Wednesday, 13 August 2014

London weekend: a trip to the Ginstitute

If you like gin (and, let us face it, who doesn't) then I urge you most strongly to get yourself along to the Ginstitute on Portobello Road.

This is actually the home of Portobello Road gin that you may have come across in your cruises down the Waitrose gin aisle (oh, wait, is that just us?)  But the gin itself is a happy offshoot of the original intention which was to open a little place where people could learn about gin and create their own customised blend.  In the process of practising the distillation of the various botanicals to be used by the punters, the owner came up with a blend that he thought might be marketable and so Portobello Road gin was born.

The experience itself lasts about three hours and costs £100 per person which sounds steep until you realise what that gets you.  You initially spend an hour sipping gin cocktails in London's second smallest museum learning all about the history of the spirit.  It's fascinating stuff, and Jake, with his bone dry delivery, was a skilled storyteller - although I couldn't help thinking that cocktails in lectures could have made a huge difference in my attendance levels when I was at uni.

A very blurry view of the bar in the gin Lecture Room
From there, you are provided with another drink (gin and tonic - hurrah!) and taken upstairs to the blending room.  Gin is, essentially, a colourless, odourless spirit - all the flavour comes from the naturally derived ingredients that are added to the base for the second distillation.  The predominant flavour is juniper but the others can be as varied as you like.

Before we were allowed to decide on our final recipes, we had a session sampling some of the most important botanicals - in original and distilled form, and learned a bit about the different quadrants of flavour that needed to be hit to create a balanced gin.  Then we picked our ingredients - up to twelve was the recommendation, four of which were standardised to ensure that the gin had all the basic building blocks of what we recognise as...well, gin.

You eventually leave there (although not before a gin martini for good luck) with clinking bags - a bottle of your very own personalised blend (which, incidentally, is kept on record so that it can be reordered whenever you like) plus a bottle each of Portobello Road and a sample bottle of Jake's favourite tonic water.  You see now how the £100 begins to look pretty reasonable.

It was a truly unique experience and we adored it.

As an interesting footnote, the following day we did a double blind tasting of our personal gins, the Portobello Road and a fourth bottle of London Dry with my parents, brother and sister in law.  The two personal blends scored head and shoulders higher than the others (sorry Jake).  Although D beat me by 3 points damn him - and I mocked him for throwing everything bar the kitchen sink into his recipe while I was a model of restraint...We're definitely going to reorder the blends we made and I would love to go back and try and completely different combination of ingredients - perhaps something nice and spicy for Christmas.

The Ginstitute (above the Portobello Star Bar)
171 Portobello Road
London W11 2DY
020 3540 7781


  1. Ooooh I love gin. I want to go here! x

  2. Ohhhhh I want to go SO MUCH!


  3. This sounds amazing -- definitely going the next time I'm in London. Just curious... do you know any other places like it (in London or elsewhere) where you can make your own booze?