitute is a small room done out in the style of a gin palace - ornate mirrors, brass detailing, and glass cabinets filled with ancient bottle and cocktail recipes.
Jake makes us a Tom Collins and begins to tell us about the, let's face it wretched, history of gin. On talking about Hogarth's gin alley we sample a truly unpleasant gin which has been created based on historic accounts to taste as it would have done then, I've tasted better paint thinner! We're told of the military's struggles to get the men to take their malaria medicine (having recently had to take some I can sympathise) and someone coming up with the cunning plan of combining this tonic with their daily gin ration and lo the G&T was born, for purely illustrative purposes we get and gin and tonic at this point. Jake is a fantastic raconteur, who has a great passion for his subject matter and is consequently a delight to listen to.
His story done he takes us upstairs to the distillery/mixing room it's a clean crisp white room that speaks of great works of science! Clear bottles of great size line the walls, smaller ones with taps sit on shelves, Jake sits at the head of the table, in front of him is a massive array of botanicals in different size jars, phials, and dishes. He talks us through each in turn and how they add to a gin's flavour and what combinations work well. We smell the botanicals themselves, but better still for each the Ginstitute has distilled a gin with a single botanical flavour so we can taste each individually. Now it's our turn to do some work as, under Jake's careful guidance, we have to decide on a blend of botanicals for our own personal Gins. Jake then makes them for us, mixed from the single botanical gins, we taste them all and have a bottle each to take away with us!
Technically of course it's a bit of a cheat creating them this way instead of mixing all the botanicals first then distilling but it's a very worthy shortcut to do it the other way round, makes for an excellent experience, and of course lets me walk away with a bottle of my own gin!
So gin made we head back down to the bar and are furnished with a martini for the road and we wend our merry way a bottle of our very own blended gin and one of Portobello Road. A final cherry on this magnificently alcoholic cake is that they keep all the gins people make on file so you can order more of your gin if you feel you've done a particularly fine job! Mine is 5302 if you are looking for a summery gin with tones of lavender!
Find an excuse, find someone to go with, get yourself to Portobello Road and get Ginstitutionalised! Huge thanks to Gemma for buying this experience for me and to Aled for being my partner in Gin that day at the Ginstitute.
The Brothers Gin