Saturday, 5 January 2013

Make your own gin at The Ginstitute, Portobello Road

This was the ultimate Christmas present. Millie and I blended our own gin at the Ginstitute above the Portobello Star (171 Portobello Road, London - map). Buy your tickets at the above link.
The evening was a mix between a lock-in at a Gin Palace speak-easy, a tour through a history of gin, and a chemistry lesson complete with white lab coats and gin blending. Jake, the owner of the Ginstitute, was our guide for the evening.

We started in the speakeasy he has created above the pub.
Original Plymouth Gin Bottles
Ginstitute's Gin Palace Mirrors
This intimate room is filled with gin memorabilia like this antique Plymouth Gin bottle and panelled with beautiful, custom mirrors in a homage to the old gin palaces.

The Ginstitute is producing its own gin, the Portobello Road No. 171 Gin. At the end of the evening we were all given a bottle of it and also the gin that we blended ourselves! You can buy their gin here. It's delicious and when part of a G&T they serve it with a slice of orange peel which compliments the bitter orange peel used in it.

The evening began as I mentioned in the speakeasy with a history tour through gin accompanied of course with a gin cocktail. A Tom Collins was a lemony, refreshing sharpener (171 Gin, lemon juice, sugar, carbonated water). Our hour long tour began taking us on a whirlwind, expert voyage from Italian monasteries in the Middle Ages producing Juniper-based medicinal firewater to London's ruinous Gin Craze after the soldier's picked up a taste for it fighting in Holland (hence 'Dutch courage'), through to speakeasy's, gin palaces, its part in American prohibition, the sophisticated cocktails of the early 1900's and finally the current renaissance of boutique, small batch distillers popping up all over the place just like the Ginstitute. The tour was filled with amazing facts and anecdotes brought to life by great story-telling.

Most people will be familiar with Hogarth's Gin Lane print depicting the evils of gin consumption in 1751.
Not perhaps an inaccurate depiction considering that by 1743 England was drinking 10 litres of gin per person per year. The sign above the Gin Royal boozer reads:

"Drunk for a penny
Dead drunk for twopence
Clean straw for nothing"

The evils of gin are clearly displayed with a mother throwing out her baby for another drink, the barber hanging himself as everyone is so drunk they don't care about how they look and only pay for another cup of gin. The only person doing well is the pawnbroker as everyone is selling all their valuables for booze. School girls from the local St Martin-in-the-Field convent are even seen getting drunk.

This print intentionally contrasts with the ruddy health of the people on Beer Street which is an opposite reflection of the ills of Gin Lane.

We were told that these prints may well have been propaganda. Hogarth apparently lived above the Fullers Brewery in West London. Fullers may well have paid him to make these two prints to promote beer drinking. The roundabout by the Fullers Brewery is still called Hogarth Roundabout!

The drinks kept coming throughout the tour. A gin and tonic or two later we were whisked to another floor upstairs where the Ginstitute blend their gin and keep their copper distillery, named Copernicus 2nd.

Sat around a large square wooden worktop surrounded by glass vials filled with gin flavoured with different botanicals, Jake talked us through what every different botanical brings to the flavour of gin and we sniffed and sipped them as we went...

I created extensive notes, which trailed off into oblivion as the drinks continued and as we sampled the different flavours. Jake guided us through what we might want to use in our own gin. After careful consideration we were then invited to blend our own gin. Millie created her own gin, called Blind Tiger. I created mine and am yet to name it. If you can decipher my notes - good luck!

The beauty of the gin blending evening is that not only that you get to create your own gin but that the Ginstitute also keeps a record of your specific gin so that you can call up and have another batch made for you when you want! Apparently some people have done the blending to create a perfect gin to then produce for their wedding which sounds like an incredible idea.

We staggered out into the night after a final martini back in the speakeasy. Jake was an absolutely incredible host. A truly engaging storyteller, a great cocktail shaker and a master gin maker.

I'll be back to let you know the name with which I christen my gin!


  1. Your blogs are always entertaining. "Mother's Ruin" reinvented at the Ginstitute, all in the interests of science of course. Sounds like a great experience.

  2. "Mother's Ruin" reinvented. What a concept and what an experience! All in the interests of science of course.