Co-founder Jake Burger gives us a gin-themed history lesson
Co-founder Jake Burger gives us a gin-themed history lesson
Amidst an emerging ‘ginaissance’, the creative vision of certified gin enthusiasts Ged Feltham, Paul Lane and Jake Burger is one of constant evolution. Having successfully mastered their signature blend, Portobello London Dry, the trio are keen to push boundaries in the gin space, adopting a philosophy which seamlessly melds timeless botanicals with experimental flavours to turn the traditional G&T on its head.
Far more than just delicious concoctions, Portobello Road Gin offers an immersive experience in The Ginstitute, London’s second smallest museum. Here, visitors embark on a journey to understand the rich history of gin, from its Dutch roots to its modern resurgence, before having the chance to dream up their own personal blend. And now vodka and whisky are now firmly on the menu, too. We speak to co-founder Jake Burger about looking to the past for the ideas of the future, and why he wants to debunk the myth that vodka should be flavourless.
Portobello Road Gin launched after the opening of The Ginstitute. Can you tell us a little about its history and how you mastered the blend of flavours?
The whole project snowballed from our original idea to open a small gin museum. We thought it could be cool to let people create their own gin and then we thought we may as well make our own brand, and Portobello was born. Portobello London Dry was not us trying to reinvent the wheel; a lot of the botanicals used are very traditional. We knew we wanted something classic and timeless, but with more of a finish than other brands, so we added cassia bark and nutmeg to give that distinctive Portobello length. We get a bit more adventurous with the other products in the range, of course!
How important is craft and provenance to you and your customers?
I think the word craft has been so overused in food and drink that it’s essentially now meaningless. Certainly, some of our products are about as “craft” as you can get, if by that we mean small batch and handmade. Our Celebrated Butter Gin, for instance, is made in batches of 60 litres at a time. As for provenance, of course London Dry Gin doesn’t have to come from London, but every drop of Portobello does and we’re very proud of that.
The gin market is fairly crowded. How do you manage to stay ahead of the curve?
We innovate by looking backwards. Most of our blends, like the Celebrated Butter Gin, our Old Tom and our Sloeberry, are inspired by our historic research. We either attempt to recreate a lost product from the past (Old Tom), or something completely new but inspired by the past (Butter Gin). We also have the luxury of The Distillery to test our experiments out on the general public before we decide to launch them as fully fledged members of the Portobello Road lineup. Nearly every product we sell has come to market through that route.
You launched a savoury gin earlier this summer, challenging the trend of sweet pink gins. How did this come about and how should we drink it?
This was an evolution of a product we have been selling at The Distillery since we opened four years ago. It used to be our King Theodore of Corsica gin; a product inspired by a nickname for illicit gin that was used on the Old Kent Road back in the 18th century. We took that name and used it as inspiration for a gin with the flavours of the Mediterranean: rosemary, basil, olive, bergamot. We always swim against the tide and at a time when lots of gin producers were going ever sweeter and pinker, we decided to go savoury, dry and salty. I love it in a Martini or mixed with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic in a G&T with a slice of lemon and a sprig of rosemary.
The Distillery also offers a range of experiences; what’s on the table and what can our guests expect?
We have our classic Ginstitute experience where people learn the history of the spirit and make their own unique recipe gin, which they receive a full bottle of. We also have our Gin Cocktail Masterclass where guests can learn how to make classic gin cocktails like The Martini, Tom Collins and Negroni. We also have our ever-popular James Bond Experience – an evening of food and drinks inspired by 007 himself, and our Agave Sessions where one can learn about the native spirits and cocktails of Mexico. Our latest experience is the Whiskey Thing where we aim to demystify whiskey and explain exactly why it tastes the way it does. It culminates in our guest blending a unique bottle of whiskey from our range of malt whiskeys from around the world.
You’ve extended your range to include Portobello Road Vodka – made from a spirit that you initially intended to make sanitiser with. Sounds delicious! Tell us more…
For too long people have been told that vodka should be completely flavourless, odourless and characterless – we disagree. Our Potato Vodka has texture, flavour and character. A lot of people think all vodka is made from potato but actually the majority is made from grain. We think the reason ours is so interesting is that potato spirits deliver that viscosity and depth of flavour. We redistill the potato spirit in copper stills which removes some malodorous elements and subtly alters the flavour. There are also three flavoured varieties: Golden Madagascan Vanilla, Calabrian Bergamot Citrus and Toasted Coffee Bean, all created using natural ingredients.
There’s been a flood of non-alcoholic spirits to the market – what do you offer in this vein?
Our Portobello Road Temperance is a lower alcohol drink for people who want to enjoy something that tastes similar to gin but avoid drinking too much alcohol. At just 4.2% abv, it contains just ten percent of the alcohol found in our London Dry Gin, yet it still delivers flavour and character.
The Distillery is firmly embedded in the local community. What you love about the neighbourhood?
There is always something happening on Portobello Road, any time of day or night. It might be a good thing, might be a bad thing, but it’s always alive! Personally, I can’t wait for Trailer Happiness to reopen after their recent flood so I can get back to being the only person drinking gin in the UK’s greatest rum bar.
How would you spend a day off in London?
Get up, have a cold brew and some Italian biscuits in the back garden, cycle to Ginger Pig for a sausage roll. Go bowling with Cody at the Brondesbury Bowls Club for a few hours. Head to The Cow for a Guinness or several. Then, go for Chinese food in Chinatown, before heading to El Camion until 3am. Unless it’s London Cocktail Week, in which case I’ll be drinking Martinis and Manhattans in one of the fine bars involved in that marvellous event (running from the 1st to the 31st of October this year!)
Lastly, can you share an obscure cocktail recipe with us?
The Clover Club, a great and lesser-known cocktail from the early 1900’s:
40 ml Portobello Road London Dry Gin
15 ml Carpano Dry Vermouth
15 ml lemon juice
15 ml raspberry syrup (or use 5 fresh raspberries and 10 ml of sugar syrup, strained through a fine sieve when serving)
15 ml egg white
Shake very hard for a long time with three ice cubes and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with three fresh raspberries.