The ginaissance has spawned so many gins that it is inevitable that there will be some form of retrenchment. After all, what is gin? The market is awash with so-called flavoured gins, usually incredibly sweet and where the juniper has gone AWOL. Are these really gins or are they fruit flavoured liquors made in a gin style? If it sells, it may seem to be a tad pedantic to hold this view, but the purist in me thinks it is and that gin should be gin and be unmistakably and unashamedly juniper led.
I am pleased to see that I am not the only one who, Canute-like, is trying to stem the tide of sickly, flavoured gins. Although my gin cabinet, a grandiose term for the top of a cupboard, is stocked with a wide selection of gins, I have some ever faithfuls, a number that I go back to time and again. Portobello Road No 171 is one of my all-time favourites and when I saw that my local Waitrose had just started stocking Portobello Road Savoury Gin, I had to pick up a bottle.
Who knew that in the 1860s King Theodore of Corsica was London slang for a cheap penny-a-glass gin sold in the area? I didn’t, but it seems that the king, although crowned on the island in 1736, met his death languishing in a debtors’ prison in Soho in 1749. His grave is in the walls of the area’s St Anne’s Church. His inglorious demise made him a cult hero among the working classes, and they used his name to denote one of their favourite tipples.
Based on London’s Old Kent Road, the chaps at Portobello were intrigued` enough by the story to concoct a gin fit for the King of Corsica, using botanicals from the Mediterranean. It was also to be sugar-free, a move seen as a deliberate statement to remind gin drinkers that the spirit did not need to be sweet and fruity and hide behind a wall of herbs and fruits. What’s not to like?
The bottle uses the distinctive Portobello wine bottle shape, but instead of being clear it is white and opaque. I shall probably have a rude shock one day when I find that I have emptied it as the level cannot be detected from the outside. The label uses a bold splash of blue for the lettering and green for the surrounding wreath of botanicals while their hallmark lion is in red. The stopper is an artificial cork and the label at the rear gives some details of the origin of the gin. Embossed in the glass above the rear label is “Made in England” and at the bottom “Proud purveyors of London’s Spirit”.
The base for the gin is made from the nine botanicals used for the no 171 gin, juniper, lemon peel, bitter orange peel, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica root, cassia bark, liquorice, and nutmeg. To this is added the Mediterranean style botanicals of bergamot, rosemary, basil, and green olive. To round things off, a tiny pinch of seas alt is added after distillation to give a slight hint of the sea air.
Removing the cork releases a heady aroma of juniper, citrus, and some herbal notes, particularly of rosemary. In the glass it is crystal clear and well-balanced, the juniper and citric elements working well together before giving way to the heat of nutmeg, the dryness of the olives, and lingering dry aftertaste. The slightly saline texture that it leaves on the lips invites you to take a second glass and a fighting weight of 42% ABV it would be churlish to refuse.
I am not sure it will supplant no 171 in my affections, but it is an excellent gin and one worthy of exploring. If it arrests the trend towards sweet and flavoured gins, all power to their elbow.
Until the next time, cheers!