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.
A slightly close, damp, autumn evening in west London isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of scene-setting in a Bond film, but, well, when you’ve been summoned to enjoy a five-course meal, who’s going to quibble?
Though the summons was not entirely lacking in mystery (I knew the who, the what, the where, the when and probably even the why), there was still a certain amount about the evening that we weren’t being let in on. What I did know was that The Distillery, Portobello Road Gin’s heart of operations and an excellent boozer, was hosting a “James Bond Experience” and I was invited to see what I thought of it. The promise was of a decadent evening enjoying five courses, with matching drinks, and all tied in to Bond’s (and Fleming’s) predilections and finest moments. Beyond that, lips were sealed.
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.
As the end, or the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning (depending on your outlook and/or weakness for overused Churchillianisms) of covid distancing measures hoves into view, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a Zoom tasting of some of Portobello Road’s range of gins and pre-mixes.