Cubeb and wormwood, orris and angelica – these are just some of the poetically named botanicals that go towards giving gin its distinctive taste. They are also all on hand for those making their own gin at the Ginstitute laboratory – a homely nook above The Portobello Star pub in Notting Hill.
Overseen by gin instructor Jake Burger, who also presides over the pub, the class (£100) kicks off at the bar with a G&T, surrounded by vintage bottles of spirits (third picture). Burger takes visitors on a historical tour of gin, from the drink’s medicinal origins in the middle ages, through to the craze of the 1700s and 1800s – when it was even occasionally served illicitly at dressmakers’ shops – to the arrival of the first column still in 1830, which catapulted gin from a working-class drink to something more refined.
But it’s upstairs, in the still room (first picture), that concocting a personal recipe begins. Burger first walks participants through the various botanicals, of which there are four base flavours: juniper, coriander, orris and angelica. He also explains the four flavour levels: juniper first, which gives way to fresh citrus flavours, then delicate, ephemeral notes such as florals, grasses and teas; and finally the distinctive and insistent flavours on the finish, such as spices mace or cassia.
As glass jars of each botanical are passed around to sniff and crush between fingers, and samples of the distilled botanicals are handed around to sup, each visitor is invited to write down their preferred botanicals (the recommended number is between six and 12. A glass test tube is then filled up with the four base spirits, and you add your personal choice of botanicals.
The final touch is a Portobello Gin label (example in second picture), where it’s possible to add an artistic flourish with an individual name for the recipe, which Burger then signs off as a bespoke gin. Repeat bottles are priced at £35, and the evening ends with a martini back in the tasting room.
A rewarding new chapter in the history of gin…