In the midst of that general stress that always seems to gather just before Christmas as a strange parallel to the holiday anticipation, it was a great pleasure to see this bottle slip through the letterbox. The Portobello Road Distillery Special Reserve 101, to give it its full name, is an interesting bundle of ideas smoothed out and executed as a celebration of Portobello Road Distillery’s first decade, and an object lesson in what they’ve learnt.
The concept behind the bottle is that, while strictly adhering to the regulations that define what spirits can be called “London Dry Gin”, this anniversary edition tweaks, subverts or otherwise toys with the drinker’s expectations of the style. The distillers have switched from their usual wheat base spirit to a potato-derived one. Where aging the gin in wood is disallowed as it would add colour or flavour, nothing is said about the preceding base spirit, so onto some oak it goes. The botanicals are both larger in quantity and infused for longer. A narrower section of the distillate is kept than for their standard gin. Finally and – for me – most unexpectedly, they’ve taken the stipulation that only spirit and water can be added post-distillation rather laterally, going with the famously mineralised Vichy Catalan water to cut it down to 50.5% abv (your “101 proof” in the USA, hence the name). Given how critical water composition is in brewing, I really wanted to see what would carry through here.
It must have been five years ago that I became aware of Vecchia Romagna, when a bottle of their Etichetta Nera (Black Label) found its way to our flat. As much as I love and respect Cognac and Armagnac, I’m conscious that good brandy can come from parts of the world other than France, so a storied Italian brand falling into my lap like so was very welcome. The Etichetta Nera is and was a very decent pick, especially given the price. Enjoyably full as a sipper, with tropical fruit and spice notes, it was an excellent go-to for cocktails as well. That it came in a striking three-faced bottle didn’t hurt, and guests noticing that in the cocktail bar hastened an already swift rate of depletion.
Midweek, mid-evening, mid-summer(ish): a delightful August day that somehow managed to escape the flash-flood conditions of the previous few weeks is an ideal moment to be reintroduced to pub life. And by pub life, I mean a launch event, but tomayto-tomahto.
Anyhow, courtesy of the good folk at Portobello Road Gin, we were sat upstairs at their flagship gin palace in the heart of West London sipping deep on a Dirty Tuxedo (a sort-of wet dirty Martini given depth by Fino sherry) and watching the world go by. I’ve spoken before about Portobello Road’s new savoury offering, and given I thought it was excellent, why wouldn’t I take up the offer to try it in its natural habitat?
So, Portobello were originally going to have a launch do/general shindig for their Savoury Gin on the 21st June. As the general reopening of everything was postponed, so too was the launch do, though they very kindly sent me a bottle to have a try of. For reasons that are faintly inscrutable to me, I felt that it seemed appropriate to hold off giving my thoughts until general public socialising was once more on the horizon. So, now that we know what’s happening on the 19th July and this gin can be shared amongst friends as intended, my thoughts forthwith:
As previously established, Portobello know their way around a good gin, so I was very happy to find a bottle of their newest release on my doorstep. The notion for this release comes from the Victorian penchant for giving gins interesting and obscure names and colloquialisms, one the more florid of which was “King Theodore of Corsica”. Apparently this was more to do with the hold Theodore’s descent into a debtor’s prison had on the popular imagination than a deep appreciation of the Mediterranean island, but Portobello have run with the idea to bring us this bottle.
Irish whiskey has been having a renaissance over the last few years, springing back from the dark days of retrenchment and consolidation that, by the 1970s, saw the entire industry working out of just two sites, both of which were owned by the same company. Things are rather healthier nowadays, but given the high costs and long lead times involved in setting up a distillery and being able to sell something that’s aged enough to qualify as a whiskey, a lot of the new operations are still using spirit sourced from the New Middleton or Old Bushmills distilleries whilst they get their feet under the table, so to speak.
It is in this environment that the recent Dingles’ announcement of a permanent core line made entirely from spirit distilled and aged themselves is so interesting – other distilleries have been doing great things with the spirit they’ve sourced, but this release means that Dingle are joining the still relatively small club of Irish whiskey makers whose bottles are filled with a spirit that’s really their’s.